By Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall
While the month of October is designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, this often silent crime really deserves to be featured in the spotlight every month. The victims of domestic violence might surprise you. Spouses and partners in relationships are the most obvious, as well as children and other family members. However, those at risk also include law enforcement and even the general public. Domestic violence is a threat lurking to strike at any time.
For too long domestic violence has been downplayed as a personal matter. The mental image of a quarreling couple in their home is no longer valid. Domestic violence has been described as a pattern of abusive behavior that is used by one relationship partner to gain or hold control over another. It takes many forms including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Its most dangerous characteristic is its ability to rapidly escalate, potentially harming spouses, children, responders and even bystanders.
Domestic violence has also been called the number one health concern in America and it can be found anywhere – big cities and small towns. All neighborhoods are vulnerable. Here in Alabama, nearly one in three adult women will be physically assaulted by a partner, but only one-fourth of such assaults are ever reported to police, according to statistics from the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s webpage. Last year in Alabama, 18 percent of all violent offenses reported were domestic violence incidents, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Statistical Analysis Center. There were indications of domestic violence in 4,611 of all offenses, including 43 homicides, 238 rapes, 95 robberies and 4,235 aggravated assaults.
Equally alarming is the danger domestic violence poses to law enforcement. According to research from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, law enforcement was at greatest risk while responding to domestic disputes than for any reported criminal activity. For most all agencies, domestic disputes constitute the greatest number calls to 911, and responders often have little information about whether the offender is armed, has left the scene, or may be returning.
The best defense against domestic violence is public vigilance. It is often regarded as a secretive crime because offenders try to make victims believe the attacks are their own fault, and use the victims’ affection and dependence to keep them trapped in a vicious cycle. Sadly, whether we realize it or not, all of us know people whose lives have been marked by domestic violence. Victims need to know that they are not alone, that they need not be ashamed, and that they may be provided with justice.
Since I took office in February, I have personally visited nearly a dozen shelters across the state dedicated to assisting the victims of domestic violence. The dedicated and caring people who work and volunteer at these shelters are real heroes. Their efforts to provide a safe and supportive environment for victims and their children are largely hidden from public view.
Victims may seek help by calling the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ACADV) crisis line at 1-800-650-6522 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Another available resource, called “Love is Respect,” has a hotline at 1-866-331-9474, or may be reached by texting ‘loveis” to the number 22522.
The U.S. National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673 – automatically connects to a local rape crisis program based on the caller’s area code.
A list of safe shelters and other resources is available through the ACADV website at http://www.acadv.org/get-help/shelters.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office of Victim Assistance works with victims and their families to provide information and help in understanding various steps throughout the judicial process. My staff can be reached toll-free at 1-800-626-7676, or through the Attorney General’s Office webpage at www.ago.alabama.gov.