Onondaga County, NY Pushes for Public Awareness to end Domestic Violence

Randi Bregman, Executive Director of Vera House in Syracuse, gives the organization’s annual Report to the Community Wednesday ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS

The contagious myth that domestic violence takes place in private and should accordingly be kept from public consciousness has infected many communities throughout the U.S. Onondaga County in New York, however, believes they have found the perfect antidote to ending the epidemic of public ignorance on issues of domestic violence: transparency.

Each year, Vera House, a domestic and sexual violence service agency based in Syracuse, publishes an Annual Community Report. In an interview with The Daily Orange, Randi Bregman, executive director of Vera House, emphasized the importance of public knowledge of domestic violence in every community.

“Every incident of domestic and sexual violence is, in fact, a public issue,” said Bregman. “Having a public opportunity to talk about the impact, to let the survivors’ stories be heard, is essential.”

The 2016 report published by Vera House for Onondaga County showed a significant improvement in law enforcement’s supervision of domestic violence offenders since beginning their mission to end public ignorance. In 2015, Onondaga County’s Department of Probation supervised 220 offenders. The very next year, almost one thousand offenders were under direct supervision and over one thousand were issued temporary orders of protection by the Onondaga County Family Court, a critical increase from only 959 the year before.

Below, Figure 1 shows the remaining data Vera House acquired from law enforcement crime reports for the 2016 year. The data shows that out of 10,963 total calls of reported domestic violence disputes, 6,696 were answered by the authorities.

Figure 1

The Vera House report does not account for homicides that occur as a result of domestic dispute. William Fitzpatrick, an Onondaga County district attorney and director of the Victim Assistance Program (VAP), stated that one out of every four homicides in Onondaga County is directly related to domestic violence. Syracuse, the largest community in the county with a population of 140,000, had a total of 31 homicides in 2016, six of which were directly linked to domestic violence; several are still under investigation.

Elevating public knowledge about the ravages of domestic violence is part of the mission of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). NCADV’s report showed that, of all intimate partner homicides, 20% of victims were not the intimate partner of the offender, but close family, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, or third-party bystanders.  These collateral damage statistics don’t often show up in the national numbers surrounding aggregate domestic violence homicides. 

In addition to the loss of life, NCADV’s National Statistics Domestic Violence Fact Sheet shows an undeviating correlation between domestic violence and economic defects in a community. About 20-60% of domestic violence victims lose their jobs as a result of their abuse. This accumulates to a total loss of eight million days of paid work per year or 32,000 full time jobs. It is estimated that this inability to work costs the U.S. economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.

The connections are clear: domestic violence may occur in private, unseen by much of the public eye, but it has an undeniable ripple effect across American communities. In addition to the economic and familial aftermath, local officials must strive to educate themselves on issues regarding domestic violence and contribute to the public’s understanding as often as possible. Similar to Big Mountain Data, organizations such as the Vera House work closely with law enforcement agencies across the nation to make this knowledge easily accessible to the public. 

 

Big Mountain Data Assembles Data Analysis Panel at #IACP2016

IACP2016Law enforcement is on the front lines of domestic violence.  Before we can implement policies and procedures to hold offenders accountable, we need to get an accurate portrayal of what is happening behind closed doors in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities.

Domestic violence rears its ugly head every day where at least three people are murdered at the hands of someone they know intimately.  On average, across the U.S., domestic violence homicides constitute at least a third of all homicides every year. Moreover, it’s one of the most predictable homicides law enforcement must confront on an annual basis. Officers new to the force start to see the predictable patterns emerge soon after they begin their careers.  It’s for this reason, Big Mountain Data works with law enforcement to demonstrate how the data they have already in their RMS and CAD systems can reveal answers today.

Our longtime partner, SunGard Public Sector, invited us to orchestrate a panel at this year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference to discuss how data analysis played a major role in the highly successful High Point Model, now recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women.

The workshop will be moderated by V.P. Kevin Lafeber, of SunGard Public Sector. Participating on the panel will be retired Chief Marty Sumner, who led the domestic violence initiative for High Point for the past 7 years, as well as the crime analysis team from High Point and SunGard PS that had to modify the RMS in order to effectively implement the ground-breaking tracking system.  Chief Ken Shultz will talk about future improvements and enhancements to the OFDVI strategy.

The IACP conference will be held October 15-18 in San Diego, CA. This session will fill up early, so be sure to reserve your spot.

session2

 

 

When The Batterer Hides Behind A Badge

Advocates often cite fear, shame and stigma as reasons some domestic violence victims hesitate to report their abuse. Turns out those pressures may be even stronger among families with a member working in law enforcement.

