Local advocates strive to protect, educate and change
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Seventy-three people lost their lives in 2016 as a result of domestic violence. End Abuse Wisconsin, a statewide coalition of social policy advocates, attorneys and experts, has been keeping track of domestic violence-related deaths since 2000, and released its annual domestic violence homicide report Oct. 2. Though nationally those statistics are trending downward, in Wisconsin, 2016 brought 15 more deaths than the year before. The 73 deaths include those of perpetrators.
The executive director of the Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault said the increase is disturbing.
“Why are they getting worse in Wisconsin? We don’t know,” said Shellie Holmes. “That’s one domestic homicide every five days. When you break it down you can see how serious the problem is.”
There were no domestic violence homicides recorded in Oneida, Vilas or Forest Counties in 2016, but as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Tri-County Council will be recognizing the 73 victims Oct. 20 with a candlelight vigil in Rhinelander, where each name is read aloud. But that isn’t the only time victims of domestic homicide are acknowledged. Throughout the year, Holmes said agencies like hers light a candle in the window, or put a lantern outside every time there is a domestic homicide in the state.
“It’s a practice we do,” Holmes explained. “It keeps us mindful of the work that we’re supposed to do, which is to protect people and raise awareness and try to change the culture.”
That culture includes drugs and alcohol.
“We have a terrible alcoholism rate up here as we’ve known for decades,” Holmes said. “Now we have the opioid epidemic that many areas have and domestic violence is very much a part of that. It isn’t caused by those things, but it can be escalated by those problems.”
Getting into the schools, educating kids, talking about healthy relationships and even working with students at Blackwell Job Corps in Laona, are efforts made toward those goals, by making “little bits of change,” as opposed to expecting big change all at once.
“We believe that the work we do in schools does make a difference,” Holmes said.”There have been many times when our advocates have been doing a presentation and a student will come up to them afterwards and disclose something and ask for some help.”
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a long-term study that links ACEs, which among other factors, records incidence of childhood domestic violence with health and social problems in adults.
Holmes said the study shows outcomes that people don’t want to hear.
“Even the infant in a crib can be affected by screaming, violence,” she said. “(Especially at early ages) it actually has affects on their brain development, personality development and as they become teens and later adults…it may impact them to follow those patterns of behavior but may also impact them in ways that they are more prone to obesity, sexual promiscuity, alcohol, drug abuse and risky behaviors.”
Tri-County Council has been providing advocacy and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault since 1979, and can be reached 24-hours a day at 800-236-1222. The complete End Abuse Wisconsin Domestic Homicide Report can be viewed at http://www.endabusewi.org/homicide-reports/.