Editorial: Support victims of domestic violence
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in York County and across the region, it’s clear the issue has come to the forefront.
And it must stay there.
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, its community assistance programs help victims of domestic violence navigate the court system and obtain Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders, among a number of other vital services. On a statewide level, PCADV advocates for stronger legislation meant to prevent and deter domestic violence.
One such piece of legislation was introduced earlier this month.
State Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, introduced Laurie’s and Barbara’s Law on Oct. 17. It would require minimum standards of training for local and state police when responding to domestic violence calls, including standards for assessing the victim's "lethality risk," or how likely a domestic violence victim is to be killed by their partner. It also would establish a grant program to pay for those requirements.
The bill is named after 54-year-old Laurie Kuykendall Kepner, of West Manchester Township, and her friend, 55-year old Barbara Schrum of Dover. Denied a police escort per policy that only allowed them an escort with a court order, the friends went to Kepner’s estranged husband's Warrington Township home to retrieve her belongings. It’s there that investigators said Martin Kepner fatally shot his wife and her friend before turning the gun on himself.
A key component of the bill is the lethality risk assessment.
Lethality assessment is a method used by law enforcement to identify domestic violence victims who are at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their partners. Officers can ask a series of questions to determine if the victim is at an increased risk. If the victim is indeed at increased risk, the responding officer would call a local 24-hour domestic violence hotline for advice and then encourage the victim to speak with the specially trained hotline advocate.
The bill has been introduced into the judiciary committee, where Klunk said it’s likely to remain in the final days of the 2015-16 legislative session. She said she plans to reintroduce the legislation, if re-elected, in the next session.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in one day in 2014, 2,498 victims/survivors were served by Pennsylvania domestic violence programs; 252 requests for domestic violence services went unmet. In Philadelphia, 17.3 percent of students have been physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year, almost twice the national average. An estimated 19 percent of Pennsylvania women will experience stalking in their lifetimes.
A lighter but heartfelt annual event meant to raise awareness about domestic violence is Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, a whimsical fundraiser that found local men making their way through York City wearing women’s shoes on Oct. 7.
Funds raised will benefit the YWCA programs geared to end violence toward women and girls.
It is this type of awareness – local men visibly recognizing the plight of women trapped in domestic violence situations as well as meaningful legislation introduced this past week – that can begin to heal the vicious cycle of domestic violence.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and needs counseling, legal, medical or financial services, call YWCA York/Access at 800-262-8444 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.