Two studies cited by the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), at least 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic violence. That’s four times as high an incidence than in families in the general population.

policebadgeVictims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because their offender has a gun, knows the location of women’s shelters and “knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim, according to the NCWP.  The organization also notes a failure of police department policies and a history of “exceedingly light discipline.”

Family violence by law enforcement is especially heinous because of its misuse of power. When cops refuse to police themselves, it’s the worst example of the Thin Blue Line.

Retired Capt. Donna Roman Hernandez, who served 29 years in law enforcement in New Jersey, bravely shares her abuse at the hands her police officer father on the website corrections.com.

“My fear was that if I disclosed the abuse to my police department, would they question how I could I protect others if I could not protect myself?” Hernandez writes. “Throughout my law enforcement career I never disclosed the abuse. I suffered in silence and hid my bruises and scars underneath my police uniform, guarded my family’s secret and internalized the guilt and shame of the abuse. Ironically, I arrested domestic violence offenders for the same acts of violence I allowed my father to perpetrate upon me.”

She shares a harrowing account of finally standing up to her father after he abused her and her mother for years. Her experience, she writes, “speaks to the global widespread epidemics of child abuse and domestic violence that affect women and men from all socioeconomic groups, races, cultures, religions and professions, including law enforcement.”

She concludes with a core philosophy of Big Mountain Data: All domestic violence offenders must be held accountable – even if the abuser is a cop.

Guns Turn Domestic Violence Into Domestic Homicide, Report Says

South Carolina, Alaska and New Mexico top the list of high rates of women murdered by men,  according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2013 Homicide Data.”

The study, released in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, found that nationwide, 94 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew, and the most common weapon used was a gun.VPCreport coverThe study applies to 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. It covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender, and uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

A total of 1,615 females in the United States were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013, at a rate of 1.09 per 100,000. The report found that 94 percent of female victims were murdered by a male they knew.

According to the report, 280 of the women murdered in 2013 were shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during an argument. “This is the exact scenario – the lone male attacker and the vulnerable woman – that is often used to promote gun ownership among women,” the report notes. “Women face the greatest threat from someone they know, most often a spouse or an intimate acquaintance, who is armed with a gun. For women in America, guns are not used to save lives, but to take them.”

“When men murder women, the most common weapon used is a gun,” Julia Wyman, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a press release. “Closing gaps in state and federal gun laws will save women’s lives.”

Despite the grim statistics, the overall trend of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents has declined. In 1996, the rate was 1.57 per 100,000 women, compared to 1.09 women in 2013. That’s a 31 percent decrease.

Here are the 10 states with the highest rate of females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013:

  • South Carolina: 2.32 per 100,000
  • Alaska: 2.29 per 100,000
  • New Mexico: 2.00 per 100,000
  • Louisiana: 1.99 per 100,000
  • Nevada: 1.95 per 100,000
  • (tie)Tennessee: 1.65 per 100,000
  • (tie) Oklahoma: 1.65 per 100,000
  • Vermont: 1.58 per 100,000
  • Maine: 1.47 per 100,000
  • Michigan: 1.45 per 100,000

Status of Women in the States Report Presents Data on Domestic Violence

iThis week we’re cheering the important work of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Since 1996, the organization has collected data, crunched the numbers and presented valuable reports via its Status of Women in the States project. The organization has earned a solid reputation as a credible and valuable resource. Its data is often cited in the media on issues including poverty, pay equity, reproductive justice and health – issues often connected with domestic violence.

This spring, IWPR has published updated data and trend analysis on women’s economic, social, and political progress in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States overall. The reports include: Employment & Earnings, Poverty & Opportunity, Work & Family, Violence & Safety, Reproductive Rights, Health & Well-Being, and Political Participation. Each includes interactive maps that highlight the issue and well-documented data.

Earlier this month the organization released its report on violence and safety, which includes a section on intimate partner violence. The report echoes a concern of Big Mountain Data. “Quantitative data on these issues are limited, especially at the state level,” it notes. It also notes the many state laws address domestic violence offenders but many “may also fall short of providing the full range of protections that women need.”

The 43-page is full of information worthy of a close read. (It also includes troubling data on stalking, teen violence dating, campus sexual assault and trafficking.) Highlights include:

  • In 2012, 924 women in the United States were killed by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of women in the United States are raped at some time in their lives, and 43.9% experience other forms of sexual violence.
  • Multiracial and Native American women are more likely to experience rape and sexual violence than other groups of women.
  • Tactics of abusers may include not only sexual abuse or rape, but also reproductive or sexual coercion.
  • Domestic and sexual violence puts women and girls at higher risk of sexually transmitted disease.
  • Anti-violence programs and services for victims are unavailable to many.
  • Courts often do not take allegations of domestic abuse into account in child custody cases

The report underscores the need for efforts that go beyond “awareness,” focus on the root causes of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable. Despite progress, the report notes, “threats to women’s safety continue to profoundly affect their economic security, health, civic engagement, and overall well-being.”

