The coming year could easily be filled with struggles between a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor. Amid the anticipated contention, however, there is one issue that should bring Democrats and Republicans together rather than divide them: reducing rates of domestic violence.
In 2013, the Maine Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage and support groups must work together to find specific ways to help prevent domestic violence and sexual assaults. They have already begun good work: such as to require judges, not bail commissioners, to set bail in certain domestic violence cases and to ensure funding for the Victims’ Compensation Fund, which provides financial reimbursement for losses suffered by victims of violent crime and their families.
Much more, of course, can be done. Reducing rates of sexual and domestic violence and protecting survivors will require compassion and acknowledgement of the complexity often surrounding abusive situations. It could involve creative projects — such as involving hairdressers in a nationwide program called Cut It Out, to be trained how to watch for and respond to signs of abuse.
Most of all, though, finding answers will require everyone’s help: community groups, schools, legislators, police, churches, men and women, young and old. Dealing with such multi-faceted, far-reaching problems like domestic violence and sexual assault necessitates many different solutions.
Here are a few ideas and questions to consider along the way:
1. Improve existing collaboration between domestic violence advocates and mental health providers. Should mental health providers be required to receive education relating to domestic violence outreach?
2. Focus on bullying in schools, where the roots of future domestic violence may form. How can Maine better teach its young people that identity is not defined in any way by violence? Athletic coaches have the power to help, as do student-led groups.
3. Disarm batterers. In Maine a judge may order firearms to be removed from offenders ’ possession when issuing a protective order. But it is offenders’ responsibility to surrender the firearms, often for safe keeping with family. How can gun seizure laws be improved to better restrict offenders’ access to deadly means?
4. Begin an electronic monitoring program to ensure abusers comply with protective orders. Maine is on its way to developing such a program, and legislation is anticipated this session. A responsible monitoring program, where defendants are required to wear tracking devices if they exhibit certain risk factors, is greatly needed. Too many abusers ignore no-contact orders, and victims, who fear reprisal, may be hesitant to inform police, especially if they lack evidence of the violation.
In 2013, the BDN will continue to look at ways to help prevent domestic violence and protect survivors. We invite you to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your specific ideas about what should be done to address one of Maine’s most pressing problems. We will consider your ideas and may feature them in future editorials. Eliminating sexual and domestic violence will require everyone’s help.