Friday, April 15, 2016

Billy Long: Domestic abuse victims deserve hope, safe havens

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

If you watch local newscasts in Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District, you can’t help but have noticed the plethora of domestic violence and child abuse stories. The thought of people living in torment without anywhere to turn for safety should be repulsive to any caring human being. The need for federal legislation is crucial to protect these victims, but delivering them safety will require local community involvement as well.

Nationwide, child abuse and domestic violence statistics are staggering; the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that more than 30 percent of women have experienced at least one form of physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Each day, an average of three or more women are killed by their significant other while approximately 24 people are victims of these situations each minute.

Also, the most recent HHS data shows that nearly 700,000 cases of child abuse or neglect were reported in 2013, including 205,438 sexual abuse and 60,897 physical abuse cases. The same year, more than 3 million children received services from Child Protective Services (CPS), and nearly 80 percent of child fatality reports indicated their parents’ abuse or neglect as the cause of death.

Statistics in the Ozarks have mirrored these trends. In Springfield, Missouri, for example, police reported that aggravated domestic assaults increased 20 percent from 2013 to 2014 and, in February of last year, Police Chief Paul Williams said his officers were responding to 13 domestic assault calls daily. The most recent reports from the Missouri Department of Social Services are even more troubling: per capita, child abuse is more prevalent in Springfield than St. Louis or Kansas City.

Last May, I met with 14 Southwest Missouri abuse victim advocacy groups – Springfield Police Department, Joplin-based Lafayette House, Springfield-based Harmony House and others – to gain a clear picture of how I can best help fight for relevant law enforcement, medical, and counseling resources in Congress. Equally as important, I knew that a meeting like this would create local synergy among these groups and local businesses to combat this violence.

At this meeting, Harmony House – an organization that provides shelter, advocacy, and education for domestic abuse survivors – shed light on exactly how dire a situation these victims are in. Recently, numbers of women and children in need of safe places to sleep have drastically outpaced their resources; Harmony House was forced to turn away 412 victims of domestic abuse in 2010 and by 2014 that number had grown to 2,326.

Thankfully, urgent dialogue like this has begun to bear fruit. As always, folks in the Ozarks pull together when called upon. As a result, Harmony House will be moving to a new facility soon with increased bed capacity plus providing transitional apartment housing for domestic abuse survivors while getting back on their feet. Other groups have been making progress in their own ways; the Springfield Police Department's Family Violence Task Force, for example, was created to improve both domestic violence investigatory methods, while involving local businesses, churches, and civic leaders to help educate the community.

All Americans should join these efforts to drastically reduce these cases of domestic abuse. This abuse will live with children and oppressed women for as long as they live, and increase their susceptibility to suicide or depression. Every single American must be enlightened to this lurking threat and encourage their neighbors to take a stand against it. This is a top priority of mine in Washington, where I will continue to share stories of Southwest Missouri’s successes in this fight with other members of Congress – encouraging that they spur aggressive anti-domestic violence collaboration in their districts as well.

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