If there’s one thing that sickens us all, it’s domestic violence. But at a time when many other crime rates are shrinking in the United States, instances of domestic violence are still quite prevalent. In response, U.S. law enforcement, lawmakers, politicians, and other officials are left wondering how to tackle this alarming problem.
Domestic Violence on the Rise
In 2017, 45,217 cases of domestic violence were reported in Missouri. That’s a 20.8 percent increase reported domestic violence incidents in the state since 2001. In a single county – Greene County – there were 3,762 domestic violence reports in 2017, which represented a 25 percent increase since 2001.
Nationwide, the situation isn’t much better. While certain numbers have fallen or held steady, the raw statistics are still quite striking. According to NCADV.org:
- In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every single minute. That comes out to more than 10 million women and men per year.
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some type of physical violence by an intimate partner (such as slapping, shoving, or pushing). In many cases, these incidents aren’t reported and therefore aren’t counted in incident reports.
- On an average day, there are more than 200,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used as a tool for one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence cases are highly unique, but may include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, threats, stalking, and even cyberstalking.
Repairing a Broken System
At a time when there is significant focus on mass shootings, murders (which may have just experienced the single biggest year over year rate decrease in American history), and other violent crimes, why is domestic abuse getting swept under the proverbial rug?
Ultimately, the issue with domestic violence is that it, quite literally, lands close to home. Almost everyone knows a victim of domestic violence, has been a victim, knows an abuser, or has been abusive in the past. As a result, there’s a level of intimacy with domestic violence that doesn’t exist with crimes like murders and mass shootings.
One of the other major problems is that domestic violence can be difficult to prove. Victims are often afraid of speaking out and not having enough evidence to build a case. Friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are generally unsure of what to do – often afraid of making an unfounded report and getting mixed up in a situation where they don’t have all the facts – and rightfully so.
Those charged with domestic assault are put behind bars at a rate that far exceeds almost any other crime – even those accused of assault outside of the home. Domestic sexual assault defendants, for example, have a higher overall conviction rate (98 percent) than non-domestic sexual assault defendants (87 percent). Likewise, domestic aggravated assault defendants are less likely to be granted pretrial release (54 percent) than non-domestic aggravated assault defendants (62 percent).
“It only takes one false allegation to bring someone down,” Scott M. Brown & Associates explains. “A reputation is a hard thing to put back together and we wish society would abide by the idea of innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.”
But more than anything else, the problem with domestic violence is that it’s unpredictable. While there are strong connections between domestic violence and drinking, poverty, unemployment, mental distress, and emotional disorders, thousands of instances come with very little notice.
“A woman’s attempt to leave their partner was the number one factor in 45% of the women murdered by their partners. One in five women killed or severely injured by their partner had no warning,” says Charles Montaldo, former private investigator. “The fatal or life-threatening incident was the first physical violence they had experienced from their partner.”
Finding Sustainable Solutions
In order for domestic violence numbers to diminish and for people to feel safe in their own homes, we must start at the source. Far too often, the focus is on victims changing their behaviors, when it’s ultimately the abusers that need to change their ways.
In San Francisco, the Manalive program has been successful in teaching male prisoners and other domestic violence offenders within the community techniques that enable them to identify their triggers and hit the “pause button” before violent actions occur. The program is designed to address the issue at the root and promote a sense of responsibility for actions.
Replicating programs like these and putting an increased emphasis on education and awareness is one step in the right direction. We also need to spend more time researching the underlying causal factors and addressing problems that occur in youth development – particularly in young men. This may enable us to reach a better understanding of how to identify and deal with red flags before they become full-fledged crimes.