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Constable's Notebook - October 2011

When President Obama declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month he said, “During this month we rededicate ourselves to breaking the cycle of violence. By providing young people with education about healthy relationships, and by changing attitudes that support violence, we recognize that domestic violence can be prevented.”

Austin became one of the first communities in the nation to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence when, in 1991, the Austin Police Department instituted a mandatory arrest policy upon probable cause that domestic violence assaults had occurred. Law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, social service providers and many others came together in a shared commitment to reduce domestic violence. Community awareness programs were launched, protective orders were made easier to obtain, laws were strengthened, counseling services were funded and victim service resources were increased.

As a co-chair of the Austin/Travis County Family Violence Task Force at the time, I really thought that we had turned the corner on domestic violence. Once victims saw that the community would take these cases seriously, more came forward and for many the violence was stopped earlier than would have otherwise been the case and the repeat offense rate actually dropped. But the cases kept coming. This year, it is estimated that more than 4 million Americans will be victimized by domestic violence and about 1,700 will be killed. According to a Texas Council on Family Violence study, one-third of Texans reported that they had been seriously abused at some point in their life and three-quarters said that they knew of someone who had experienced some form of domestic violence. In Travis County, applications for protective orders have increased 20% and calls to the Safe Place Hotline have increased 27%, an all-time high. A vast majority of domestic violence cases are not reported and fewer than 20% of victims will seek medical help.

Today the laws and resources to reduce domestic violence are in place. Perpetrators will be arrested and prosecuted and many agencies offer a wide array of services for victims. What is still needed is a better community-wide understanding of what constitutes domestic violence and the will to take action when we know that it is occurring. Anyone who believes that they are in immediate danger should call 911. The SafePlace hotline at 512-267-SAFE (7233) is staffed around the clock for victims and family, friends, teachers, etc., who have questions or want to help. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline, also a 24/7 service, can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233). A complete directory of domestic violence resources, including a series of brief videos about obtaining protective orders, teen dating and legal assistance in English and Spanish is also available at www.Constable5.com. Vice President Joe Biden, author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act said, “I was raised to believe that the cardinal sin any human could commit was to abuse power: economic, physical, or any other kind. Violence against women is the very worst abuse.”



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