OKLAHOMA CITY, OK. – Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in Oklahoma, and the statistics are staggering. According to recent research, an estimated 49.1% of women and 40.7% of men in Oklahoma experience domestic abuse – physical, rape, or stalking – during their lifetimes. This is the highest percentage in the United States and places Oklahoma third nationwide for the number of women killed by male offenders in single-victim homicides.
More shockingly, on average, every 16 hours somewhere in America, a woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner. In fact, across the country, the number of women who are murdered by men each year has slowly increased to 4,000; the number of women who are raped each day is now estimated to be about 200,000; the number of women who experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner each year is over 1 million; the number of women and children who are currently in homeless shelters as a result of domestic violence is 50,000; the estimated annual cost to society from domestic violence is now $10.9 billion.
The pandemic has only worsened this situation, with gun homicides involving intimate partners increasing by 25%, reaching their highest levels in almost three decades, with women accounting for more than two-thirds of victims shot and killed by their partners last year alone.
There is an outcry over these numbers; however, these calls for change are being met with increasing resistance. Oddly enough, the most outspoken opponents seem to be the very people who should be seeking justice – family and friends of those affected by domestic violence. They fight tooth and nail against advocates’ efforts, claiming that lines were crossed or that victims brought it on themselves somehow. In rural areas or small towns, for example, traditional beliefs and attitudes about gender roles can be deeply entrenched in households and communities.
This culture of victim blaming, coupled with the lack of access to resources, creates an inability for victims to seek help, perpetuating violence against women in Oklahoma and nationwide. These outdated notions do nothing to protect victims from their abusers; instead, they only benefit those who stand to gain from a status quo where abusers go unpunished.
However, it is not just family, friends, and neighbors that engage in victim blaming. Many times, even law enforcement officers – who should be trained on the dynamics of domestic violence – resort to victim-blaming as well. The reality is that many police departments are unequipped to handle domestic violence cases due to a lack of proper training and resources. This means that even when cases are reported, officers may not be able to provide victims with the support they need or take action against their abuser as needed.
Thankfully, various steps are being taken across the state of Oklahoma to address this issue, including:
- Plans for additional training on recognizing signs of abuse for law enforcement personnel who respond to domestic violence calls;
- Enhanced protection orders, which extend beyond traditional no-contact orders;
- increased access to counseling services for survivors;
- initiatives explicitly designed for Native American communities;
- Support groups led by advocates who provide assistance navigating legal processes;
- Additional funding is being made available for shelters and other community organizations assisting those dealing with domestic abuse issues;
- Public information campaigns aimed at raising awareness about available resources along with educational programs focusing on teaching youth healthy relationship skills;
All these efforts should be applauded, but one thing must be kept in mind: it takes great bravery, strength, and dedication to advance in the fight against domestic violence. All those who have taken action – shelter providers, law enforcement officers, legislators, and non-profit organizations – have much to be commended for.
Yet we must not allow ourselves to become complacent; without further substantial measures being taken, we will not see the results that this critical issue requires. Resources and support need to be given to those seeking recovery; effective prevention strategies are necessary to stop abuse before it happens; laws need tightening to penalize perpetrators appropriately; and society must create an attitude shift so that survivors feel safe speaking out taking action. We owe it to future generations that there is no more suffering due to domestic abuse.