Advocates and law enforcement say community change needed for dealing with domestic violence
Domestic violence and sexual assault are often difficult topics to bring up. However, in the past few years, people have become more aware and vocal about these topics. The increased awareness and advocacy regarding these topics have helped many in need. But, there are still a lot of people going through such horrors behind closed doors and are in dire need of help.
Statistics from Montana
The Montana Board of Crime Control Statistical Analysis Center tracked and reported domestic violence crimes from 2015 to 2020. These are crimes against intimate partners and include crimes such as assault offenses, homicide, kidnapping, and sex offenses. The number of crimes between 2015 and 2019 ranged from a shocking 6070, in 2015, to a slightly lower 5805, in 2019. Overall the average between these years was 6066. However, the number of crimes reported decreased to 4533 in 2020.
What do the statistics mean?
According to experts, although this may seem like a step in the right direction, the reason for this drop could actually be the increased isolation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Montana already has a lot of rural areas, and the increased isolation would make it tougher for people to report such crimes.
However, Lewis and Clarke County has actually seen a steady rise in the number of cases being reported. The law enforcement agencies and advocates see the statistics as a sign that people are now realizing the importance of reporting such crimes and trust the police enough to allow them to get involved in their conflicts. It also makes it easier to catch the perpetrators.
How does the police handle such reports?
An Am J Public Health study regarding this subject was conducted and released back in 2003. The study reported that 77 percent of domestic violence-related homicides happen upon separation and there is a 75 percent increase of violence upon separation for at least two years.
This shows that the time when the victim is leaving is often the most dangerous for the victim, the police officers, and any other parties involved.
The Lewis and Clarke County department policy is to always respond with at least one other member of law enforcement. This could be any law enforcement member such as another deputy, a Montana Highway Patrol trooper, game warden, or any other sworn officer. They also teach and encourage their officers to use de-escalation tactics. This reduces the chances of the officers and victims getting hurt in the process.
Treating the victims with compassion and empathy is emphasized. They even work with victims’ advocates, the courts, and other agencies to help the victims and their families find safety and get them justice.
Laws regarding holding abusers accountable have changed over the years. Now, officers must explain why an arrest was not made when responding to a domestic violence call. However, domestic violence situations are complicated and if a victim chooses not to press charges, not much can be done.
How can the community help?
Attorney Mark Sherman of the Connecticut Domestic Violence Information Center weighed in on the situation and said, “Previously, there was a sense of ‘this is not my problem’ and ‘this is a private matter’ when it came to domestic violence. However, there has been a shift of mindset in this regard now and communities are getting more involved when it comes to cases of abuse. But there is still a lot more work and discussion needed to solve the problem.”
People need to empathize with the victim and feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to reporting such crimes. If you are comfortable reporting a robbery or a burglary, you should be just as comfortable reporting domestic violence and sexual abuse. You mustn’t ask why the victim doesn’t just leave the situation, but you should rather think about how no one deserves to be in such a situation in the first place. Open dialogue and more awareness of the topic should be encouraged in the community.
If you do feel someone around you is being abused, you should contact the authorities immediately. It is best to involve law enforcement agencies rather than doing things yourself as the situation might escalate.