 

 

 

Huge Percentage of Cases Never Prosecuted, Pulitzer Report Notes

abused womanOne story in the Pulitzer-Prize winning series about domestic violence recounts some of the reasons offenders are not held accountable for their crimes. “Cases against domestic abusers fall apart on a regular basis, allowing them to escape punishment and continue to mistreat the women in their lives — at times, with deadly results,” the reporters write in Part Five: “Cases fall apart, abusers go free.”

Advocates will likely be familiar with the examples The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, found. In one case, the male perpetrator posts bail within hours of being charged with criminal domestic violence. “Then the charge goes away entirely after his girlfriend has second thoughts about testifying,” the story says.

Contributing to the problem are the perennial challenges of overcrowded court dockets, poorly trained law enforcement, and victims “too scared to testify against the men who beat them.” Most troubling in South Carolina was “a domestic violence law that treats first-time offenders about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

The high number of cases dismissed is also troubling. The newspaper found that about six in 10 domestic violence cases in Charleston and North Charleston municipal courts between 2009 and 2013 were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors. The number of dismissed cases remains high even after then-Attorney General Charlie Condon in 2001 ordered prosecutors to pursue convictions even when victims refused to cooperate.

“Our biggest issue is the lack of cooperation from victims,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the paper.

Prosecuting a case without a victim is difficult. The strongest witness is often the victim. As the story put it: “To make a case stick, it usually comes down to the woman testifying against her man.”  South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson encourages prosecutors to pursue cases even when victims are hesitant. His words to victims point to the broad impact of domestic violence. “This is not your cross to bear,” the paper reported him as saying. “This is my burden. … He has committed a crime against the state.”

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Series On Domestic Violence Sets Precedent For Transparency

sc

The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, this week was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “Till Death Do Us Part.” The five-part series published in August 2014 spurred reform to domestic violence laws for the first time in at least a decade. South Carolina “for more than 15 years was among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men,” the paper reported in the introduction to its multimedia project. “The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.”

Journalists consider winning a Pulitzer akin to winning an Olympic medal. The Post and Courier’s ambitious project won journalism’s gold medal with “Till Death Do Us Part.” The Pulitzer jury called it “a riveting series that probed why South Carolina is among the deadliest states in the union for women and put the issue of what to do about it on the state’s agenda.”

The story “revealed numerous failings, including limited police training, inadequate laws, a lack of punishment, insufficient education for judges, a dearth of support for victims and traditional beliefs about the sanctity of marriage that keep victims locked in the cycle of abuse,” the paper said. They called this “a corrosive stew” that made the state one of the deadliest states in the nation for women.

The series is a well-written, well-produced project about a perennial problem. It deserves journalism’s highest honor for shining light on the problems and “shaming” officials to make changes. Six months after the series was published, state lawmakers, prosecutors and police pledged “this is the year we finally pass a comprehensive bill” on domestic violence. Some parts of the proposed laws have stalled, but the paper continues to aggressively cover developments.

Big Mountain Data cheers this work. We’re especially pleased with the precedent the paper set by partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting and compiling a database of those killed at the hands of intimate partners. They used police reports, court records, criminal rap sheets and other documents to plot where each killing took place. Then they looked for trends. In addition, they studied conviction rates and plea deals, which the paper’s executive editor pointed out in his prize application letter, the state judicial system does not track.

The paper set a valuable precedent in linking online to every fact and statistic they reported. Access to records varies by municipalities. But this project highlights the value of making criminal records public.

More than Half Of Colorado Offenders Did Not Complete Mandated Treatment

coloradoA team of academics recommended changes to Colorado’s domestic violence offender treatment programs after a study found that more than half of the state’s domestic violence offenders at significant risk of re-offending failed to complete their assigned treatment. The findings were the result of a yearlong study of more than 3,000 domestic violence cases in Colorado.

The recommendations, outlined in a 20-page report released in February, include more cautious reassessment of offenders over the course of treatment; continued research on the effectiveness of batterer treatment models; standardized tools to demonstrate treatment milestones and success; and development of best practices with co-occurring disorders. The research was done by Tara N. Richards, assistant professor in the University of Baltimore’s School of Criminal Justice in the College of Public Affairs; and Angela Gover, professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. They spent a year evaluating how organizations were implementing the Domestic Violence Offender Management Board’s state Standards policy on responding to domestic violence.

