Published on The Huffington Post on October 28, 2014
Let's Commit to Ending Domestic Violence
By Doris Matsui, U.S. House of Representatives California's 6th Congressional District
Throughout the month of October, advocates, survivors, and elected officials across the country have been recognizing National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Through rallies and walks, Facebook and Twitter town halls, and conversations in our own living rooms, our nation has united to remember victims, celebrate survivors, and recommit to ending domestic violence in all of its forms.
Alarmingly, one out of every three women in the United States will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. This is unacceptable, and we as a nation must do better. We can start by bringing the conversation out of the shadows. Women -- and men -- who experience domestic violence must know that they are not alone, and that there are resources available to help. We must erase the stigma associated with domestic violence. That is why national Domestic Violence Awareness Month is so important.
In my home district of Sacramento, California, I have had the opportunity to get to know a bright and talented young woman named Michelle. Michelle is a mother of four and the head chef at a local women's shelter. She is passionate about her job helping the women and children at the shelter, because not that long ago she was one of them. Michelle is a survivor of domestic violence, escaping a relationship that not only left her with physical bruises, but emotional ones as well.
I first met Michelle at an event discussing economic opportunities for women. She told me she still faces challenges every day -- even after escaping her abuser. She had to find a good-paying job, which wasn't easy after her confidence had been destroyed by her abuser. She had to find, qualify and afford safe housing on her income alone. And she still struggles to find affordable child care where her children will be safe while she is working.
Michelle's story underscores how we cannot treat domestic violence as an isolated issue of crime. It is important that we do everything we can to help those who are suffering from domestic violence leave their abusers, but that is just the first step. Escaping an abusive environment isn't the end to the nightmare. It's the beginning of a long road to healing and self-reliance that will have its own bumps along the way.
Victims and advocates already know that domestic violence is a community issue, a housing issue, a family issue, a health care issue, and an economic security issue, in addition to being a legal and safety issue.
Through organizations like St. John's Program for Real Change, Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), Women's Empowerment, and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence in my home district and state -- as well as national resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline -- women are finding help not only getting to safety, but rebuilding their lives for themselves and their children.
This is where I believe our legislative priorities must lie. I am pleased that Congress passed an inclusive and much needed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization last year. As a vice-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, I am committed to working with my colleagues to close additional loopholes and strengthen VAWA, as well as pass legislation to improve women's economic and health security. We must enact laws that provide resources for women to leave an abuser in the short term and rebuild their lives in the long term.