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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - October 2009

Just over 20 years ago a friend of mine was severely beaten by her boyfriend. She didn’t want to report it because she was convinced that the authorities wouldn’t do anything and that it would further enrage her boyfriend. She did call the police, but they told her that if she wanted to file charges she would have to come down to police headquarters by noon the next day. Back then most law enforcement officials considered domestic violence to be a personal matter that did not merit police intervention.

This incident prompted me to join the Austin/Travis County Family Violence Task Force that included police, prosecutors, judges and social service providers. Task force members had begun questioning the conventional wisdom and pushed for stronger domestic violence laws and police policies. Shortly thereafter, Austin became one of the first cities in the nation to implement a mandatory arrest policy when probable cause existed to link an individual to a domestic violence assault. In order to be eligible to be released on personal bond perpetrators had to agree to attend counseling classes. Almost overnight domestic violence arrests in Austin increased by 65%.

Congress proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month 20 years ago. Despite many new federal and state laws, multi-departmental collaborations and additional resources for outreach and shelters, domestic violence continues to be the leading cause of injury to women - more than muggings and auto accidents combined.

This year more than 4 million Americans will be victimized by domestic violence and about 17,000 will be killed. Children who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their partners. The annual costs of domestic violence are about $6 billion. Unfortunately, domestic violence assaults continue to be among the most under reported crimes. According to the National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, only about 25% of physical assaults, 20% of rapes and less than half of stalking cases are ever reported to police. Many victims are afraid to come forward and too many family members, friends and neighbors either fail to recognize or ignore signs that domestic violence has occurred. Domestic abuse does not have to be physical to be unhealthy. Threats and attempts at control are clear predictors of physical abuse.

When my friend needed help she had very few options. Today a large number of law enforcement, shelter and legal resources are easily accessible. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline, located in Austin and staffed 24-hours a day, can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233). SafePlace also can be accessed at any time at 512-267-SAFE (7233). A complete directory of domestic violence resources, including a series of brief videos in English and Spanish, is also available at www.Constable5.com.



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