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Gazette Editorial

The home is a crime scene all too often in Montana. Every two hours, on average, there's another incident of domestic violence somewhere in our state.

With events to mark the 22nd annual National Crime Victims' Rights Week planned for later this month, Montanans should be aware that domestic abuse has been on the rise here.Surge in abuse reports Domestic abuse reports statewide increased nearly 30 percent in the latest Montana annual crime report, which was released recently by the Montana Board of Crime Control. The report, which presents statistics for the year 2000 says there were 4,141 domestic abuse reports received by Montana police and sheriffs departments in 2000. Among those reports, 15.7 percent (652) came from Yellowstone County, including the sheriff's office and Billings and Laurel police.

For the state crime report, "domestic abuse" numbers don't even include the worst cases: those investigated as rapes, aggravated assaults or homicides, according to Jim Oppedahl, executive director of the Board of Crime Control. Those cases are listed under the specific violent crime numbers. In the year 2000, Montana's rate of violent crime increased 37.4 percent, reflecting an increase in the rate of rape reports and an increase in the rate of aggravated assault reports. (The crime rate is the number of crimes reported per 100,000 population.)

Domestic abuse cases were more likely than rapes, aggravated assaults or property crimes to be cleared by arrests. Fifty-seven percent of domestic abuse reports resulted in arrest.

However, domestic violence offenders also have a high rate of recidivism. A study conducted for the Montana Board of Crime Control found that over a five-year period, nearly one out every five people arrested for domestic abuse was arrested again for domestic abuse within two years.Cycle of violence The same study, written in 1998, found that the great majority of domestic abuse victims were female and the great majority of domestic abusers were male.

Domestic abuse destroys families and threatens communities. As victims' advocate Mitzi Vorachek says in her guest opinion today, children exposed to domestic violence are at higher risk for being family violence victims or offenders as adults.

The costs of domestic violence may be counted in human suffering and emotional trauma as well as in dollars.

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Domestic cases, crimes committed against a family or household member accounted for 170 claims filed with the Montana Crime Victims Compensation Fund, program manager Kathy Matson reports from Helena. Domestic cases, including homicides and aggravated assaults accounted for 35 percent of all claims on the fund last year. Money for victims compensation comes from state and federal allocations.

"We have a lot of domestic-related claims," Mattson noted. "The majority, I would have to say are husband and wife or significant others."

Montanans must recognize the prevalence of domestic abuse. We must recognize the rights of victims and make sure they know that help is available in Montana.

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