Protect RI Families 2017[April 6, 2017] – Yesterday, I spoke at the State House as a survivor of domestic violence to support the Protect Rhode Island Families Act. It was an honor, and a daunting task to speak on behalf of the nearly 10,000 Rhode Islanders each year who are victims of domestic violence. I also spoke for the victims who are no longer with us and able to speak for themselves—from 1980 through 2016, 177 Rhode Islanders lost their lives to domestic violence homicide. Seventy-five of these individuals (42%) were killed with firearms.

When I first met the man who would one day hold a gun to my head, he seemed perfect. He was charming, friendly, and respected in the community. But before I knew it, it went from a fairytale to a horror story. He isolated me from my loved ones and controlled my every move. It didn't take long for the physical abuse to start. The abuse was constant; he would push me around, strangle me, or strike me with rolled-up newspapers. One time as we were driving on the highway, he opened the door and tried to push me out.

Still, all of these physical horrors I experienced did not compare to the fear and intimidation caused by having a gun as part of our daily lives. A friend who came to my house would say the gun was a centerpiece on our dining room table. He used the gun to intimidate me. He would threaten to shoot himself or me, sometimes in front of my two children. When the gun was drawn, I had to plead for him to stop and consent to whatever he wanted. The cold pressure of the gun on my temple is something impossible to forget. There were days that I wondered if I would live to see another day. The fear and terror were always present.

When I tried to get a protective order, the judge granted it, but allowed my abuser to keep his weapons. My experience mirrors the bigger picture; statistics show that in cases where final protective orders were issued, Rhode Island courts ordered abusers to turn in their guns only 5% of the time. Federal law prohibits people under final domestic abuse protective orders from buying or possessing guns, but there is no mandated system in RI for these abusers to turn in the guns they own.

We must take action now to protect families from this type of terror and violence, by closing the loopholes in Rhode Island law that allow dangerous abusers to keep their weapons. It is for this reason that I urge the General Assembly to pass the Protect Rhode Island Families Act.

- Giovanna, SOAR Member