Domestic violence is now recognized as a problem of epidemic proportions with far-reaching consequences for individual victims, their children and their communities.
Actually, domestic violence is a somewhat sanitized term, which less accurately describes the battering of women and children by intimates of which almost all are men.
Battering and beatings victimize nearly one million women each year according to a 1995 book “Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey.” These crimes comprise the significant portion of all crimes committed against women and children. Domestic violence remains one of the foremost reasons, outside of traffic collisions, where women seek medical help in hospital emergency rooms.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics reports that:
• In 1992 and 1993, women and girls age 12 and older annually sustained almost five million victimizations.
• In about 75 percent of all lone-suspect and 45 percent of multiple-suspect violence incidents, the victim knew the suspect(s).
• Women annually report about 500,000 rapes and other sexual assaults.
Domestic battering results in death, serious injury and chronic medical and mental health issues for both victims and their children. The lethality of domestic battering is evident in the daily headlines and media reports that describe a steady stream of homicides at the hands of a family member.
Unfortunately, violence in the home is underreported for a variety of personal reasons. Family violence crosses every racial, ethnic and economic stratum.
Victims can feel a sense of community isolation because violence in the home has long been considered a personal problem or one that should remain hidden within the family.
Victims of family violence frequently fear reporting crime inside the household to the police for a variety of reasons that are not at all difficult to understand. The reporting victim risks potential embarrassment and exposure when the report is uncovered and perhaps reported in the media. The abuser has likely threatened the victim with escalating violence to her or the children should the abuse be reported to the police. The victim may have no economic support outside of the home and is unable to care for herself or her children. Some victims simply have given into the seemingly inescapable relationship they have with their abuser.
The law enforcement response to crimes of family violence has changed over the years. When I first began my law enforcement career in 1974, the police were not able to make arrests for domestic violence unless the crime was a felony or a misdemeanor committed in the officer’s presence. Fortunately, the police have broader powers to arrest batterers and break the reoccurring cycle of violence.
Arizona law (ARS 13-3601) clearly defines domestic violence as a crime. Crimes commonly linked to domestic violence are assault, threatening, custodial interference, unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, criminal trespass, criminal damage, interfering with judicial proceedings or orders, disorderly conduct, use of a telephone to terrify, stalking, child or vulnerable adult abuse and harassment. When these offenses are committed in a relationship where the victim and the defendant have been married or formerly married or by persons who reside or previously resided in the same household, the statutes covering domestic violence take effect. This statute also covers couples who have a child in common or where one is pregnant by the other party.
Victims and defendants fall under the umbrella of domestic violence when they are related by blood as a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother or sister or by marriage as a parent-in-law, grandparent-in-law, stepchild, step-grandchild, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.
The victim may be a child who resides or has resided in the same household as the defendant and is related by blood to a former spouse or to a person who resides or has resided in the same household.
Your police department can respond to reported incidences of domestic violence and make arrests based on probable cause whether the offense(s) have been committed in the officer’s presence or not. In situations where family violence has resulted in physical injury or involved a deadly weapon, the police are mandated to arrest the suspect when probable cause exists to do so.
Mandatory arrests of violent offenders have proven to be an effective means in which the cycle of domestic violence can be broken. This cycle of violence typically involves a build up of stress that erupts into family violence. The batterer may feel remorse after having injured a family member and can make repeated apologies and promises to reform. The couple frequently experiences a “honeymoon” phase in which their relationship appears to improve for a short period of time. As family stress begins to build again, the cycle is repeated.
Family violence usually starts with the suspect breaking or destroying some item the victim holds dear. Violence, both verbal and physical, commonly increases over time. Dominance by the suspect often includes physical and emotional isolation from friends and extended family members.
The times in which victims are at greatest risk have usually been when they attempt to leave an abusive relationship. Domestic violence suspects often overreact by using personal violence to enforce a position of power and privilege over their victims.
Domestic violence victims often endure as many as 10 episodes of physical violence before they call for help. I urge each of us, as responsible community members, to become aware of battering victims and act in their behalf by alerting authorities to actual or suspected acts of family violence.
Although I am a firm proponent of proactive police intervention, I realize that victims may not consider calling the police as their first option. Realistically, the police cannot help solve these problems without an active and mutually supporting partnership with a variety of social service agencies and the courts. These social service advocates are trained to intervene with the police to help protect and counsel victims suffering from the dehumanizing, debilitating, isolating and brutal violence experienced in the privacy of their homes.
If you or someone you know, is the victim of domestic violence, please contact your local law enforcement agency. In Williams, the number to your police department is 635-4461 or for emergencies calls dial 911.
If, for whatever reason, you choose not to call the police, I urge you to contact one of the following social service agencies to help intervene and stop the violence by calling:
• Victim Witness Service in Coconino County at 779-6163. (After hours call your local law enforcement agency and an advocate will be paged.)
• Flagstaff Women’s Shelter 527-1900.
• Williams Guidance Center, 635-4272.
• Flagstaff Guidance Center, 527-1899.
• Northland Family Help Center, 774-4503.
I hope you will join us in our cooperative efforts to stop domestic violence and help provide assistance to both victims and perpetrators. After all, we do it for each other because it is the right thing to do.
(Frank Manson is Chief of Police in Williams.)