OP-ED: Honor victims of domestic violence

The York Dispatch

One in three women will be raped in their lifetime. One in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime. Those are startling, heart-wrenching and frightening statistics.

I have one mother, one mother-in-law, two sisters, one sister-in-law, my loving wife and three nieces. By those national statistics, three of these women that I love could be a victim of rape and two could be subject to abuse. Absolutely terrifying.

I am not introducing this editorial to be an alarmist or to jinx any situation but to elucidate the very startling reality that domestic violence is incredibly pervasive in our society. Chances are it has affected someone close to you. We all have a mother in this world; we all have women who are close to us. The national statistics are altogether too real when it comes to the likelihood that someone we know will be a victim of abuse and rape. That, I hope, gives everyone pause while reading this to realize just how serious of a matter this is.

October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is an opportunity to raise awareness and educate our community about this insidious problem, but further, it gives us all a chance to honor victims of domestic violence who have lost their lives, and to celebrate the strength of survivors on their journey of healing.

Domestic violence is at dangerously high levels in Pennsylvania. Each year, nearly 90,000 people seek assistance from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and the 60 community centers serving all 67 counties. Shelter and legal assistance are two of the most sought-after services.

Last year, 141 Pennsylvanians died in domestic homicides. To honor these victims, I joined PCADV, victims' advocates and elected colleagues in the State Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to read the names of the nine York County residents and those from across our Commonwealth who died in domestic violence fatalities since last October. Each of these victims left behind loved ones, co-workers and a community struggling to come to terms with the loss.

Domestic violence truly knows no geographic or discriminating factor. It affects individuals across all socioeconomic backgrounds. A common thread; however, is that the vast majority of abusers are male. A message to all the men reading this: We need to be productive and proactive participants in the solution. It is not simply enough to be good people and not abuse women. We cannot eradicate domestic violence if men are not willing to speak up, be role models and educate those around us and, importantly, the next generation of young men coming of age how to be examples of excellence and not model abusers.

Let's be clear, the problem does not rest solely on the shoulders of men, but men are the more common perpetrators of abuse. We need only look at the last 18 months of the NFL to see patterns of abuse play out nationally and the unwillingness of our society to hold abusers accountable. That said, victims of abuse are male, female, young and old alike, spouses, significant others, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children.

Although Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one month out of the year when we focus on raising awareness of the impact of domestic violence, we really should be working year-round to end it.

York County is incredibly fortunate to have the YWCA York/Access-York to provide free and confidential emergency shelter, counseling, advocacy and specialized legal representation for victims and survivors. I deeply appreciate the hardworking and dedicated staff who provide these services 24 hours a day, seven days a week to victims, our neighbors throughout York County.

There are many ways in which all of us can do our part to address the problem of domestic violence. I have introduced two bills to protect and support people who have experienced violence. House Bill 1108 seeks to allow victims to quickly and safely cancel a shared cellphone plan with their abuser. The bill helps protect victims from financial hardship by prohibiting termination fees, providing them with a new phone number within 24 hours, if requested, and, importantly, deactivating any GPS locating apps (i.e. Find My iPhone) that could be used by an abuser to track down their victim.

In today's world, our cellphones are lifelines and are an extension of our person. They can also be utilized by abusers to harass their victim, to keep their victim in the abusive situation or to track them down and locate them if they've safely fled to a family or friend's custody or protective housing. In many ways, finances, cellphones, even social media are used as ongoing tools by abusers to control and constrain their victim — both physically and mentally.

A second legislative initiative is House Bill 1267. This would establish a statewide task force to examine the issue of on-campus intimate partner violence and sexual assault. The task force would assess the prevalence and causes of intimate partner violence and sexual assault on college and university campuses in Pennsylvania. If identified as a problem, the task force would return policy recommendations to improve institutional disciplinary and protective procedures to make every campus a safer place for students to live and learn. The impetus for this legislation was the shocking homicide that occurred in February of this year on a central Pennsylvania college campus when a female student was killed, allegedly by her boyfriend.

For over 28 years, the York County Domestic Violence Task Force has advocated on behalf of victims of domestic violence. The task force is composed of multiple systems representatives including; Access-York/Victim Assistance Center, providers, district attorney, coroner, state legislators, Sheriff's Department, clergy, chiefs of police, legal system, health care, the United Way and others. This consortium of community leaders is working throughout York County to combat domestic violence, remove barriers to safety and independence for victims.

Most recently, the Task Force is implementing a lethality assessment program (LAP) for all of York County law enforcement. The LAP provides an effective method for law enforcement to identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being injured or killed by their intimate partners and immediately connects them to local service providers.

The greatest contribution we can make to assist those in need is to support them, to recognize the warning signs and to help or empower them to remove themselves from the abusive situation as soon as possible before it becomes fatal. This is an incredibly difficult process, and often the abuser will harbor psychological, physical and emotional control over the victim and the victim's family members. That control leads to a victim remaining in harm's way.

Sometimes children, emotions, false promises and even pets are used as lifelines to restrain and keep ties on the victim, making it nearly impossible for them to walk away. That is where it is important to intervene, it is important to engage the community of advocates and trained domestic violence professionals to assist.

Together, we can end domestic violence for the next generation. In the meantime, I invite York County men to join me and many others on Friday, Nov. 6, to Walk A Mile In Her Shoes. This annual walkathon event raises money for YWCA/Access domestic violence prevention programs. It does require men to walk one mile in women's high-heeled shoes, which is incredibly embarrassing, hilarious to watch and painful throughout. It is also one way for all men to support a noble and worthy cause. You're welcome on my team, Happy Wife, Happy Life.

— Kevin Schreiber is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing the 95th district.