Survivors of domestic violence deserve to feel safe at home

Every October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Since last October, 10 Iowans have died due to this horrific crime.

In 1989, Congress declared the month of October to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For the last 34 years Domestic Violence Awareness Month has helped start the conversation on the crime’s impact on victims, survivors, and families everywhere.

Nearly every individual has felt the effects of domestic violence, even here in Iowa. It impacts every community, regardless of age, race, gender, marital status, educational level, or socioeconomic status. It is an equal opportunity crime. Approximately a third of Iowans — 35 percent of Iowa women and 29 percent of Iowa men — have reported experiencing domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking from their partner.

Domestic violence involves a pattern of abusive and threatening behaviors aimed at gaining power and control over a partner. While physical assault is a central tactic in domestic violence, many abusers evolve to sexual violence, threats, and economic, emotional and psychological abuse. Consequences of this crime are devastating ­physical injury, long-term psychological trauma, and, yes, death.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is an opportunity to support survivors of this crime and their families, hold abusers accountable, and shed a light on the resources available for them. One resource available to Iowans is our office’s Safe at Home program, an initiative that was passed unanimously by the Iowa Legislature in 2015.

Safe at Home adds a vital layer of protection for survivors, making it harder for abusers to locate them. It provides a substitute address and shields victims’ actual addresses from public records. Abusers go to great lengths to locate the survivor when they feel they have lost control. Survivors are often at the highest risk of injury or death from an abuser when they leave them. This program allows survivors to stay physically safe in their homes without fear of their abuser locating them through the public records. In addition to a substitute address, Safe at Home participants have access to a mail forwarding service and confidential voter registration and absentee ballot.

Since Safe at Home’s official launch in 2016, the program has grown to serve more than 2,000 Iowans. It is just one resource among many for survivors of domestic violence:

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides statewide support and can connect impacted communities with a large list of local organizations and shelters that can help.

The Iowa Victim Service Call Center is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-770-1650 or texting IOWAHELP to 20121.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Victim Assistance Section administers programs that assist victims with the financial burden resulting from violent crime and assist the criminal justice system in holding offenders responsible.

Iowans deserve to feel safe at home, and 54 percent of Safe at Home participants reported they never felt safe prior to enrolling in the program, while 41 percent only felt safe sometimes. After enrolling, 66 percent of participants have reported feeling safe most of the time and 27 percent feeling safe always.

Since you’ve started reading this, 20 people across the country have been abused by a domestic partner. This crime is an epidemic nationwide.

Paul Pate is Iowa’s secretary of state.

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