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Did you know that, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in a domestic dispute somewhere in the United States? The statistics prove family violence is widespread and is a crime that should not be treated lightly.

I understand the loss with domestic violence as my dear friend Janice Lancaster was murdered by her abusive husband Jan. 3, 2000. Since that time, the number of Maryland lives lost to domestic violence has decreased significantly — from 62 in 2000 to 38 in 2010 — giving me hope that we are indeed talking about it, supporting one another and not turning a blind eye. But that doesn’t mean domestic violence will necessarily continue to decline in Maryland; over the past 23 years, domestic violence deaths have fluctuated wildly in the state.

And as the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence says: “We won’t stop until there’s none.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The month is dedicated to mourning those individuals such as Janice Lancaster who have died because of domestic violence, celebrating those who have survived and connecting those who work to end violence.

The education and increased knowledge of how law enforcement, domestic violence services, and emergency medical services can work together in combating domestic violence is a beginning to a much more effective system of assisting victims of domestic violence. Below are five ways to fight domestic violence as published by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence:

Know what domestic violence is. When spouses, intimate partners or dates use physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, harassment or stalking to control the behavior of their partners, they are committing domestic violence.

Develop a safety plan. If you, a relative, a friend or a neighbor are experiencing domestic violence, think about ways to make yourself safer. Leave a spare set of keys, emergency money, important phone numbers and documents like birth certificates, passports, bankbooks and insurance papers in a safe place your batterer doesn’t know about with a trusted friend or relative. Plan how to get out of your home quickly and safely, should a battering incident begin. Learn the Center for Abused Persons crisis hotline numbers, 301-645-3336 or 301-645-8994, so that you can call for advice or assistance.

Call 911. If you are being battered or you know that a relative, friend or neighbor is being battered by a spouse or intimate partner, call the police right away for help, if you can get to a phone safely. Do not be afraid to ask for immediate help. Domestic violence is a crime, not a “private family matter.”

Exercise your legal rights. You or anyone else experiencing domestic violence has the right to go to court and petition for an order of protection if you have been battered in one of the 50 states, Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C.

Get help for your family so that the violence will stop. There are many services available to help families struggling with domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects us all.

The justice system is struggling with an increasing number of cases relating to domestic violence. The business community suffers a loss of employee productivity and absenteeism because of domestic violence. We all need to take steps to end this national problem. Volunteer your time to help at victim services programs. Support a local shelter by organizing fundraising activities.

Join me and remember Janice Lancaster and other victims of domestic violence during October by wearing a purple ribbon.

Kimberly A. Clements, Faulkner