I appreciate the newspaper’s continuing focus on domestic violence and sexual assault with its recent editorials. It’s important to keep reminding us that life is not what it should be for many women and children living in Maine. When half or more of our state’s murders are because of domestic violence and one in five Maine women identify as victims of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, keeping the public’s eye on this injustice is critical to curbing it.

In fact, the domestic violence and sexual assault agencies in the state, along with partners in government, law enforcement, the media and the business community have been working on raising awareness of these issues. For a variety of reasons, though, it’s an uphill battle with little chance of winning unless we add additional supports and more fully engage in stopping it.

Every year, the Maine Domestic Homicide Review Panel provides recommendations for law enforcement, prosecution, the judiciary, the Departments of Corrections, Education and Human Services, behavioral health, health care, the faith community and the public about what kinds of activities would make Maine home life safer. The members of the panel do the hard work of providing a map to that destination, but we all have to be willing to do the hard work of traveling that road. Progress has been slow.

There are lots of potholes in the road contributing to persistence of domestic violence, even though the vast majority of the population believes it is wrong. One of the potholes is the lack of political will to increase funding for prevention services. Another is a governor who does a good job publicly condemning domestic violence, yet refuses to recognize the critical importance quality infant and toddler care play in primary prevention of it. A third is the lack of a strong coordinated voice of men holding their peers accountable for their behavior.

The part that underlies all of problem, though, is the culture’s attitude toward women and girls. If anyone doubts there is such an attitude, I would remind them no matter how far they believe we have come, if we wanted to do away with violence against them, we would treat the issue the same way we have changed the culture’s attitude about smoking, driving drunk and wearing seat belts. We passed laws, provided the resources to enforce those laws, and took advantage of peer pressure to change behavior.

Efforts are underway in Maine to address some of the challenges on the road we’re traveling. The Maine Early Learning Investment Group, a collection of committed Maine CEOs, is speaking out and raising funds for early childhood development. They understand that Maine’s future economic security begins with the healthy development of infants and toddlers. Brain science and economic research are clear about that.

Children who grow up in supportive environments away from the toxic stress of domestic violence are much more likely to start school ready to succeed and to become healthy adults, both mentally and physically. They are unlikely to learn the power and control tactics of abusers and more likely to be socially and emotionally well adjusted. They are more likely to be successful readers by third grade, stay out of the judicial system as teens, live healthier lives and earn more money as adults.

Programs such as Early Head Start, Public Health Nursing and Maine Home Visiting are critical programs in efforts to prevent domestic violence. The more male voices we have calling for those programs, generally relegated to a list of “women’s issues,” the more likely the culture will change its attitude in regard to the importance to our future economic health. It’s even possible if enough male voices call for investments in early childhood, they could spur the investment of businesses in quality child care, paid sick time and equal pay for their employees.

Changing cultural norms is hard work. It’s primary prevention work that the Bingham Program has been doing for the past seven years. In addition to supporting early childhood education and care, we have funded programs that reach school-age children.

Hardy Girls, Boys to Men and the prevention programs of the domestic violence and sexual assault agencies are among the many we have supported in their work to engage young people in widening their lens, critically thinking about their lives, and changing their thoughts and behaviors. These organizations help boys and girls understand the destructive nature of gender imbalance — helping boys view girls as whole beings and helping girls understand that getting a man is not a financial plan.

We hope that others will join us in supporting their efforts, and think about how they can make a difference in their corner of the world.

Karen Heck is senior program officer for the Bingham Program, 61 Winthrop St., Augusta, a charitable endowment supporting the health of Maine people. She also writes a regular column for this newspaper.

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