INDIANAPOLIS (July 22, 2013)—Local law enforcement agencies in both St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties, along with the Indiana Department of Child Services, are encouraging community members to step up and report suspected domestic violence. The two counties are among those Indiana areas battling a high number of domestic violence incidents and the resulting impact they are having on Hoosier children and their families.
South Bend Police Chief Ron Teachman says his officers handled 1,235 cases of domestic violence in 2012. Lt. Peggy Snider of the Elkhart Police Department says so far in 2013, her officers have been dispatched an average of 31 times per week to deal with domestic problems. And according to Capt. Jim Bradberry of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, more than 400 domestic violence disputes in 2011-2012 were investigated by his department. In most of these cases, officers find children present when they arrive.
“Domestic violence calls are very disconcerting for law enforcement agencies. Every police officer is aware of the harm done to a child that witnesses their parent being abused,” said Chief Teachman. “It is so important for all of us to recognize that domestic violence is pervasive in every community. It knows no economic, religious or ethnic bounds.”
DCS Directors Tony Sommer from Elkhart County and Linda Cioch from St. Joseph County have both seen first-hand the devastating consequences domestic violence has on families and children in particular. “For many kids that witness domestic violence, there is an emotional scarring,” said Sommer. “And frequently we see a pattern of aggression develop in those children.”
“It’s not just a fight between mom and dad that is over and done with and the kids weren’t affected because they weren’t hit,” added Cioch. “It’s the long-term effects the violence has on the children and the risk that it will become a way of life. We need to break the cycle of domestic violence.” Cioch and Sommer both estimate that domestic violence accounts for about 25 percent of their cases.
Linda Baechle, CEO of North Central Indiana YWCA, which provides domestic violence services to about 1,500 St. Joseph and Elkhart County women and children a year, believes today battered women are injured more seriously than just a few years ago. “Domestic violence seems to be much more violent today,” said Baechle. “And we’re seeing many more ‘high alert’ situations where the woman’s husband or boyfriend has threatened to kill her or her children or has already actually tried to strangle the mother.”
Baechle also says there are risk factors that significantly increase the chance of a domestic violence fatality. If, for example, an abusive husband has ever used or threatened to use a weapon against a wife, the risk of her being the victim of a homicide increases more than twenty-fold.
To help educate first responders and child welfare caseworkers about various domestic violence fatality risk factors, the YWCA has offered special training to law enforcement agencies and DCS since 2011.
Law enforcement leaders say they need community members to “step up” and report suspicions of domestic violence. “Use your observational skills. If you hear or see anything unusual, out of the ordinary, or you think that a situation is becoming volatile, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1,” said Capt. Bradberry.
In Indiana, all citizens are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. DCS says it is absolutely imperative that community members help protect children. “We rely on neighbors, friends and family members to be first responders in helping to protect children,” Sommer added.
DCS offers the following signs that could indicate a child is living with domestic violence:
• Secrecy – Family is tight-lipped; little or no interaction with neighbors.
• Over-obedient – One adult appears to be controlled or dominated by the other.
• Unexplained injuries – One adult has puzzling wounds such as numerous bruises.
• Behavior – Child is excessively shy or won’t play with other kids.
• Hygiene – Children always seem to have body odor, dirty clothes, disheveled hair.
• Bullying – Children, even very young children, are seen intimidating other children.
Anyone suspecting abuse or neglect should contact the child abuse and neglect hotline at 800.800.5556. Help for domestic violence, including safe shelter, counseling and legal advocacy, can be accessed 24 hours a day at the YWCA North Central Indiana. Call 866.YES.YWCA (866.937.9922).
About Indiana Department of Child Services:
DCS is committed to protecting children who are victims of abuse or neglect. The agency's primary goal is to safely keep these children at home with their families by offering appropriate support services. It also manages the child support bureau. Indiana Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline: 800.800.5556. www.in.gov/dcs