Domestic Violence Case Load Increases
There’s a saying that bigger is better. Usually this is a good thing. When you receive a bigger tax refund than you did in the previous year, that’s a great thing. When you’re given a hefty serving of pie, that’s another good thing. However, when your work load increases dramatically, that’s not a good thing.
This has been the case for the Palo Alto County Attorney’s Office. The office of the county attorney saw a significant increase in their total case load in 2007. The total number of cases was 448, falling just three cases shy of the record of 451 which was recorded in 1998.
Out of those 448 cases, 38 were domestic violence cases.
“That is the highest number of reported cases since 1999 when I started and we began keeping records,” said Sheree Huberty, office manager for the Palo County Attorney.
Huberty noted that she doesn’t necessarily believe that incidents of domestic violence are increasing per se, only that the reporting of the crime is increasing.
“Reporting kind of goes in spurts,” Dawn Jensen noted. “There’s a cycle that happens where the victim just gets to the point where they’ve had enough.”
Jensen is the office’s secretary. Both Jensen and Huberty work directly with victims of domestic violence.
Iowa’s Attorney General recognized the problem of domestic violence and recommended that a Victim/Witness Coordinator be available in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. A year ago, Palo Alto County Attorney Peter Hart decided that he wanted both Huberty and Jensen working on the issue. The case load has increased so significantly that Jensen was moved from part-time employment to full-time.
As Victim/Witness Coordinators, Huberty and Jensen spend a significant portion of their time working with victims of crimes above a simple misdemeanor. They also have trained law enforcement.
“There’s just so much involved in domestic abuse, we have day-long training sessions to educate us about it,” noted Jensen. “And although men can be abused in addition to women, the majority of batterers are males.”
“People mistakenly believe that domestic abuse only happens to those of low-socio-economic status,” said Huberty.
Jensen noted, “That’s not the case. Abusers can be bankers and lawyers, too. There are no limitations. We need to let victims know that there is help out there. We have to educate the community, too.”
According to Huberty, there is a cycle to domestic violence that includes alternating phases of the honeymoon/excuse phase, normal routine, tension, and then the trigger that spurs the incidence of violence.
“The cycle can be days, months, years, or just hours,” explained Huberty. “Every cycle is different, but it will continuously get shorter over time.”
Batterers will often try to isolate their victims and make it difficult for them to see their parents or friends. These acts of isolation can begin subtly and increase over time.
Jensen noted that others in the community often wonder why the victim doesn’t just leave the abusive situation.
“Victims of domestic violence often report that their abusers threaten them or their children,” said Jensen. Others victims cite economic dependence on their batterers. Surprisingly, the most common reason that victims refuse to leave violent homes is for sheer embarrassment.
“Embarrassment is the biggest one we hear,” said Huberty. She explained that victims of domestic abuse are often ashamed and have been convinced that it’s their fault and that they are unworthy. Those feelings can lead to depression and a sense of immobility that contribute to the hesitancy to report the crime. Huberty added that victims of domestic abuse often think that the unknown is far worse than the violent home they may be living in.
Three things that Huberty and Jensen continually hear from victims of domestic violence are: 1) It never happened before; 2) It will never happen again; and 3) He won’t hurt the kids.
“Sometimes they can be in denial,” said Jensen. “Sometimes it takes more than one incident of abuse to get them to understand that it’s not going to go away.”
“The bottom line is the public needs to know that it does happen here in our community,” Huberty stated. “And the victims need to know that there is help. There are agencies here who will help them.”