October is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time when we honor and remember those who have lost their lives at the hands of someone they once loved and trusted.
It is also a time to celebrate the lives of domestic violence survivors who were able to escape their violent homes. Last year in Florida, there were 111,681 reported incidents of domestic violence with 192 women, men and children brutally murdered by the person they believed loved them the most. Each one of these domestic violence victims has a face, a name and a story riddled with fear and often times ending in tragedy.
While there are many myths and misconceptions about who commits and who is victimized by domestic violence, the truth is this crime knows no social, economic, educational or cultural boundaries.
Each day in our country an average of three women die as a result of domestic violence, and one in four women report being beaten or raped by a current or former partner. In addition, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported that intimate partner violence exceeded an annualized cost of $5.8 billion, including $4.1 billion in direct health care expenses. It is clear that domestic violence is not just a family matter, but a workplace matter, a health care matter and an issue greatly affecting children in our schools, communities and homes.
I want to recognize and acknowledge our unsung heroes, Florida's 42 certified domestic violence centers that work tirelessly each day to provide lifesaving services to domestic violence victims and their children. These are individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping others and do so selflessly. One of the many privileges of serving as Florida's first lady was having the opportunity to meet hundreds of staff working in our domestic violence centers and I was always humbled by their tenacity and unyielding commitment and passion to ending domestic violence in our communities.
Today, I encourage every person who reads this column to take one step towards ending domestic violence in our communities. Preventing and ending domestic violence in our communities begins with our children. Set aside time this month to discuss with your children the importance of fostering healthy relationships and conversely teach them how to identify abusive behaviors.
Commit to helping those experiencing domestic violence by contacting your local domestic violence center and offering to organize efforts to secure donated clothes, food or diapers for women and children residing in emergency shelter. Just take action — no step is too small.
We live in the greatest country on earth and we must demand peace in each and every home. We must demand action and we must rebuke complacency because domestic violence will only end when every man, woman and child clearly understands that it is wrong to raise a hand in anger.
On Oct. 26, Jeb and I will host an inaugural event announcing the formation of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to create a statewide private endowment to increase the resources necessary to meet the demand for services while reducing dependence on government funding. I am proud to be a founding board member of the foundation and look forward to working with other leaders throughout the state to eradicate this horrific crime.
Please contact your local domestic violence center and ask how you can get involved in the work to end domestic violence. If you are in need of help or safety, please contact the confidential statewide Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119.
Columba Bush, the first lady of Florida from 1999 to 2007, is a member of the FCADV Foundation Inc. board of directors. For information about the event, email DoorToHope@fcadv.org.