Vermont is generally considered one of the safest states in the nation. Violent crime occurs rarely here, but when deadly violence occurs in Vermont it most often happens in the home.
This fact has been underscored in terrible fashion over the past several months: Since May 2013, five people have been killed in Vermont in domestic violence-related crimes. When we factor in the two perpetrators who then shot themselves, that’s seven deaths due to domestic violence this year. Another Vermonter has been charged with attempted murder against his partner.
Unfortunately, Vermont follows the national trend in terms of homicide in that more than half of Vermont homicides since 1994 have been domestic violence-related. The loss of a single life to domestic violence is wrong and unnecessary, but the loss of five lives in as many months highlights a number of the realities of domestic violence in Vermont: Domestic violence happens; it happens more frequently than most people think; and domestic violence presents a very real and deadly danger to victims, their families and our communities.
The situation faced by so many Vermonters living with abusive partners is dire, but there is hope. Across our state, organizations and individuals are taking steps to decrease the prevalence of domestic violence, support domestic violence victims and hold abusers accountable.
Member programs of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence are working tirelessly in every part of the state to provide services to victims. Rutland City Police and the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter are collaborating to implement an evidenced-based program that has been proven to reduce domestic violence homicides; similar initiatives are in progress in Chittenden and Washington counties.
The Criminal Justice Training Council is working with the Vermont Network to ensure that every Vermont law enforcement officer receives regular training on responding to domestic violence. All around the state communities are collaborating with their local domestic violence organizations to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Nationally, our congressional delegation, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, continues to promote federal legislation and policies that support all victims of domestic violence and hold abusers accountable.
Last month, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Task Force on the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence published its report on the state of prevention in Vermont and offered a set of recommendations. This report outlines the need for greater awareness about domestic violence, the need to engage every Vermonter in the discussion about preventing violence, and the vital importance of men’s involvement in domestic violence prevention efforts.
In 2014, through a partnership with the Verizon Foundation, the Vermont Network will host a summit bringing together men and women who want to work together to raise awareness and change communities’ attitudes about domestic violence.
And just this month, Governor Shumlin announced a new legislative initiative that will help ensure that firearms can be confiscated from the most dangerous abusers in our state and safely stored in secure firearms storage facilities. With more than 50 percent of all domestic violence-related homicides involving a firearm, this commonsense legislation will go a long way toward preventing some of the most dangerous acts of domestic violence in our state.
As Vermonters, we share a commitment to our communities and our quality of life. But far too many Vermonters live private lives filled with terror and pain. Together, we can change this. Together we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of domestic violence and change those dynamics; together we can take a stand against domestic violence; together we can create communities where all Vermonters live free from violence.
Karen Tronsgard-Scott is executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Resources are available statewide to support victims and their family members and friends. The statewide hotline is available 24-7; the number is 800-228-7395. For more information visit the Vermont Network’s website: www.vtnetwork.org.MORE IN Perspective
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