Summit County domestic violence victims climb by 33% in 2018
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and for Summit County, a reckoning is at hand. The county is seeing a continuing rise in domestic violence intake, with a dramatic 33% increase in victims who sought help from the county’s local victim advocates program between 2017 and 2018.
The national statistics also show a distressing reality. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that, on average, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute in the United States. That comes out to 10 million Americans who experience domestic violence every year, with many, if not most, incidents never reported.
In the U.S., 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, contact sexual violence or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, PTSD and requiring the use of domestic violence services. On a typical day domestic violence hotlines field about 21,000 calls, an average of 15 calls every minute.
The number of domestic violence victims in Summit County, with a population of about 30,000, has gone up sharply over the past few years. Leslie Mumford, executive director of Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault, said her organization had helped 241 victims of intimate partner violence in 2016, 258 victims in 2017, and 342 victims in 2018. The last year represents a full one-third rise in victim intake.
Mumford said that the current year trends are showing a continued rise. As of the end of the third quarter of 2019, the Advocates received 295 new clients, 265 calls to their crisis line, with 36 people living in the advocates’ shelter for a total of 827 nights. 78 clients received emergency financial assistance, while 268 received legal advocacy, representation or immigration assistance.
“If this pace continues, we will exceed previous years,” Mumford said.
As far as why there’s been a sharp increase, Mumford said she doesn’t know the exact reason. But she theorized that it may be due to the growing full-time population in the county, as well as the encouragement and awareness provided by the recent #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.
There is also growing awareness of the nature of intimate partner violence. Oftentimes, a victim may not know they are in an abusive relationship, or is unaware that the behavior displayed by a partner is abusive.
Carolyn Miller, a board member and volunteer for Summit Advocates, said that a strong sign of an abusive or potentially abusive relationship is domineering and controlling behavior.
“The most important thing to look for is that control — wanting to control the partner’s whereabouts, control them while at work, wanting to control their phone, their e-mail,” Miller said. “It’s that excessive control and manipulation. It usually starts with verbal threats, and also comments as far as the victim’s unworthiness. It’s the control issue, and the anger issue; those verbal threats usually will escalate to physical violent threats.”
Mumford and Miller both said that people who believe they may be in an abusive relationship, one that they cannot easily escape due to the controlling behavior, should use planning to their advantage if the behavior becomes violent or believe it might eventually lead to it.
The abused party should try to have one contact outside the relationship who will always know or be apprised of where they are. They should also create a “go-bag,” hidden out of sight, with essentials: a change of clothing, enough cash to get through a night, identification and essential keys.
The abused should also know who their first contact for help should be. In Summit County, that’s the Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault. The Advocates’ 24/7 emergency help line, available by calling (970) 668-3906, will connect the abused person to a staff member during regular business hours, or a volunteer during off-hours and weekends.
No matter what time, day or night, someone will be available to guide and help the abused person escape their situation and get to safety. There are also particular protections available for undocumented immigrants or others who do not want to jeopardize their immigration status, including a special visa available to victims to avoid deportation, if they cooperate with the law enforcement investigation.
To assure those who may be afraid of getting law enforcement involved or otherwise having their situation exposed and privacy violated, Miller said that the Advocates’ primary concern is to ensure the safety of the victim, but also to maintain strict confidentiality and privacy — even from law enforcement.
Mumford said that even in cases where the Advocates strongly recommend the victim report the abuser to law enforcement, they will never force them to or call law enforcement on their behalf. The Advocates care for the safety of the victim above all else, and the confidentiality works to encourage victims to call and seek assistance.
“We don’t require people to participate in the criminal justice process, or involve Health & Human Services,” Mumford said. “All these things create apprehension, because people are saying, ‘We don’t want to get other people or the courts involved, whatever the behavior is, we just want it to stop.'”
District Attorney Bruce Brown said that if a victim does go to law enforcement, domestic violence cases are handled uniquely, with many protections in place to ensure the victim does not have to be exposed to the abuser and protected from them.
Brown said that aside from court protection orders, which may bar any and all contact from the abuser and surrender of the abuser’s firearms, there are other means of protection in the law.
That includes a new Colorado law which requires cell phone service providers to offer victims the ability to port their phone number to a new number. This is to address situations where a victim’s phone service is controlled by the abuser, and the victim is unable to get the privacy or control over their only means of outside communication.
The DA’s office and Advocates use these and other other steps to take control away from the abuser and put it in the hands of the victim, who may want above all the ability to gain control over their own lives, free of torment, manipulation and terror.
The experts also agreed that those of us who see or suspect intimate partner violence among friends, coworkers, relatives or even strangers should not stand idly by — the bystander effect not only avoids addressing the violence, but also feeds into the stigma that leads to victims self-blame for the behavior, or normalize it.
Mumford said that domestic violence is not treated the same way socially as many other crimes, with domestic violence victims being more prone to being discredited or disbelieved.
“You don’t hear victims of burglary being told, ‘Well, you broke your own window,’ or, ‘You stole your own TV,'” Mumford said. “It’s not the same with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Choosing to report is a significant hurdle for people to overcome, and it’s even harder for those folks if they don’t think they’ll be truly believed by the system.”
If you believe you are in abusive relationship, you are not alone and there are local resources available. Contact Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault at (970) 668-3906, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your privacy and confidentiality will be strictly maintained, the main objective is to bring you into safety. Resources available include some financial and logistical assistance to help victims get back on their feet, including children if they are involved in the situation. The Advocates’ shelter’s location is hidden from the public to assure security of its residents.
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