Every October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month reminds us to reflect on the state of domestic violence in our nation and our communities.
At the state level in Pennsylvania, a recently introduced bill, H.B. 686, would improve data and reporting of domestic violence injuries. Specifically, hospitals would be expected to report findings to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV).
According to PCADV's 2020 Fatality Report, 70 victims were shot, 22 stabbed, six beaten, six strangled, four died of other causes, and one was poisoned.
In 2020, 109 victims lost their lives to domestic violence in Pennsylvania, according to the Fatality Report.
Regional reports from Wise Options, a YWCA NorthcentralPa resource for domestic violence victims, reveal regional statistics and community efforts to improve the lives of victims.
In an annual report from 2019-20, Wise Options reports supporting 1,341 individuals, providing over 9,000 nights of safe shelter, training over 3,000 individuals in prevention tactics, and filing Protection from Abuse Orders (PFAs) for over 400 clients.
Current statistics reveal an upward trend — much like the 8.1% national spike in domestic violence cases during COVID-19 lockdowns. In 2020-21 so far, Wise Options has served over 1,300 individuals and provided over 550 screenings for PFAs, according to Amber Morningstar, Wise Options program director.
The Wise Options webpage expands statistics to a global scale: "A staggering one in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and nearly one in five women and one in seventy-one men have reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives."
These statistics do not account for repeat occurrences — a common experience amongst victims. "Victims of domestic violence attempt to leave their abusive partner on average of 8 to 10 times before leaving for good. The highest risk for serious injury or lethality occurs when a victim leaves as the abuser feels a loss of control," said Morningstar.
Morningstar spoke of the circumstances which lead to a domestic violence situation, and offered sympathy for those who suffer. "Individuals choose to stay in abusive relationships for various reasons: fear of retaliation, fear of breaking up their family, embarrassment, religion, and financial reliance are just a few," said Morningstar.
"We want the community to know that help is available 24-7 through Wise Options. We are ready and equipped to assist victims at any point in their journey."
According to their website, Wise Options provides comprehensive crisis and counseling services to victims of violence, including a crisis hotline, emergency shelter, individual and group counseling and medical and court accompaniments. In operation for nearly 50 years, Wise Options provides shelter to victims fleeing a violent situation.
Each year, a vigil is held to honor the lives lost to domestic violence and to "raise awareness for those who may be suffering in silence," said Morningstar.
NCPA covered this year's vigil: