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The Oklahoman: Your Turn: It's time to act against domestic violence in Oklahoma

By Sarah Stewart
Published: May 19, 2021

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According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 49% of women in Oklahoma and 40% of Oklahoma men have experienced intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence includes rape, physical assault, and stalking by someone who is or was involved in a romantic relationship with the victim.

Oklahoma is ranked the sixth-worst state for domestic violence by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Task Force conducted a 10-year study that found 41% of homicides in Oklahoma are linked to domestic violence. In families where children are present, experts estimate 30% to 60% of those children experience child abuse.

Domestic violence is not an isolated issue for the victims in our state. The effectspermeate our families and communities, and perpetuate a cycle of continuing trauma and violence for our population. Something must be done to make Oklahoma’s men, women and children safer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set out four areas Oklahomans can focus on to prevent domestic violence:

  1. Enact public policies to protect victims, families and communities impacted by violence.
  2. Provide education and training to families and the public.
  3. Provide programs and partnerships for victims and families exposed to violence.
  4. Change the social climate to make abuse unacceptable.

Oklahoma can enact all of these prevention methods to prevent the trauma and effects of domestic violence for our families and communities. But how would that look?

A law passed in May 2020 added four domestic violence offenses to the classification of violent crimes. But we need more. Most domestic violence offenses are currently misdemeanors, and rarely lead to much prison time, unless the prosecutors can show a repeated “pattern” of abuse. Due to the fear abusers strike in their victims, and the low rates of reporting associated with domestic abuse, that standard can be difficult to reach. We need stricter laws against domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse isn’t isolated to the home. It spills into every part of a victim’s life. So, proper training for medical professionals and judges in custody and criminal cases to recognize the signs of domestic violence would help victims tremendously.

Palomar is a great example of providing programs and partnerships for victims and families. The facility opened in 2017 in Oklahoma City and provides clients access to over 36 partners who can help them with all facets of abuse. We can copy Palomar’s model throughout Oklahoma and spread the word on how to safely help more families suffering abuse.

The CDC recommends treatment and education for families and youth. Community education campaigns of what abuse looks like and how to avoid it could help Oklahoma shed our disgraceful ranking and raise leaders and communities who protect their families instead of harming them.

Sarah Stewart is an attorney with Solid Serenity Legal Solutions in Edmond.