It's been said by many people in many different cultures that the true mark of a society is how well it cares for its most vulnerable members.
Seniors and people with disabilities are among the figures representing victims of domestic violence.
Given that benchmark, we have a long way to go. We have far too many who go hungry, cannot get health care, and have no safe place to live. And we should be particularly outraged by what the rates of elder abuse, child abuse and domestic violence tell us about ourselves and the way we treat each other.
This month -- which Governor Kulongoski has proclaimed both Elder Abuse Prevention Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month -- we are reminded of how important safety is, and how easily and suddenly it can be stripped away.
According to several advocacy organizations, approximately 3-5 million elderly people in the United States (approximately one-fifth of the nation's senior population) have experienced elder abuse. Making this number even worse, the National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that only one out of every five or six cases is reported.
Red figures representing domestic violence victims stand in the lobby of the Human Services Building in Salem.
Domestic violence also is a significant problem. It is estimated that nearly one in every three adult women experiences at least one physical assault in her lifetime by a partner. According to the American Medical Association, more than 1.5 million women nationwide seek medical treatment for injuries related to abuse each year.
These numbers are horrific, and they affect all of us. Fortunately we are making some progress at increasing public awareness of the signs of abuse and violence, with the goal of reducing the rates of abuse and violence against seniors and within families.
This month we are collaborating with the Governor's Commission on Senior Services to raise awareness of elder abuse by promoting Oregon's "Everyday Heroes" -- those wonderful people who noticed problems and took action -- bank tellers, store clerks, neighbors and others who stepped in and made a positive difference.
We also are conducting training sessions at events such as the Northwest Fraud Investigators Conference and with law enforcement officers, district attorneys and other specialists. And, next Wednesday we will be displaying photos, personal stories and information resources in the HSB lobby illustrating the types of abuse and successful interventions.
That display will follow the domestic violence display that has been located in the HSB lobby during the past week, and which has so dramatically portrayed the stories of victims of domestic violence -- women, children, the elderly, the physically disabled and men. That display stops me in my tracks each and every time I pass it. It's a powerful reminder and a call to action.
Another way we have been calling attention to the problems of domestic violence and taking steps to reduce it is through the "Strengthening Families" course, which is being offered throughout the state. The first 30 classes reached 145 families, and an additional 146 classes already are scheduled, with more on the way. The course provides conflict resolution tools and other resources that help at-risk families avoid or find help for such problems as drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.
We also will be requiring every manager to participate in a domestic violence awareness class, and will be providing all staff with information about the leave law that was passed by the 2007 Legislature allowing time off work for survivors of domestic violence.
I am pleased at the work we are doing to prevent and reduce abuse and violence in our society, but there's still much more we need to do. Not until everyone can live free from the threat of harm will we as a society be able to rise to the standards set by the DHS mission -- for all Oregonians to be able to lead lives that are independent, healthy and safe.