October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in an effort to bring attention to and end domestic violence. With an average of 60 deaths occurring each year in Indiana as a result of domestic violence, there is a clear and growing need to help those being harmed by their partners. As we mourn those who have died because of domestic violence and celebrate those who are survivors, it's also very important we connect victims of domestic violence with tools and resources they need to protect themselves and their families.

Those who are in an emotionally abusive or physically dangerous situation can call 2-1-1 at any time to be connected with life-saving help. This is a free and confidential phone number that will connect callers with critical support and programs dedicated to helping domestic violence victims. Whether it is emotional support or information on shelters and resources for children subjected to abuse, 2-1-1 provides a path to safety.

In Hamilton County, Prevail offers 24-hour assistance to victims of crimes and abuse. For help, please call 317-776-3472 or 317-773-6942. The National Domestic Violence Network also connects victims to highly trained advocates at all times. By calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), professionals can talk confidentially with anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.In an effort to save more lives in Indiana, action was recently taken to establish a statewide Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee. Experts serving on this committee will thoroughly examine the deaths and serious injuries that occur in Indiana due to domestic violence, and their findings will help officials better tailor state resources and address this important issue.

Several state laws also work to help victims. Oftentimes, those who are on family cell phone plans can be tracked by their abusers who also have access to phone records. This can be dangerous for people who are leaving violent situations, so they are often encouraged to just get rid of their phones entirely, which means losing all of their contacts and connections to their support system, and get a new one. In Indiana, wireless carriers are required to allow victims of domestic violence to separate cell phone plans controlled by their abusers, which helps victims keep their phones, their phone numbers and their contacts.

National studies show about 48 percent of domestic violence victims report that they delayed leaving because they were fearful of what would happen with their pets, so in Indiana, judges can include pets in a protective order for domestic violence. This means that police officers can retrieve pets along with other personal property from homes on behalf of these victims.

Protective orders in Indiana can also temporarily double as handgun permits in domestic violence situations. With this policy, an abuse victim can use their protective order as a handgun permit if they have applied for a handgun license, are at least 18 years of age and have never been convicted of a felony. The protective order can be used as a valid permit for up to a 60-day period. This policy will keep vulnerable Hoosiers safe and provide them the option to protect themselves in circumstances where they are a victim of violence.

These laws are a direct result of advocates and constituents reaching out to state officials and voicing a need. If you have additional input on other policies that could be implemented in Indiana to help prevent domestic violence or save lives, please call 317-232-9677 or email h29@iga.in.gov.

Everyone deserves to live free and without fear. If you or someone you know is experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological harm or threats, please seek help. Many people who have been in the same situations and escaped are waiting to rescue you, your children, and even your beloved pets. Please call 2-1-1, contact Prevail or The National Domestic Violence Network. You do not have to face domestic violence alone.

Kathy Kreag Richardson is a Republican State Representative from District 29, which includes Noblesville, and has served in the legislature since 1992. She also is the elections administrator for Hamilton County. You may contact her at h29@in.gov.