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by ZontaDoris

Batterers, victims, abusers, survivors, perpetrators, defendants…

I’m learning these terms as I study reports and Florida Statutes relating to Domestic Violence (DV) aka Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) situations. There is much to become more familiar with; this blog post will summarize some of what I have uncovered so far.

A majority of DV batterers are men according to the most often cited statistic–85%. I could not verify this number but it is used widely online. I did find indirect support for this estimate in annual statistics compiled for July 2015-June 2016 by the Florida Department of Children and Families. These data document that women and children make up more than 99% of DV victims assisted with residential services in our state during the specified time period. Women and children also received more than 91% of non-residential services delivered by the 42 certified Domestic Violence Centers in Florida.

Another source involves the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force which reviews DV fatalities annually. Their 2015 report on the preceding 15 years showed that men committed 86% of intimate partner homicides and near fatalities in Pinellas County. Their victims: women.

It’s also critical to note that domestic violence is not just an isolated “disagreement, marital spat, or an anger management problem.” Indeed, as the 2014-2015 Annual Report to the Florida Legislature from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence explained,

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors, violence, or threats of violence, that one person uses to establish power and control over a current and former intimate partner….Domestic violence is abusive, disrespectful, dangerous, and may include abuse that is physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, or economic.

I spent several hours studying this annual report, the 2015 Pinellas County Domestic Violence Statistics Report, and the Faces of Fatality report from the Florida Attorney General’s Statewide Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, Volume VI, June 2016, to decode how we help DV victims and survivors. But first, I wanted to know the causes, or if not the causes, the “predictive factors” in Domestic Violence. These are below.

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These factors are present in many DV Situations. But DV can happen in wealthy and drug-free homes, too.

Are DV perpetrators held accountable? Many are, many aren’t because:

1. The clarity and amount of evidence, attitudes and skills of law enforcement officers investigating DV determine whether someone is arrested for DV.

2. The challenge is compounded by 11 law enforcement jurisdictions in Pinellas County which means a lot of moving parts, skill levels, attitudes, and need for officer training to stay current on the law.

3. Even with a preferred arrest policy in Pinellas County, the rate of arrest ranged from 68.8% for Indian Shores perpetrators to 100% for abusers in Belleair and Kenneth City in 2015. So there are different legal consequences for perpetrators based on who investigates and maybe other considerations, too.

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Only some DV abusers are held accountable

The State Attorney’s prosecutions rate does not seem to manifest a pro-prosecution policy in practice. According to the Pinellas County DV Task Force, the State Attorney’s office prosecuted only 28% of felony arrested domestic violence cases and 31% of the misdemeanor arrested DV cases in 2015. That means  less than one out of three perpetrators faced legal consequences beyond the arrest for DV.

Additionally, the Batterers Intervention Program (BIP) is probably underutilized and its completion unenforced. We don’t know for sure because the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office is not making current statistics available. We only know that “from 2004 through 2007, on average, 79% of batterers prosecuted for a misdemeanor DV crime and sentenced to probation were also ordered to BIP.” But “only 28% of batterers actually completed both probation and BIP.” (2015 Pinellas County Domestic Violence Statistics Report available from the Pinellas County DV Task Force) Remember that BIP is the only assistance offered to help batterers understand why they abused women in the past and how they can build healthier intimate relationships in the future.

Our system for assisting DV victims and survivors is quite complicated, too. The circumstances and number of actors involved below make me uneasy just looking at it. How do you think it appears to a DV victim who may be struggling for normalcy and safety? She does not want to antagonize her former abuser but she must tackle multiple legal, emotional, physical, and economic needs. Maybe these could be assisted by a community program but managing different eligibility and paperwork requirements requires skill and persistence that she doesn’t have. Victim advocates can and do ease the situation. It should not be a surprise though that many DV incidents go unreported to authorities and survivors resolve their issues outside formal channels.

DV victims have to move through several prescriptive paths at once making a victim advocate's assistance crucial.

DV victims have to move through several prescribed, controlled paths at once making a victim advocate’s assistance crucial.

My review led to many more questions and concerns than I could answer right now.  These are listed in the below slide. Clearly, there are many opportunities for improvement in how we make perpetrators accountable and help them become better partners.  IMO, we should keep evaluating how we equip DV survivors to be safe and whole and less likely to be victimized yet again.

A lot of questions remain...what do you think? What has been your experience with DV?

A lot of questions remain…what do you think? What has been your experience with DV?

Remember that this post reflects my imperfect understanding to date. I will keep learning with your help. Join me…

 

Icons used in slides and featured photos are from artists at Pixabay

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The views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb