The Northwest Ohio Silent Witness Project, housed at Bethany House, tracks domestic violence femicides. Each year life-size silhouettes bearing the names and stories of each victim are created, and each woman or girl is honored at our annual Unveiling Ceremony. The project exists to remember victims, raise awareness of the extent of domestic violence in our region, connect survivors to resources, and encourage community and legislative action.
We write today to shine a light on the overwhelming increase in domestic violence femicides occurring in our region. Recently, in Northwest Ohio, we have borne witness to four murders in less than three weeks. Since September, domestic violence incidents have killed no fewer than 10 women and girls. According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Ohio has seen a 62 percent increase in domestic violence fatalities.
It is time that we have laws and processes in place that hold criminals who do harm behind closed doors to people they claim to love accountable. Without adequate legal repercussions for abusers that prioritize the safety of victims, we will continue to see cycles of escalation that bring extreme harm, mostly to women and girls. Alarmingly, a bill is being developed right now by Ohio Legislators which, if signed into law, will increase the risk of homicide or extreme harm for survivors of domestic violence.
House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182 would require that people held on misdemeanor charges be released within 72 hours of their arrest, even if the judge determines the person charged is dangerous. We agree that bail reform is desperately needed. The problem with these pieces of legislation is the vast majority of domestic violence offenses are charged as misdemeanors and the offender’s danger to their victim is likely to escalate after arrest. Domestic violence victims would have only 72 hours to make arrangements for safety for them and loved ones.
Intervention like shelter and advocacy for survivors is paramount, but it is made infinitely more challenging by a legal system that fails to hold offenders adequately accountable. For almost 40 years, Bethany House has provided safety and advocacy for survivors to rebuild. Consistently, the onus falls on the survivor, the victim, to take responsibility and pay the price for the disruption created, criminally, by an abusive partner. House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 182, as proposed, only increase the risk of further harm.
The need for bail reform is crucial to help improve racial and class equity in the criminal justice system however victim-serving organizations stand ready to help create a bill that would also take into consideration highly lethal domestic violence, sex offense, and child abuse offenders. We urge those crafting these Ohio bills to consider suggested language changes that would significantly increase safety for victims of domestic violence.
Deidra Lashley MPH, LSW Anna Turner
Executive Director, Bethany House Northwest Ohio Silent Witness Project Coordinator
The Northwest Ohio Silent Witness Project is housed at Bethany House, a long-term transitional shelter for survivors of domestic violence and their children in Toledo. More information about Bethany House and other resources for survivors of domestic violence can be found at www.bethanyhousetoledo.org