Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER
In what experts say may be a troubling symptom of the recession, domestic violence is on a sharp upward trend both locally and statewide.
Although reported incidents of crime, including violent crime, declined by double-digit rates last year in Jacksonville, domestic violence increased by 10 percent here in 2009. And local domestic violence shelters say calls to their hotlines and requests for help have spiked.
Despite an overall drop in homicides in 2009, domestic violence murders did not go down. There were eight domestic violence murders in Duval County last year, and with three months left to go in 2010, there have already been nine, said Sheriff John Rutherford.
Announcing the figures at a news conference Friday, advocates said citizens' help is needed to stem the violence. That's because in more than half of the murders last year, there was no prior involvement of police, according to the annual Domestic Violence Mortality Review, which was also released Friday.
Figures from the review indicate that few of the victims of domestic violence homicides had sought a protective order or services from a shelter, but in many cases, family or friends knew of past violence or that the victims feared for their own safety.
"We need the public to help us stop these homicides," said Ellen Siler, CEO of Hubbard House in Jacksonville. She urged people who are experiencing abuse or know someone who is to call police or the state domestic violence hotline, at (800) 500-1119.
The economic downturn is likely affecting family violence in a number of different and complex ways, said Michael Hallett, chairman of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Florida.
Domestic violence affects people of all income levels - but typically, it's more hidden among middle and upper classes, Hallett said. The recession may be exposing that for the first time. In addition, financial stress could instigate more violence among people who already have the propensity for it.
And Hallett and many of the shelter executives said women, who make up the vast majority of victims, are waiting longer to leave violent relationships because they lack financial resources.
Still, not everyone agrees about the reason for the increase. Assistant State Attorney Peter Overstreet, who is part of a domestic violence specialty unit, said he doesn't see the economy playing a role.
"It may just be that more people are feeling comfortable reporting those crimes," he said.
Whatever the reason, Hallett said, it's good that domestic violence is getting more attention, because it has long-term consequences, especially for children. Sharon Youngerman, executive director of Quigley House in Clay County, echoed that.
"Children are the unintended, hidden victims of domestic violence," she said.
Even where children are not physically injured, witnessing violence in the home can make kids more susceptible to anxiety and depression and increases the likelihood they will resort to violence themselves later in life.
Those children can be helped, through counseling and living in homes that are violence-free, Youngerman said. …