Press releases summarize the policy as including the use of multidisciplinary treatment teams consisting of a probation officer, treatment provider, and victim treatment advocate to supervise domestic violence offenders, and the assigning of offenders to differentiated treatment intensity levels based on their criminogenic risks and needs.  The report notes that Colorado has mandated court-ordered treatment for domestic violence offenders since 1987. Although most states have such policies, “Little is known about the extent to which these standards are implemented as intended and if so, whether they are effective in reducing recidivism,” the report says.  In addition to increased safety for the victim and the community, treating offenders “provides the offender with the opportunity for personal change by challenging destructive core beliefs and teaching positive cognitive-behavioral skills,” according to the report.

Researchers found that almost half of the domestic violence offenders in the study were placed in high-intensity treatment (rather than low or moderate intensity) because of “significant criminogenic risks and needs, such as prior domestic violence or non-domestic violence crimes, substance abuse, or the use or threatened use of weapons against their victims.”

Richards and Gover will continue to work with domestic violence treatment providers in Colorado to improve ways to engage offenders in treatment, the universities reported.

Tougher Laws Proposed in South Carolina on State’s High Domestic Violence Rate

Proposed changes to South Carolina’s domestic violence law could increase the penalties for offenders and make it harder for them to reoffend.

Proposals include revoking gun ownership rights for 10 years for many domestic violence offenders. This sensible policy would both keep victims safer and make it more difficult for offenders to escalate violence and face further criminal charges.

nikkiA Greenville Online editorial concedes that limiting gun ownership does not guarantee an end to repeated domestic violence incidents. “Louisiana adopted such a law last year and the results six months after it was implemented show the law restricting gun ownership has had little impact to date,” the editorial says.

Legislative proposals in South Carolina also support increasing jail time and fines for offenders; reforming bond provisions and improving educational efforts. Another proposal would create a tiered system for charging offenders, which would allow prosecutors more leeway in imposing punishments most appropriate for the level of abuse.

According to a 2013 report by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), in a single 24-hour period, more than 66,000 victims of domestic violence received help and support from service organizations in the United States. In South Carolina, 475 domestic violence victims were served by 11 programs that participated in the count.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has created a task force that hopes to change the state’s generational cycles of domestic abuse. The task force and the bills follow a series by The Post and Courier that reported that 300 women in the state were killed by their husbands and boyfriends in the last 10 years. For more than 15 years, South Carolina has been among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men, the newspaper reported.

One reason for that, experts say, is an entrenched history of domestic violence. Gov. Haley hopes the state’s task force will change the culture. “What you hear is whispers,” Haley said in early February. “People whisper about domestic violence. They pray about it, but they don’t talk about it. If we are not talking out loud about it, we are denying something that is very real in South Carolina.”

Community Comes Together to Support Innovative Massachusetts Law Addressing Domestic Violence

DeleoElected officials are beginning to understand the need for systemic change regarding domestic/intimate partner violence (IPV).  In 2014, The Massachusetts Legislature passed SB 2334.

“I firmly believe that comprehensive action – examining existing loopholes, elevating criminal penalties and prioritizing prevention – is the only strategy that will result in systemic change.” – Speaker of the House Robert Deleo

The law is comprehensive and not without detractors, yet it addresses some of the more egregious remnants of lax laws and takes a bold step forward.  The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the state coalition against domestic violence Jane Doe, Inc.,  and domestic violence advocates throughout the state applaud the comprehensive legislation.  Key provisions that will go into effect in 2015 include:

  • Delaying bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours
  • Levying charges and heightened punishment for strangulation and suffocation incidents
  • Establishing Fatality Review Teams
  • Expanded training for law enforcement and judges
  • Allowing employee leave time for victims

The law will also get rid of “accord and satisfaction” agreements.   Accord and satisfaction are out-of-court settlements used to resolve charges involving physical violence.  Abusers tend to intimidate victims by pressuring them to accept this option.

The specific strangulation and suffocation charges are ground-breaking and necessary.  According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine,  23% to 68% of female domestic violence victims experienced at least one strangulation-related incident from their abusive male partner during their lifetime.  Research also bears out what victims, legal practitioners, and medical personnel already know – strangulation is one of the most potentially lethal forms of intimate partner abuse.  Currently, charges run the gamut from misdemeanor simple assault to the impossible to prove attempted murder.  A 2008 Journal of Emergency Medicine study found that a woman who experiences nonlethal strangulation — whether by someone’s hands or by ligature or other means — is seven times more likely to be the object of a murder attempt by her assailant.  It also found that 43 percent of women killed in domestic violence attacks, and 45 percent of attempted-murder victims, had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.

This new law is a step in the right direction and demands specific collaborative efforts by employers, schools and civil courts.   Injury prevention experts from the Centers for Disease Control, community health departments, academic research  and the domestic violence field support the need for a community response.

Other violence prevention initiatives requiring community involvement include offender focus intervention, GPS monitoring, bystander training, and Coaching Boys Into Men.