Domestic violence crimes increase in county, statewide
by Rachael Brown
rbrown@annistonstar.com
Aug 09, 2013 | 4642 views |  0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Susan Shipman adjusts the shirt on a 2nd Chance "domestic violence dummy" at group's office in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Susan Shipman adjusts the shirt on a 2nd Chance "domestic violence dummy" at group's office in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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Domestic violence crimes have risen in Calhoun County and statewide since 2011, but law enforcement officials say it’s difficult to prosecute these cases because victims don’t cooperate.

Victim advocates say women involved in a violent relationship often don’t prosecute cases against their abusers because they’ll lose their homes and sources of income.

In 2012, Alabama law enforcement officers cleared 64 percent of their domestic violence cases, but 45 percent of those cases were cleared due to lack of prosecution, according to a report released last month by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.

Oxford police Lt. L.G. Owens said it’s not uncommon for a domestic violence victim to feel guilty after their abuser is arrested.

“They will try to bond their significant other out or try to drop charges when it gets to the trial phase,” Owens said.

Susan Shipman, executive director of 2nd Chance, a nonprofit advocate for victims of domestic violence in Anniston, said a lot of women still feel love for their abusers.

“She still thinks she can change him,” Shipman said.

In 2012, there were 106 aggravated assaults and 874 simple assaults reported that were linked to domestic violence in Calhoun County, according to the ACJIC report. The center defines aggravated assault as an attack or attempted attack by one person on another with the intent to inflict severe injury. The Alabama Criminal Code defines simple assault as causing physical injury to another person through intent, recklessness or criminal negligence. Aggravated assaults increased in the county by 27 percent and simple assaults by 2.3 percent from 2011 to 2012. Statewide domestic violence incidents — a statistic that comprises homicides, robberies, assaults and rapes — increased by 41 percent, a comparison of the data from year to year noted.

Owens said he believes people need to learn to walk away from a potentially violent situation.

“If it’s getting to that point where it’s going to become physically violent one or both parties needs to walk away,” Owens said. “Don’t let it escalate to domestic violence.”

Owens said police often see the same domestic violence offenders over and over again.

Anniston police Sgt. Chris Sparks agreed with Owens.

Sparks said police are required to fill out a report on every domestic violence call they receive. However, victims often don’t follow through with prosecution, he said.

The sergeant said he believes “drug and alcohol abuse contribute to many of our cases.”

Anniston police work regularly with shelters like 2nd Chance try to prevent domestic violence, Sparks said.

“We stand firm in the prevention of abuse in any situation,” Sparks said.

Shipman said she often sees the same women in her shelter. Shipman said statistically a domestic violence victim will escape the same situation between five and seven times before she leaves permanently.

“We don’t say ‘this is your last chance’ because it’s not. We never give up on a victim,” Shipman said.

Shipman said she can understand the frustration of local police officers when they get multiple calls to the same home. However, she said that Calhoun County’s law enforcement officers generally work well with victims, especially those who want to go to a shelter right away.

Male children who are exposed to or witness domestic violence are three times more likely to become batterers themselves, Shipman said.

That’s why she believes breaking the domestic violence cycle early in a child’s life is important. Shipman said it can be difficult to teach a kid that physical abuse is not okay when they see their father abusing their mother.

Owens said he remembers a domestic violence call several years ago in Oxford involving an argument between a husband and wife. Owens said the man threw a beer bottle at his wife, but it hit their 5-year-old son in the head. When police arrived, Owens said, the father was watching television and the child lay bleeding in his bedroom. The mother asked police to drop the charges, the lieutenant said, but officers refused.

“We prosecuted because the 5-year-old couldn’t speak for himself. In that case the police spoke for him,” Owens said.

The ACJIC reports 1,578 juveniles were victims of aggravated assault in 2012. Of those assaults, 34 percent of the victims were related to their abusers.

One positive trend victims’ advocates have noticed, Shipman said, is a yearly decrease in domestic violence homicides. There were 40 domestic violence homicides in 2009 and 24 in 2012.

Shipman said zero homicides is the ideal number, but she’s encouraged by the reduction, especially because non-domestic violence homicides have increased in Alabama.

Shipman said that when a woman comes to her shelter, staff members always assess what the woman’s abuser is capable of.

“We look at whether he has threatened to kill her. That threat should be taken very seriously,” she said.

Victims of domestic violence can reach 2nd Chance’s 24-hour crisis hotline by calling 256-236-7233.

Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.

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