October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a deadly issue that affects so many lives in our own community. For me, that spotlight came when I was serving in the Pennsylvania state House. I learned that one of the volunteers in my office – a cherished member of my own community – had been a repeated victim of partner abuse. I was shocked and infuriated and more motivated than ever to educate myself about this issue. I made it a priority to find real policy solutions that strengthen preventative measures and achieve justice for victims.
Domestic violence is an insidious epidemic in the United States. The CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the U.S. have experienced severe violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime. According to data from the Bureau of Justice, nearly three women are murdered every day by current or former male partners in this country. Estimated medical costs for injuries caused by domestic violence exceed $5 billion each year – despite the fact that only about 34 percent of those injured by their partners receive medical care. Only 56 percent of intimate partner violence crimes are reported to the police. I could go on.
Domestic violence and sexual violence are closely linked. As a state representative, I learned that nationwide, at the time, there were at least 400,000 untested DNA evidence kits for instances of sexual assault, and many more going unreported due to lax local requirements. Every untested kit represents a terrible injustice to a victim, who may still be suffering from threats of violence from the perpetrator. So I introduced and passed the SAFER PA Act, which requires timely testing of DNA evidence kits and reporting of backlogged and untested evidence. Now as a U.S. congressman, I’m fighting to fully fund the DOJ Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which provides grant funding to improve state and local capacity for kit testing and enable better investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes, including those committed by intimate partners. This month, I am introducing the Removing Barriers to Sexual Assault Victims Compensation Act to eliminate time limitations which prevent victims of sexual assault from receiving compensation for lost wages and medical fees.
Domestic violence isn’t something we want to think about every day, or talk about around our holiday tables. But it is a real, everyday fear for those living through it. When we choose to bring this terrible reality into the light, we can give courage and recognition to the victims and survivors all around us. If we express our empathy, solidarity, and support for those who tell their stories, perhaps we can encourage more victims to come forward and seek justice.
Not long from now families will be coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Every family should be able to gather for the holiday, and every day, without the shadow of shame, fear, and abuse. By breaking the silence and speaking out about domestic violence, we can all help make that a reality.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.