Vail Valley Voices: The high cost of domestic violence
Vail, CO, Colorado
Recently in Topeka, Kansas, the district attorney announced that he would no longer prosecute misdemeanor cases due to budget cuts. Domestic violence cases comprised of approximately half of those cases.
The responsibility to prosecute those cases then fell to the city. In retaliation, the city of Topeka repealed their domestic violence law so that they would not have to incur that cost.
As result of this feud, the Kansas City Star reported, 30 people suspected of domestic violence were freed from charges.
The district attorney recently announced that he will once again prosecute domestic violence cases. But it makes one wonder: What exactly is the cost of domestic violence?
People often wonder why the criminal justice system gets involved in domestic violence cases, especially when the female victim declares that she does not want the case to be prosecuted.
I can tell you as a prosecutor it is a difficult decision to make. It’s not that we want to get involved in somebody’s personal life. It’s not that we want to force somebody to have to testify against somebody they may love and want to spend the rest of their life with. It comes down to one reason: safety.
There is a cost of domestic violence in terms of human life. A 2007 report from the Nation Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimated that there are annually 16,800 homicides due to domestic violence. One-third of all female homicides are perpetrated by an intimate partner. In Wisconsin that amounted to about one homicide a week in 2010. In 2009, 26 people were killed in domestic violence incidents in Colorado. This is why we get involved.
Typically a homicide is not the first act of domestic violence between two people. It starts smaller and tends to escalate over time.
That is why the criminal justice system initially mandates domestic violence counseling in any case that ends with probation. The hope is that the counseling will address the underlying cause of the violence before it escalates.
The goal is not to destroy relationships, but only ensure that if a relationship with a history of domestic violence is going to move forward, it will do so in a safe and peaceful manner for all parties involved.
People are also surprised at the monetary cost of domestic violence. It is estimated that the annual cost of domestic violence exceeds $5.8 billion nationwide. Health care costs associated to domestic violence are $37 billion annually.
A study in 2003 showed that victims of domestic violence lost 8 million days of work as a result of the abuse they incurred. That’s the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs. The numbers are staggering.
In the 5th Judicial District — which includes Summit, Lake, Eagle and Clear Creek counties — there were 474 domestic violence cases initiated in 2010.
One-hundred-seventy-four of those domestic violence cases, or 37 percent, came from Eagle County. Domestic violence cases made up about 5 percent of the entire caseload.
While some of those cases involved very violent behavior resulting in serious injuries, there were luckily no fatalities. However, 2011 may not have been so lucky, based on the pending allegations surrounding the homicide of Stephanie Roller Bruner in Summit County
By prosecuting cases that involved less serious injuries and addressing the root cause of the problem, it is hoped that we can save both lives and reduce the economic impact on our community.
Eagle County is lucky in that there is a dedicated force working to combat the problem of domestic violence. Prosecution is only part of that attack. This community also has a host of advocates, therapists, social workers, law enforcement officers and probation officers who are addressing the needs of domestic violence offenders and their victims on a daily basis.
It is time to put a call out to the community. The problem of domestic violence must be addressed and it is up to you to get involved.
If you know of a relationship that involves domestic violence, let the parties know that help is out there. Tell the victim about the assistance and programs that are available, such as those provided by the wonderful Bright Future Foundation.
Explain to them that help is available for their children and the family to help them get through this. Whatever you do, do not idly stand by. The cost could be too great.
Scott W. Turner is an assistant district attorney in the 5th Judicial District.