Rise in Milwaukee domestic abuse

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  • Startling numbers show rise of domestic abuse cases in Milwaukee.
  • Many abuse cases have led to homicides.
  • A 20 percent increase in homicides from 2008 to first quarter 2009.

Numbers released by the Milwaukee Police Department indicate a dramatic rise in domestic abuse cases in the city, and an equally dramatic rise in homicides.

Chief of Police Edward Flynn said the increase in abuse cases may be a result of the global economic crisis.

The economy's effects have hit stressed families the most, Flynn said in a November meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Anne E. Schwartz, communications director for MPD, said the impact of the declining economy would first be seen in stressed families. She said their stresses increase with financial uncertainty, resulting in increased domestic violence and child abuse.

Now, MPD has released the numbers for first quarter 2009 that indicate how much impact the economy has on abuse cases and homicides.

According to a study conducted by the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, 41 percent of total homicides have been due to family violence — either domestic violence or child abuse.

Audrey Skwierawski, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said preventative measures for abuse need to be treated like health issues.

"This issue is a spectrum," Skwierawski said. "The theory is that violence should be dealt with like a health epidemic. We need to use a healthcare model, with a heavy emphasis on prevention."

Meghan Stroshine, assistant professor of sociology, agreed the economy was a major contributor to the rise in homicides.

"This economy is hitting low-income families the hardest," Stroshine said. "When there are economic hardships, we will see a rise in domestic homicides. Economic and social stress is so great with abuse and violence."

Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett participated in a teleconference last Thursday. They discussed the crisis and methods to address the increase of abuse cases. They agreed substantive measures need to be taken to prevent further cases from occurring.

"We are sounding the alarm," Flynn said.

There have been 17 homicides in the city of Milwaukee this year and seven of them are a result of domestic abuse.

"I can put cops on the dots where crime occurs but I can't put them inside homes to deter family violence," Flynn said. "Public safety is not a spectator sport and we need the community to share resources and to watch out for one another."

Last year there were 71 homicides, which was the lowest number in ten years. Of those 71 homicides, 15 were due to family violence.

Barrett warned families to take precautionary measures to ensure these abuse cases do not escalate further.

"Families need to take a step back before tragedy strikes," Barrett said in the teleconference.

Every year since 1999 there had been more than 100 cases, with the exception of 2004 when there were only 88, the study said.

The study said 24 percent of this year's homicides related to domestic violence have adult victims. That number has never been higher than 13 percent in the last 10 years.

Skwierawski said the offenders in these cases need as much help for preventative measures as the victim.

"These problems are deeply engrained in the offender, as they are behavioral and won't change overnight," Skwierawski said. "We apply that same model to offenders and offer that support to stop their behavior. For those who have experienced being the abuser, they need to heal as well."

Stroshine said there were ways to better help both victims and batterers.

"What we need is to provide more and better services," Stroshine said. "The only way they receive treatment is through the criminal justice system. We need a better intervention program."

Three of the 17 homicides this year are of children, the study said. There were two child deaths at this time last year and zero in 2007.

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