Editorial by Representative Lois Reckitt of South Portland.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Acknowledging this time is important, but the fact that we even have to have a month reserved for this topic shows us how critical it is to respect and protect women’s equal rights every day in Maine and the nation.
And, given recent events, it’s clear we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding how domestic violence and sexual assault affect the lives of so many women.
I have over four decades of experience working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. As the former executive director of Family Crisis Services in Portland, I have witnessed more times than I care to remember the trauma and the lifelong damage that survivors experience.
We need to ensure we adopt the kind of best practices that will help Maine better protect survivors and prevent further violence.
First, we should always start by believing people who say they’ve been or are being assaulted. It is extremely rare for victims to make false accusations. That makes perfect sense when you consider the kind of risks victims take by breaking their silence. And it explains why so many wait so long before coming forward.
Second, the most dangerous time for those experiencing domestic violence is when they decide to leave. Abusers see this moment as a threat to their control and as potential trouble with the law, and they often react with rage and violence. Creating partnerships with law enforcement like I did with the Portland Police Department when I was at FCS can help prevent violence from escalating.
Third, the vast majority of domestic violence victims are also victims of sexual assault in those relationships. This fact underscores the trauma survivors have experienced, and it also tells us why it’s important to talk about domestic and sexual violence together – both come from one person violently imposing their will on someone else.
Another lesson to consider is that domestic violence in the home may produce lifelong trauma for the children. It is a testimony to the strength of many survivors that so many are able to nonetheless raise resilient children. Adequate training and programs that serve the entire family should help break a cycle that all too often is repeated.
Finally, the criminal justice system can’t solve domestic and sexual violence on its own. Communities and employers also have a role to play and need to be observant and engaged in new ways.
Remember, it takes courage and strength for survivors to come forward. We owe it to each other to be strong allies. If you or someone you know has experienced domestic or sexual violence, call Maine’s Statewide Domestic Abuse Helpline at 1-866-834-HELP or the Sexual Assault Helpline at 1-800-871-7741.