Gov. Paul LePage has been making headlines for proposed cuts to the state budget, among several other pieces of legislation. One of those bills, An Act to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence ( LD 1867), made LePage’s strong stance against domestic violence quite clear.
Domestic violence is an issue of both state and national importance. With the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reporting that one in four women experience domestic violence, the numbers demonstrate that the United States has a serious problem at hand.
The coalition reported 5,459 domestic assaults in Maine in 2006. In 2008, 20 homicides in Maine were a result of intimate partner violence; this was out of the total 31 homicides that occurred that year. This is a recurring issue as 10 victims in 2009 in Maine lost their lives as a result of domestic abuse out of the 25 that occurred that year. Overall, the numbers reflect the serious and lethal nature of this issue.
Not only do the numbers show the problem at hand, but LePage also agrees that this is an issue for our state. During a State House news conference LePage said: “Domestic violence is not Republican. It’s not Democrat. It’s not independent. It’s a social problem that we need to address today.” His stance shows that Maine no longer will tolerate the violation of one’s personal rights by an intimate partner or anyone else close to them. He agrees that “our laws should protect victims by deterring abusers and sending a message that this violent behavior will
not be tolerated.” The governor’s bill places raises thresholds for the alleged perpetrator and provides victims with the most essential resources of time and support.
LD 1867 clarifies domestic violence by including several violent offenses, such as criminal restraint and aggravated assault, to the definition. This will help ensure that violent crimes are viewed by law enforcement and the judicial system as related to domestic violence. Committing any of these violent crimes will influence the bail conditions for perpetrators.
The bill requires that judges set bail conditions instead of bail commissioners when domestic violence crimes have been reported, giving victims crucial time to create a plan to ensure their safety. LD 1867 makes violating bail with domestic violence motives a Class C crime. In Maine, committing a Class C crime could result in up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
In order to ensure accurate information is collected, this bill clarifies the elements that need to be reported when domestic violence crimes are committed. One element that was added was assessing if strangulation was involved. Adding strangulation to the assessment acknowledges the level of disregard for human rights on the part of the perpetrator.
Strangulation places the victim at risk of serious injury or death. Based on information reported by the Journal of Emergency Medicine, studies have shown that up to 68 percent of women in an abusive relationship have experienced strangulation at the hands of their male partner.
In Maine, 6 percent of domestic violence homicides from 2006-2008 were a result of strangulation, based on a study done by the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. The inclusion of this information in the governor’s bill would create an understanding of abusers’ tactics. Gathering this information from crime scenes will help make the consequences for these violations more severe.
LD 1867 will come up for vote in the House and Senate within weeks. I urge all concerned residents to contact their representatives and express their support for this bill. Now is the time to take a stand against domestic violence and hold abusers accountable for their dangerous and disrespectful actions.
Christine Crittenden is a graduate student in social work at the University of Maine. She lives in Orono.