McNeill: We have much work to do addressing domestic violence, and the time is now

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in seven men, and one in four women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. Last year, 109 Pennsylvanians lost their lives to domestic violence, including one Lehigh County resident; 56 of those deaths were at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. There is much work to be done to ensure that we can – one day -- have a society where everyone can thrive without fear or abuse… a society free of domestic violence.

Domestic violence can be characterized by many types of abuse, including:

  • Emotional Abuse.
  • Physical Violence.
  • Stalking.
  • Sexual Violence.
  • Financial Abuse.
  • Verbal Abuse.

As reported by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 70 of the 2020 victims were shot, 22 stabbed, six beaten, six strangled, four died of other causes, and one victim was poisoned. The data is contained in the organization’s annual Fatality Report, compiled by collecting information from news accounts, police departments, and information provided by the 59 local domestic violence programs in service to Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

While these numbers are shocking, they still don’t provide an accurate accounting of all incidents. Current law mandates hospitals to report incidents of domestic abuse to law enforcement. However, many of those cases aren’t followed or tracked, nor reported or shared, with any local or state agency. Further, many incidents of domestic violence go unreported. That fact, in combination with the gap/lack in the uniformity with available data, makes it difficult to be effective in not only supporting current survivors, but also preventing others from becoming victims.

The inability to be effective is simply unacceptable, a problem in need of solving. As a legislator, part of my responsibility is seeking solutions to problems. As such, I’m co-sponsoring H.B. 686 in an attempt to correct how Pennsylvania handles data involving domestic violence.

Introduced by Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Phila., this legislation would require hospitals to report their findings to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the PCADV.  No personally identifying information would be included and they would create a new resource for state and local entities looking to help domestic violence survivors. This bill is modeled after legislation in Tennessee, the only state to require such tracking.

In 2020, some 2,574 residents of Pennsylvania were identified as victims of violence and received services in just one day. It’s time to take a serious stand and recommit the commonwealth to addressing issues like domestic violence.

This month let’s truly do something of value on behalf of domestic violence victims, survivors, and those who work tirelessly advocating and supporting efforts to end the abuse cycle. I encourage my colleagues on the Health Committee to vote on H.B. 686 so that it may move to the full House of Representatives, where it should pass unanimously.

I can remember countless times as a child witnessing domestic violence in my home, and wishing somehow, someway, for somebody to “do something.”

As adults, we can’t just wish something away, or pretend a problem or issue is too challenging to overcome. Instead, we must act on behalf of those who can’t, give voice to those who are voiceless, be leaders in conversation even when the topic is uncomfortable. That “time to do something,” to answer the silent wishes of today’s trapped children, and their battered parents is long-past due. The time to do something is now. It’s time we work together to end domestic violence.