October marks Domestic Violence Awareness month nationally and YWCA’s National Week without Violence, which focuses on the issues of domestic partner abuse, sexual assault, stalking and harassment. YWCA Billings reminds readers that one in three women in our region will be victims of some form of violence or intimidation in her lifetime. Nationally, three women die each day at the hands of an abusive partner. It’s evident that violence against women is a serious and pervasive issue.

YWCA Billings celebrates that on October 1, Montana Senate Bill 29 will go into effect and change the definition of consent in the state’s sexual intercourse without consent statute. This marks a significant step in the fight against sexual violence. The criminal justice system has a new tool in Senate Bill 29 to protect individuals who are raped by a significant other. It also changes the language that defines consent. Often these assaults do not involve physical force but are driven by an on-going pattern of coercive control of one partner over the other. Coercive control undeniably incites fear in the person who is being abused by their partner. Consent obtain through coercion or manipulation is not valid under the new statute.

There is other language in the bill relative to consent that will significantly improve how victims and the act of rape are viewed by law enforcement and the judicial system. We thank Senators Diane Sands and Margie McDonald and countless other who were champions for this important legislation.

Like domestic violence, rape is a vastly underreported crime with only an estimated 5 to 20 percent of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement. However, victims of non-stranger or intimate partner rape and domestic violence can and should report the crime to law enforcement and allow the criminal justice system to address these illegal acts.

Help is available for victims at YWCA Billings where support and assistance to survivors of domestic and sexual violence has been available 24 hours-per-day, 365 days-per-year for more than three decades. We encourage anyone who needs help escaping a violent relationship or coping with the trauma of domestic or sexual violence or human trafficking to call 406-245-4472 or text message 406-702-0229 to connect with a trained advocate.

YWCA Billings also challenges members of our community to join us in taking a stand against domestic, sexual violence and human trafficking. More information about YWCA Billings’ programs and how to get involved is available at www.ywcabillings.org or by calling 406.252.6303.

Merry Lee Olson is chief executive officer for YWCA Billings.