Montana is pretty cool. Montanans enjoy coming from a state that values independence, hard work, and rugged individualism. And there are a lot of things we get right. But we need to not shut our eyes to the things we get wrong.

Earlier this month in Belgrade, Joseph DeWise was charged with the deliberate homicide shooting of his wife, Lauren Walder DeWise. He’s also been charged with shooting and critically injuring her roommate, Ashley Van Hemert. DeWise allegedly broke into Lauren and Ashley’s apartment after Lauren had left him because of his abuse. Joseph DeWise and Lauren were separated.

DeWise exemplifies how domestic violence abusers become desperate to regain power and control once their innocent partner leaves. Far too often, abusers will also hurt or kill bystanders who might try to intervene – including friends, family, and law enforcement officers.

Domestic violence incidents like this happen far too frequently.

So, what do I want you to do about it? I want Montanans to get involved.

I want you to decide that we will not tolerate dating partners, marriage partners, other family members, acquaintances, friends, or anyone else who chooses to abuse someone. I want Montanans to take a stand.

You might be asking, “But what can I do?” I have three ways you can make a difference in our state starting today:

1. Donate to your local domestic and/or sexual violence advocate organization.

Montana doesn’t give state funds to domestic and/or sexual violence advocate organizations. That means that these organizations are dependent on federal funds and local donations.

Federal funds aren’t ideal, especially since advocate organizations aren’t government organizations; they’re generally nonprofits. They have to apply for the federal funding through grants. There’s lots of competition, and the amount isn’t always stable.

Donations can make a huge difference. Advocate organizations can’t keep providing critical services without your help.

You don’t have to give a large amount – even $25 can buy a survivor gas for her vehicle to escape a bad situation. Plus, whatever amount you give provides encouragement to the advocates. These advocates fight every day to help women, children and men affected by domestic and sexual violence. Your gift makes a difference.

To find your local organization, visit the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence website.

2. Prevent future violence by making sure Montana youth have the skills they need for healthy relationships.

Talk with your school administrators and your local school board. If your school doesn’t have a healthy relationship program in place, encourage them to get one.

There are a lot of programs out there that teach children how to treat each other well in all relationships – from friendships to acquaintances to dating relationships. If you’re looking for a Montana-made option, check out the program I work for, Power Up, Speak Out! at www.powerupspeakout.org.

But, honestly, we’re an organization that wants to see a Montana without violence. It doesn’t matter if you use our program or a different program. Find what’s going to work for your community, and get active in getting it into the schools.

3. Volunteer for your local domestic and/or sexual violence advocate organization.

Nearly all of these organizations run a 24/7 helpline. These helplines wouldn’t be possible without community volunteers. Each organization runs their helpline a little differently, but all of them will provide you with training and oversight. And they’ll be ecstatic that you want to help out.

Even if you can’t help by taking shifts on a crisis line, there are usually other ways to help. Maybe you can serve on the board. Just contact them and ask.

To find your local organization, visit the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence website.

Beth Hoover is the violence prevention educator and communications manager at Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) which serves Carbon and Stillwater counties.

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