Maine Crime Statistics Do Not Show Extent of Domestic Violence

The helpline for Caring Unlimited, York County’s domestic violence resource center, is now ringing 300 times a month, more than ever.

Sometimes the calls come from victims who need immediate safety. Sometimes it is a victim seeking support in dealing with violence or abuse in the home. Family members are also calling for advice on how to help those they know who are being abused.

“It’s the busiest we’ve ever seen,” said Susan Giambalvo, executive director of Caring Unlimited. “We are constantly seeing more complexity in people situations and increased levels of danger. “

Statewide, domestic violence resource centers have received a record number of calls and emails in the past year, a worrying trend advocates say is exacerbated by a housing shortage affordability, pending court cases and difficulty accessing mental health services during the pandemic.

“We continue to find that people’s challenges and obstacles are more complex, more intractable and more difficult to manage,” said Regina Rooney, director of communications for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Much of this has to do with the pandemic, and much of it has to do with the stubborn nature of domestic abuse and violence and how violent people will take advantage of any vulnerabilities they can find to stay in control. “

In the fiscal year that ended in September, Maine’s Domestic Violence Resource Centers assisted more than 11,000 adults in crisis and responded to calls from 1,800 other community members concerned about safety. people they knew. Calls to the helpline with survivors increased 13% from the previous year, according to the Coalition, a nonprofit that supports nine member organizations focused on preventing abuse and domestic violence . Contacts via email, SMS, secure chat and video services increased by 67%.

Annual crime statistics from the Maine Department of Public Safety, released last week, show a 6% decrease in the number of domestic violence assaults in 2020, with 3,468 incidents reported to law enforcement. This is the sixth year of decline in reported assaults for domestic violence.

But the key word here is reported. So much domestic violence is not. The Justice Department estimates that only 27% of female victims and 13.5% of male victims report to the police.

Advocates who work with victims know that Maine’s annual statistics aren’t starting to tell the story.

“It’s just one part of a very complicated picture,” Rooney said.

For starters, it leaves out other crimes associated with domestic violence, including stalking, a leading indicator that an abusive situation could turn fatal. Other aspects of abuse – financial control or isolating a partner from their family, for example – are not in themselves crimes to which the police could respond. Victims may be unable or reluctant to call the police for fear that outside intervention will make their situation more volatile and insecure.

“A lot of the things violent people do to maintain control over their partners and family members are not illegal,” Rooney said. “We have to realize that we cannot look to the criminal justice system to solve this problem for us. “

Christina Foster volunteers with Through These Doors, the Cumberland County Domestic Violence Resource Center. “People don’t know how ubiquitous it is,” she said. Ben McCanna / Team Photographer

CALL AFTER CALL

Christina Foster answers multiple calls during most of her volunteer shifts for Through these doors, the Cumberland County Domestic Violence Resource Center. One night, she spoke to 19 people who spoke about domestic violence or abuse.

Someone can call for specific information on how to get a protection order. A victim may just need someone to talk to about what they are going through. Recently a woman called who had already left her abuser and was trying to deal with everything. When Foster told her about a support group, the woman told her that was exactly what she needed, but she hadn’t realized that was an option.

Volunteer advocates like Foster play a vital role, said Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Through These Doors. All volunteers take 44 hours of training and more is always needed, she said.

During the fiscal year ended in September, Through These Doors received 9,780 telephone calls, or 13% over the previous year. During the same period, demand for accommodation beds jumped by 50%.

Through These Doors, which operates a 16-bed shelter, provided 8,752 overnight stays – or one person per bed per night – in fiscal 2021. In the first year of the pandemic, the organization relied on COVID-19 relief funding to rent hotel rooms for people who needed temporary shelter, but now those funds are gone.

Hobbs said the housing crisis in Greater Portland has made it much more difficult to find housing for victims, especially those with large families. The lack of available and affordable units has forced people to seek refuge in shelters for much longer stays and has prevented some people from leaving abusive situations, she said.

Obtaining housing for survivors has been a challenge for some time, Hobbs said, but has become more difficult during the pandemic as landlords are unwilling to hire new tenants.

“We are working very hard to build relationships with the owners because they are very careful right now who they are staying with,” she said.

Housing is also a big challenge in York County, where rental prices have risen sharply in recent years. AT Unlimited treatments, a large number of accommodation demands simply cannot be met, Giambalvo said.

“It takes months for some survivors to find an apartment,” she said.

Survivors seeking housing also face long legal delays during the pandemic. The delays have left some survivors in uncertain situations as they wait for divorces, custody and other matters to be resolved in the courts, Giambalvo said.

“It has an impact on security and the ability of people to move forward with their lives,” Giambalvo said.

Caring Unlimited serves more people than ever through its legal aid program, which includes two attorneys and two attorneys who help survivors navigate the civilian justice system. In the past year, they have helped over 700 people, up from around 600 the year before.

Rooney, of the coalition, said a shortage of pro bono legal and representation services is a real barrier for many survivors and “a significant gap in our current response.”

Legal aid programs like Caring Unlimited’s are getting increased funding through federal grants to state agencies this fall. Caring Unlimited has received nearly $ 600,000 under the federal victim legal aid program. Partners for Peace, Family Violence Project and Next Stop Domestic Violence Project also received grants under the program to provide legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

These grants are included in nearly $ 9 million in federal funding recently awarded to 14 organizations and state agencies to prevent domestic violence and protect survivors.

Through These Doors received $ 750,000 to continue to provide services in the Cumberland County Lake District. The grant will allow the organization to partner with the City of Standish and the Naples Public Library to provide spaces for defenders to meet with victims. Advocates will also continue to partner with Bridgton Police and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office to assess high-risk cases.

“This significant investment will provide better access to necessary services for victims, help strengthen our state’s response to these crimes and allow organizations in Maine to continue to protect vulnerable members of their communities,” said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King when they announced the grants in October.

COMMUNITY HELP

While federal funding is essential, advocates say much more needs to be done to support survivors and hold abusers accountable.

Intervening and ending domestic violence requires “a multi-level, community-wide approach in which those who believe they can treat their intimate partners and families horribly will be convinced to change their beliefs and abusive behavior. , and those they hurt are supported to be safe. and secure, ”said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the coalition.

More programs across the state are starting to focus on educating people about the signs of abuse to look for and how to hold abusers accountable. Caring Unlimited will use a new federal grant of $ 500,000 to launch a community-based prevention program to educate young people about the dynamics of domestic violence.

Rooney said that an important part of the community response to domestic violence is providing a non-judgmental ear to those experiencing violence. But it is also essential, she says, to take into account the idea “that the people who commit this kind of crime are not evil dark wood monsters – they are the people in our lives.”

Hobbs of Through These Doors found that volunteer advocates who answer helpline calls often educate other members of the community.

Since Foster started volunteering six years ago, she has had conversations with many in her community about the impacts of domestic violence. Most are surprised when she shares that more than 13,000 people in Maine turn to resource centers each year, she said.

“People don’t know how ubiquitous it is,” said Foster, who also works for the coalition.. “I always make a point of talking about how this is an issue that crosses all lines and all demographics. … It’s everywhere.”

Giambalvo said she would like to see more community members who know abusive people step in and tell them their behavior is wrong.

“We want to believe that domestic violence is private or is happening to someone else. But if we know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, there is a good chance that we also know someone who has perpetrated it, ”she said. “What we are seeing is that as much as we want to protect the person who experiences this abuse and help them achieve safety, there is also an opportunity for the person who chooses the abuse to change their behavior. “

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