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Crime Series: Domestic Violence Is Common But Often Hidden

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It’s often an unseen or unrecognized form of violence.  But it’s also one of the most common crimes and among the most dangerous to emergency responders.  Weapons can be anything from guns to hands to knives or even words.  In the final part of our weeklong series 'Crime in our Communities,’ WAMCs' North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley looks at domestic violence. 

Between 1994 and 2014, 50 percent of all homicides in Vermont were domestic violence related.  Of the 15 homicides committed in 2014, 10 were due to domestic violence.  Three of those 10 victims were children.

That data from the recently released “2015 Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission Report“ may not be large compared to some other states, but commission member and Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Executive Director Karen Tronsgard-Scott says it points to domestic violence as one of the primary problems in society.   “What domestic violence survivors will tell us is that the physical attack is just a small part of the everyday coercion and pressure that they live in.  The threat of violence is something that impacts every aspect of their life. The information we get is all about the black eyes and the stitches.  Those things are very real. However it’s the threat of violence and frankly the threat of death to the victim and the victim’s children and the victim’s family that is what I’ve been told by many, many, many survivors is what’s really soul crushing.”

Domestic violence situations can be extremely volatile and are often the most dangerous incidents for law enforcement.  Washington County Sheriff Sam Hill says that’s only one of the challenges they face.   “One of the biggest things we deal with especially in more rural areas is the response time. The other is domestic violence is one of those crimes that is involved within the family structure and there’s a lot of dynamics. Here in Vermont in 2010 based on a legislative mandate all law enforcement officers every two years have to have a structured domestic violence training class.”

Vermont State Police Chief Criminal Investigator Captain J.P. Sinclair runs the plainclothes major crimes detective unit.   “I can remember as a young trooper it would be difficult and frustrating at times because we would find ourselves going back to the same volatile family situation and you want to be able to help somebody more.  That’s the pattern that us in law enforcement,  the  court system, the victims’ advocate folks are always trying to break and intervene in.”

Advocates emphasize that domestic violence is about power and control of the victim.  Heather Holter is the Coordinator of the Vermont Council on Domestic Violence.  “Any kind of domestic violence is at its core less about the emotion and passion and fire of human beings and more about an attempt to really maintain control over someone in a relationship. That is a very calculated set of motives that really drives what domestic violence is about.”

Retired Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, now a public safety consultant, helped organize stoptheviolencevt.  The group has just released an ad in which people step up and simply say “I Care.”   “We came up with the idea for ‘I Care’ because it’s a simple message that hopefully will resonate with people. These issues – sexual, domestic violence, gender based violence – they’re not things that are removed from folk’s daily lives.  They impact you at work. They impact entire communities.  And having this disparate group of people, whether they’re folks involved in law enforcement or advocacy or anyone else come to the table with that simple message that they care, that it makes a difference, that we need to do more, is essential.  Because it’s not just an issue for the survivors and the families of those survivors.  It’s an issue that impacts the broader community.”

Chief Schirling notes that typically half or more of the violent crime that police departments respond to has a domestic or sexual violence component.