MOUNT VERNON — One in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to estimates from the Center of Disease Control.
Assistant Director of Law Brittany Whitney and Victim Advocate Ellie Cline, both with the Mount Vernon Law Director’s office, spoke at Monday evening’s Know More Mondays series as part of Domestic Violence Awareness month about domestic violence and the law.
Whitney explained that both men and women can be victims of domestic violence but noted that “statistically, we do see a disproportionate number of female victims and male perpetrators.”
“Every year, one in three women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner,” Whitney said. “Women threatened with murder by their partners have been found to be 15 times more likely than other women to be killed, and that sticks out to me because we see women all the time who their partners threaten to murder them. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.”
Ohio Revised Code defines domestic violence as “knowingly” causing, or attempting to cause, physical harm to a family or household member, “recklessly” causing “serious physical harm” or threatening force that causes a family or household member “to believe that the offender will cause imminent physical harm.”
The definition of who can be considered a family or household member is “expansive,” Whitney said. A spouse can be a person who lives or has lived with the offender; a spouse can also be current or former, or living as a spouse in a common law marital relationship with the offender. The definition of spouse applies to a person who has lived with the offender within five years of the incident, Whitney explained. A family or household member can also be defined as a parent or child of a spouse of the offender, or “another person related by consanguinity or affinity” (related by blood or by marriage) to a spouse of the offender. The only exception in which a victim would not have had to live with the offender is in the case that the victim and offender are the “natural parents” of a child together.
Power and control
Whitney said that often others question why a victim would not get out of the situation sooner. She explained that offenders, especially in the case of intimate partner violence, will use power and controlling behavior — economic abuse, coercion or threats, intimidation or emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, blaming and denying or guilt, or even using children or male privilege — to make a victim feel that they can’t get out of the situation.
Along with the typical power and control that offenders use, victims often worry about retaliation, guilt of a failed relationship, losing their children and fear of the court process, Cline explained.
Domestic violence in the criminal justice system
As a victim advocate, Cline noted that she, along with Whitney, work together to help victims prepare for the process of taking the case through the criminal justice system. The court process can take up to six months to go from arraignment through pretrial hearings and investigations, to get to the final step with a plea or a trial either by jury or judge. This can be daunting for a victim, especially because they will likely have to face their abuser at some point in the process. The temporary protection order hearing, which can take place within hours of the abuse happening, Whitney said, requires that the victim be face to face with the offender.
Offenders often aren’t in jail throughout the entire process of the case going through the system, Whitney explained. Part of the process of the arraignment is determining, if any, an offender’s bond. Often there will be pre-release conditions, Whitney explained, that require an offender to report to probation, wear a SCRAM bracelet that monitors for alcohol, or in cases where a victim is thought to be in significant danger, the offender may even have GPS monitoring.
If an offender pleads guilty or no contest, then the case will not result in trial, but more often than not, Whitney said, the offender will plea not guilty and the case will go into three automatic pre-trial hearing before reaching trial, which Whitney said is most typically a jury trial.
Throughout this process, Whitney and Cline work very hard to build rapport with the victim. Sometimes, victims won’t see the process through or will change their stories to protect their abusers, Whitney noted, so they also work very hard to make the case as solid as possible before going to trial. Children, Whitney said, are often the best witnesses because they tend to “tell it how it is.”
Another huge part of domestic violence, Whitney said, is strangulation. Strangulation is the cutting off of air and blood vessels by applying pressure around the neck and is often erroneously referred to as choking, Whitney noted. Strangulation accounts for 10 percent of all violent deaths, Whitney said, but only 38 states prosecute strangulation as a felony. Ohio is among the 12 that do not, Whitney said.
Strangulation requires roughly the same pressure as a firm handshake, Whitney said and loss of consciousness can occur within seconds. Death can occur within a few minutes. Ninety-seven percent of victims are strangled manually with the offenders hands and 38 percent of individuals report losing consciousness, which can come with serious consequences including brain cell loss. The odds for homicide, Whitney said, increase 750 percent if the victim has been strangled.
Yet, Whitney said, strangulation can present a challenge for law enforcement because 50 percent of reported strangulations show no visible injuries. Of the 50 percent that do show visible injuries, only 15 percent will have injuries that will show up in a photograph.
“That’s something that we’re constantly, now that we are more aware of the issue, we’re brainstorming — ‘OK, when you don’t have visual injuries, how do we have to change our approach to still get that evidence that we need to get that conviction,’” Whitney said.
Strangulation, is considered “even more serious” than other injuries, Whitney explained, because “if someone is willing to put their hands around your neck and squeeze, it means that they are willing to kill you.”
“That is the ultimate conclusion of that action — you die,” Whitney said.
The New Directions series, Know More Mondays, is a free training series. Sessions will be held Mondays at 5:30 p.m., at the Grand Hotel through Oct. 29.