States Mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month With Tougher Laws

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Photo by Moral Rights Asserted via Flickr.

On average, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute in the United States. Over the course of a single year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men being abused in domestic situations, reports the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

For over 30 years, advocates have used October to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as a way to spark a national conversation around a socially taboo topic and to spread awareness for change. 

This month, legislators across the county have been making sweeping changes for domestic violence (DV) survivor protection, as well as uncovering another layer of depth to the DV epidemic — the connection between child abduction cases and domestic violence.

In terms of legislation, Detroit City Council approved a new local law this week that will allow law enforcement to seize firearms from anyone convicted of a misdemeanor related to domestic violence, according to the Detroit Free Press. 

The council members named the ordinance after Sgt. Elaine Williams, a police sergeant who was shot and killed in her home by Eddie Ray Jr. Johnson in 2019 during a domestic violence dispute. 

Many are praising the new measure as a surefire way to keep guns out of the hands of those already convicted of domestic violence-related assaults, saying it will curb domestic violence in the city. 

“It’s critical that we remove weapons from those who have proven themselves incapable of handling their emotions,” Councilman Scott Benson told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s about being another tool in the toolbox that we don’t currently have.”

In Connecticut, lawmakers passed a law that went into effect in early October that makes it easier for people who have been emotionally abused to obtain restraining orders, reports the Hartford Courant.

The law, Public Act 21-78, expands the definition of family violence to include people who have been continuously emotionally or mentally controlled by a member of their family or household — changing the stigma that someone needs to be physically hit by their partner to be a victim of domestic violence, the Hartford Courant explains. 

Domestic Violence Awareness month has also inspired legislators and authorities in Ohio and Indiana to take harder looks at their current legislation to see how they can better protect domestic abuse victims and survivors. Advocates are hoping the conversations turn fruitful within the coming weeks.  

While many are looking to legislation to enact change in domestic situations, researchers are now uncovering another layer of depth to the epidemic — the connection between child abuse and child abductions with domestic violence. 

Amber Alerts Linked to Domestic Violence

In Milwaukee, advocates and police are scrambling to control the rise in domestic violence that has erupted since the pandemic. Last year, 58 people in Wisconsin were killed in situations involving domestic violence — the highest number of DV victims since 2000, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In addition to the domestic violence deaths, 2021 has seen a “sharp increase in Amber Alerts” with 11 so far, making up 20 percent of all alerts ever issued in the state. 

What’s more alarming is six of the alerts this year were for Milwaukee alone, and many of the cases begin as domestic violence disputes. 

“When my phone goes off with an Amber Alert, I think ‘this is probably involving domestic abuse,'” said Sara Krall, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin’s homicide prevention program director.

“But does the general public know that or make that connection? No,” she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Some recent noteworthy cases in Wisconsin alone involve a man shooting the mother of his toddlers in the arm during an argument in a car. After dropping off the mother at a hospital, the man sped off with the children in his car. 

Another case involved a man fleeing with his 2-year-ld son following a domestic violence incident, and another where an 18-year-old mother was shot and killed just before her son disappeared. 

Police say the child’s father is the suspect in the abduction, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“It is pretty glaring that this year is unlike any other,” said Melissa Marchant, Amber Alert coordinator for the state Department of Justice.

Others are noting that this trend is not just visible in Wisconsin, but connections can be made nationally. 

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, most children in amber alert cases are found within 12 hours, and more than 60 percent of the alerts involve a parental abduction.

In New Jersey, an amber alert issued for a young boy in July was eventually connected to the mother’s murder, where the father killed her and concealed her body in a wooded area. Thankfully, a few days after the amber alert was issued, the boy was found safely, according to ABC 7 NY. 

Also, this past July, police issued an amber alert in Wyoming for a 1-year-old girl that was abducted from her home by her father after he assaulted the child’s mother. The mother called the police, informing them that the father expressed plans to crash the car and kill himself. The police were able to intervene before anyone was hurt, reports an NBC affiliate.  

In Florida this past April, two young toddlers were abducted by their father, who has a history of strangulating the children’s wife, from their home. After an amber alert was issued, a citizen alerted the police to a vehicle that matched the alert’s description, and the police were able to diffuse the situation without incident or harm, First Coast News details. 

“Over the years, we have seen an increasing trend of Amber Alerts for good reason being used in those domestic cases, those parental abductions,” said Alan S. Nanavaty, executive director of the center’s missing children’s division, when speaking with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Because of this, advocates argue for better protections for domestic abuse sufferers, and more resources to help individuals out of dangerous situations. 

Additional Reading: Study Explores How to Protect Domestic Violence Survivors

For more information, please check out The Crime Report’s Resource page on Domestic Violence, which can be accessed here. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer. 

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