It's a hard pill to swallow, but nearly 20 people per minute experience domestic abuse by an intimate partner in the United States.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most of these cases don't get reported, usually out of fear that the situation may worsen or that the law may not be on the victim's side.
Abusers use certain tactics to keep their victims feeling helpless, forcing them to stay in the toxic relationship. For people in these types of situations, a child or a pet can provide emotional support and love they desperately need, but abusers use this bond to effectively manipulate and lock the victim in a cycle of abuse.
According to one study, about one-third of the victims delay seeking help or entering a shelter out of concern that their pets would have no one to care for them as only 3% of shelters can accommodate animals.
In 2014, a bill to protect domestic abuse survivors and their pets was finally introduced, but it would take another four years for congress to pass the law.
This week, President Donald Trump signed the Pet And Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which aims to put a stop to abuse and abandonment that animals belonging to domestic abuse victims experience.
"No one should have to make the choice between finding safety and staying in a violent situation to protect their pet," said Democratic Caucus vice chair and Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who co-sponsored the bill. "This law empowers survivors with the resources to leave a dangerous situation while being able to continue to care for their pet. I'm grateful for the partnerships we've formed between organizations working to end both domestic violence and animal abuse. Together, we will help save lives."
The act, which is part of the $867 billion farm bill passed in early December, expanded the definition of stalking to include "conduct that causes a person to experience a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to his or her pet." This means that it is now considered a crime to threaten the welfare of someone's pet.
A $3 million federal grant has also been created to help domestic violence programs provide better services for their clients and pets, including covering veterinary costs and helping victims find shelter for their furry companions.
The PAWS act also makes it possible to charge anyone who travels across state lines with the intent of violating a protection order against a pet.
Now that these laws have been passed, some domestic abuse victims have a better chance at finding a safe refuge for themselves and their pets, which may make them more inclined to leave their abusers.
In addition to PAWS, the farm bill included two additional animal rights provisions, including a ban on the import, export, and slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption, which has been legal in 44 states, and prohibiting dogfighting and cockfighting in U.S. territories abroad.