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Wednesday, 20 August 2014 07:04

Four Years of Police Records in Boston Show That Domestic Violence Is Still a Silent Epidemic

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domviol(Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet & Cle)Boston Globe reporter Yvonne Abraham wrote a shocking article this month revealing the horrifying extent of domestic violence in the Boston area:

It is all there in the police reports, set out in mundane, relentless detail. Globe data visualization reporter Gabriel Florit analyzed more than four years of reports on domestic violence between intimate partners in Boston, up to April 2014....

The reports are a critical record of the evil enacted in homes across the city. Laid end to end, they reveal the massive scale of the problem. And not just its vastness, but its pervasiveness. The potential for violence saturates every minute of a victim’s day.... You can imagine the moments that exploded, at breakfasts and dinners, in kitchens and living rooms. You can see inside the homes where abusers lurk every day, reaching for whatever object is nearby to impose their will.

What is even more dismaying is that the Globe analysis is only of domestic violence incidents reported to the police. Beyond the dots on a map that the Globe posted of the reported domestic violence, Abraham cautions, "lie countless others to whose homes police never come, because the people who would have made the calls were too embarrassed or afraid. Or because they got so used to torment they couldn’t see it for what it was. Or because their abusers promised to make things better, giving a glimpse of what made them attractive in the first place."

Furthermore, many of the police reports analyzed by the Globe are initial calls for help. Many women, due to threats or dependency, later decide to drop charges, only further to be caught up in the cycle of physical and psychological terror.

Clearly the silent epidemic of abuse is not subsiding - if the Boston area is an indicator.  

Judges also, in many cases, are often lenient on domestic violence abusers.  In March, Eric Moskowitz reported - in another Globe article - on the criminal court history of Jared Remy, the accused killer of his partner, Jennifer Martel:

Jared Remy was the king of second chances. A review of hundreds of pages of court files and police records revealed accounts that he terrorized five different girlfriends starting when he was 17, and that courts repeatedly let him off with little more than probation and his promise to stay out of trouble. He rarely did.

Now 35, Remy has been arrested or brought to court as the defendant in 20 different criminal cases, mostly for charges of violence against, or intimidation of, women, including his pending case for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, in Waltham last August.

Remy has been found guilty just twice, and both times his lawyer persuaded a judge to let him walk with a suspended sentence, defying the wishes of prosecutors.

Moskowitz's lengthy and detailed account of Remy's favorable treatement by the courts may not be the pattern in every jurisdiction, but it is likely not a rarity either. Clearly, Remy, at a minimum, needed intensive therapy and surveillance. The priority of the judicial system should be the protection of current and future victims, not the chronic and - in this case - ultimately deadly abuser.

The Affordable Care Act mandated that medical providers inquire about domestic abuse from patients whose injuries raise suspicions. As a result, reports of such abuse are rising according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence:

Data collected by this study shows a 18.5% increase in referrals to domestic violence programs just this year.

A number of experts predict this will only increase as the ACA takes full effect. Now more than ever, domestic violence programs and shelters across the country are operating with less funding, fewer resources and staff. The expected increase in service requests makes it even more urgent that programs receive increased funding for these life-saving programs.

In an era of government budgetary cuts and a philanthropic sector besieged with requests for funding for a broad array of issues, however, widespread increased support services for victims of domestic violence does not appear likely.

Furthermore, given the ongoing shortage of jobs that pay above a minimum wage, many women are economically bound into abusive relationships because they cannot become financially independent.

A California Watch (founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting) survey found that "66 percent [of Californians] said that they have a friend or family member who has been a victim [of domestic violence]." That is, by any standard, a frightening reflection of extent of the pathology.

The Boston Globe deserves commendation for its investigation of four years of domestic violence police records in the metro area. The implications of its findings are staggering in terms of the need to address this scourge through changes in national and local public policy, judicial priorities and service support.

That other national priorities and world calamities have overshadowed the affliction of domestic violence should not detract from recognizing its toll and working toward its eradication.

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