In a recent interview with WHAS 11, Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Erika Shields noted that domestic violence-related deaths are trending toward a 200% increase over 2021 if the current pattern holds - with nearly 20% of local murders occurring between intimate partners.
As we face such figures, it's a mystery why domestic violence crimes are still spoken about and treated with a lesser sense of gravity and outrage as other acts of aggression. Domestic violence has long been held in our collective conscience as a "personal" problem rather than something that affects our community as a whole. It's time to change the way we think about, discuss and act against domestic violence, and begin treating it like the crime it is.
After all, "personal problems" eventually spill over into our community and become larger issues that we must address together. According to the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health, more than 15 million U.S. children live in homes in which domestic violence has happened at least once, and they are at greater risk for becoming abusers or being abused as adults. Further, children who witness or are subjected to abuse are at higher risk for health problems as adults, such as mental health conditions, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, poor self-esteem and others - all of which have broader impacts on our communities.
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There are a number of ways we, as a community, fail to hold domestic violence cases to the same standard as other crimes. First, our judicial system is not set up to help prevent domestic violence-related murders. While the Fatality Review Committee meets after a domestic homicide to review court documents, police reports, social service agency notes and more, they often discover that warning signs were missed and perpetrators-sometimes more mildly referred to as "abusive partners"-received lighter bond or sentencing than someone who committed the same crime in a non-domestic setting. Too often, these lesser offenses are not considered with enough gravity, and perpetrators remain free to escalate the abuse.
Language also plays a powerful role. News stories are quick to label incidents as "domestic-related," perhaps in an attempt to convince the public there is no lingering risk to the community or unsuspecting, innocent people; that the audience can breathe a sigh of relief and go about their day because the violent act was not random. Why should such a crime be treated any differently-glossed over, even-because it happens between two people in an intimate relationship?
Similarly, a recent local radio interview about a high-profile, non-domestic related shooting made references to "premeditation," "intent," "prior offenses," "relationship to the victim," "knowledge of the victim's whereabouts" and "purchasing of a weapon." Nearly all these factors are at play in domestic violence cases, and yet for some reason, they just don't seem to carry the same weight.
Building a safer, violence-free community starts with each of us, and abuse cannot hide if you know how to look for it. As we emerge from the pandemic and spend more time with others, consider what may have occurred or changed in relationships during isolation when many people were literally trapped in abusive environments. Do not ignore warning signs from your friends, family members, co-workers or the people you see at church or community events.
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Call The Center for Women and Families' hotline 24/7 at 1-844-237-2331 for advice on how to support someone you suspect is in an unsafe situation. If you feel comfortable, let that person know you are available to talk or listen and encourage them to call us. Your intervention-no matter how small it may seem-could help save a life. Thank you for joining us as we work toward creating a safer, more loving community.
Elizabeth Wessels-Martin is President & Chief Empowerment Officer for The Center for Women and Families.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Time's up: Domestic violence should receive the outrage it deserves