October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We know that one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, and it is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States (more than car accidents, rapes and muggings combined). We also know that boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to grasp the human toll that domestic violence has on our communities by providing statistics alone. It is a crime that impacts every community, all genders, all ages, all races, the rich and the poor. Consider the following examples of domestic violence cases that the United States Attorney’s Office has recently prosecuted:
• Wagner, South Dakota: After a night of drinking alcohol, a boyfriend and girlfriend had an argument. The boyfriend grabbed a large metal trophy and began beating the girlfriend in the head until the trophy broke. He then grabbed her by the hair, threw her into a wall, and punched her in the face repeatedly. The victim was eventually able to break free and run from the house to seek help, but the boyfriend caught up with her and threw her to the ground and began punching her in the face again.
• McLaughlin, South Dakota: A mother was sleeping in a room with her four children when her husband woke her up by punching her in the face. He then put his hands around her neck and squeezed until she started to vomit. Later during the assault, the husband picked up a butcher knife and held it to his wife’s throat and asked her which one of their children she wanted to see killed first. The victim was eventually able to escape with the children.
• Little Eagle, South Dakota: A boyfriend began to punch and kick his girlfriend while she was holding their infant child. He punched her until his hand hurt, and then went to the closet and got a wooden dowel and began to hit her in the head, back, arms and hands with the wood pole. The victim eventually escaped by climbing out a bedroom window.
• Fort Thompson, South Dakota: A husband got into an argument with his wife who was 21 weeks pregnant at the time. He struck his wife in the face with a closed fist several times, and then apologized and they returned to their home. The couple continued to argue after they returned home, and the husband again struck his wife in the face several times. She fell to the ground, and he kicked her in the stomach repeatedly.
It is tragic that these incidents occur at all, much less with the frequency that we see. During the month of October, I hope we all reflect on the strength of domestic violence survivors, the importance of domestic violence advocates, and the courage of our law enforcement and medical providers who are often the first-responders. But October shouldn’t be about reflection alone. There is more that can be done. Congress can reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Volunteers can provide donations or time at their local domestic violence shelter. Most importantly, our children can be taught that domestic abuse is never, ever, acceptable.