Natalie Mihalek

Natalie Mihalek

Throughout Pennsylvania, communities are clamoring for solutions to the rise in violence that we’ve seen over the past year. In 2021, a national trend is mirrored here at home – violent crime is spiking in places like Pittsburgh, among populations that are usually hardest hit by crime.

As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s heartbreaking to see that cases of domestic violence are on the rise locally as well, accompanied by an increase in hotline calls for those seeking shelter from abuse.

True public safety can only be achieved once we commit ourselves to protecting and supporting crime survivors in the aftermath of a crime. In my many conversations with victims and their families, a common thread is that they feel left out of the current public safety system.

Pennsylvania has made great strides in common sense approaches to safety, but we need to ask ourselves – are we doing enough to support victims as they seek to recover? We have an opportunity to build on prior successes to make us safer, and invest in proven solutions to end cycles of crime.

Being a victim of domestic violence or other violent crime can be an overwhelmingly traumatic experience, with mental, physical, and financial consequences that can make recovery difficult. While Pennsylvania offers a victim compensation program, far too many victims currently face barriers to eligibility and a lack of protections that make them vulnerable to losing their livelihoods as they try to seek safety.

This past summer, I stood with local members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice – a network of crime survivors representing the voices of 3,200 Pennsylvanians – to unveil the Safer Pennsylvania Act, a package of bills that meet the needs of victims and target the root causes of crime.

If passed, Pennsylvania would join at least 26 states in establishing employment protections for all survivors of violence, ensuring that they and their families can take limited, unpaid time off to recover or get services.

To further promote economic stability, these reforms would help address the challenges faced when trying to maintain a stable home or relocating for safety. Victims would be able to terminate leases within 180 days without penalty, and relocation assistance would be available to victims in county housing authorities.

For many victims, qualifying for compensation is a hurdle unto itself. Every survivor’s healing journey is different and they often need time to take the steps required to apply for compensation. The Safer Pennsylvania Act would streamline access by eliminating a 72-hour time limit for reporting crimes to authorities and extending the time limit for applying for compensation from two years to five years.

With this package, we can also protect the anonymity of sexual assault victims by fixing a flawed statute that risks exposing the identity of victims when evidence is being collected and tested by health-care professionals. This will protect the dignity of sexual assault victims, while enabling them to receive the health care they need after such a traumatic experience.

Altogether, these sweeping reforms aim to reduce barriers to healing and expand a support system that helps victims on their road to recovery. If we stand together in support of these bills, victims will be able to access critical services like medical care, mental health treatment, and compensation for funerals.

Raising awareness for domestic violence survivors – and pledging support for all survivors – shouldn’t just be limited to a few weeks out of the year. We have an obligation to stand with our loved ones, friends, and neighbors who simply want to live their lives in safety.

By providing a lifeline to our fellow Pennsylvanians, we can end cycles of trauma that lead to further victimization and destabilize communities. We can achieve real safety across our state if we work together. This is our chance. Let’s take it.

State Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington) is the sponsor of the Victims of Violence Compensation Act, one of six pieces of legislation included in the Safer Pennsylvania Act.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.