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Domestic violence remains a concern amidst pandemic

It’s no secret that 2020 is a year like no other, and COVID-19 has challenged “the way life should be here in Maine. We have small businesses in our community that closed in March and will not be reopening, friends and family members who have put everything on hold this year due to the virus and neighbors who have been isolated for six months now. 

I’m highlighting another challenge — far worse than people realize — ongoing domestic violence. Reports of domestic violence have grown significantly during the pandemic. We know this from the number of helpline calls, emails, text messages and even videoconference contacts received by domestic violence support agencies.

The increase is significant: calls for help rose 49 percent from April through June compared to the same period last year.

All of us deserve to live without fearing violence in our own homes. I have always believed that a central role of government is to protect its citizens. The issue of domestic violence is of great personal interest to me and the consequences of inaction are too great. The challenges of the coronavirus only heighten the compelling need to stop offenders in their tracks and to advocate for victims of all ages. 

As a survivor myself, I know domestic violence reaches beyond the newspaper headlines and television coverage of current events. For too many Mainers today, the physical, emotional and financial struggles are real, and it is difficult for statistics to accurately portray the size and scope of the problem. What we do know, however, is that domestic violence assaults in Maine are reported to law enforcement every 2 hours and 22 minutes.

In 2018, domestic violence comprised 34.3% of total reported assaults. About 8.7% of Maine middle schoolers report that violence in their home, or the threat of violence, has caused them to leave.

One in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by a partner in their lifetime. For these reasons and so many others, I don’t see domestic violence as a partisan issue, but rather a Maine issue requiring the Legislature to build on several successes worth recognizing.

When first elected to Maine’s House of Representatives in 2014, I promised to do my best to break the cycle of violence in homes across our state. With the help of Gov. Paul LePage, I sponsored LD 150, which launched a statewide review on pretrial and post-conviction use of Batterers’ Intervention Programs. 

This laid the groundwork for passage of LD 525 two years later. That legislation funded certified intervention and related training programs in all 16 Maine counties. Last year, I worked with education and social service stakeholders to advance LD 1168, improving Maine’s Response to Childhood Trauma and it was signed into law by Governor Janet Mills.

I’m highlighting recent successes not to say the job is done, but to remain encouraged that domestic violence isn’t a partisan issue and luckily hasn’t faced the partisan roadblocks all too common in politics today. 

Personally, my story is one of strength, resiliency and the determination to make it easier for others to get help. I also know that we can’t wait, and Maine children can’t wait. There is more work to be done, and I’m proud to offer a survivor’s perspective and the willingness to work across party lines to address this issue head on. We have an opportunity and moral obligation to protect Mainers from all walks of life, and I believe this is a cause worth fighting for. 

While the virus has made that mission more difficult, now is not the time to ignore those asking for help, or Mainers who don’t know whether or not to make the call in the first place. If you or someone you know is being controlled or hurt by a partner, call the statewide domestic violence helpline: 1-866-834-HELP.