You’ve heard the statistics: 1 out of 4 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. 1 in 4 women will be subjected to domestic violence. In the U.S., 24 people per minute are subjected to sexual assault, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. These numbers are sobering, as they illustrate the extent of the problem in our country. But how do these numbers play out closer to home? Does these shocking statistics really apply in Westmoreland County? The answer is not simple. We do not have access to the data to tell you exactly how many people in Westmoreland County are victims of sexual assaulted or abused by an intimate partner. But what we do know is nonetheless troubling, and confirms that even here, gender violence is a serious issue.
First, the bad news: Pennsylvania does not have a specific criminal code for domestic violence, and it has no separate database or reporting requirements for domestic violence-related crimes. That means that when someone is hurt by an intimate partner, the crime is charged and reported as the general crime (such as assault or homicide) and it is not linked to domestic violence. Because of this, it’s hard to know exactly how many domestic violence crimes happen in Westmoreland County each year. Despite this limitation, our statewide organization, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence releases an annual report on domestic violence fatalities in Pennsylvania. The numbers are grim: since PCADV began compiling the report in 2004, at least 1,678 people have died as a result of domestic violence-related incidents. This number includes the 141 Pennsylvanians who died in 2014 (97 victims and 44 perpetrators). In 2014, 7 people died in Westmoreland County as a result of domestic violence (4 victims and 3 perpetrators). Out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Westmoreland County is in the top ten counties for domestic violence fatalities since 2004.
For sexual assault crimes, the numbers are more readily available, although they include only forcible rape and not other crimes such as statutory rape and sexual abuse of children. In 2013, 56 rapes were reported in Westmoreland County. This number can be compared to 182 reported rapes in Allegheny County and 31 reported rapes in Indiana County for the same time frame. Of course, these numbers are only for forcible rapes that have been reported to the police; studies show that 68% of rapes are never reported.
One final number also shows the prevalence of gender violence in our community. Each year, Blackburn Center assists approximately 3,000 women, children and men in Westmoreland County. This tells us that domestic and sexual abuse are still widespread in our community. And beyond this - we do not know how many people may need our help, but do not reach out to us.
Based on these numbers, we can conclude that the national statistics can be applied to Westmoreland County. It is no surprise that gender violence is as common here as it is anywhere else in the country, because domestic and sexual violence can affect anyone, regardless of race, age, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or gender identity. There is hope, however, because our community has shown itself to be dedicated to our mission to end gender violence. You can join in this mission by volunteering for Blackburn Center, donating to our organization, or simply speaking out against domestic and sexual violence. You can also seek help for yourself or a loved one by contacting us at 1-888-832-2272 or 1-724-836-1122. Our hotline is open 24/7, is always confidential and offered at no charge, and it can be anonymous.