Domestic violence, a largely unreported crime
Domestic violence represents the largest segment of unreported crime in the United States, and the fears of victims and stigma attached to being a victim often leads to a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" mentality. FROM LEFT: Domestic violence survivor Luz Eva Hull, Norma Vandergriff and Natasha Coonrod. (ALEJANDRO DAVILA PHOTO / November 25, 2012)
“We were in a vehicle, driving from Wal-Mart headed towards Brawley,” she said. “To this day I don’t know what the fight was about, but he began to get angry so I got my cell phone and tried to call the police.”
“He slapped the phone away from my hand, he pulled my hair because I was rolling down the window, screaming to other people’s vehicles to help me; and he was slapping me and at one point he pulled out a knife and held it up to me,” said Hull as she mimicked how he put the knife under her chin.
Luckily, one person saw the incident and called police. And by the time the car arrived in Brawley, police were waiting for them. Soon after a car chase began.
“He started diverting through the streets of Brawley,” she said adding, that the car chase ended when the car was cornered in an empty parking lot near Main Street.
“If it wasn’t for that (person), I don’t think I would be alive today,” said Hull, a 42-year-old survivor and mother of three boys who through years of abuse “suffered a broken nose, suffered a concussion. I got slaps, punches, bruising. I suffered the black eye and the swollen face.”
“(And) after the screaming … he would want to make love — that’s what he called it. So not only was I degraded by the physical abuse, but then he degraded me mentally with the sexual abuse,” she recalled, adding her abuser “made it very clear that what happened in our home stayed in our home.”
Hull is just one of an estimated 1.3 million women victims of physical assault by an intimate partner in the country. She is also part of another Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic estimating that one of four women in the country experiences domestic violence in their lifetime.
As far as Imperial County goes, in 2009 there were 654 domestic violence-related calls to public safety agencies, according to the latest figures by the California Department of Justice.
Brawley, with 171 calls, produced most of these calls. El Centro followed with 169 calls and the unincorporated areas of the county was third with 145 calls. Furthermore, while Calexico produced 83 calls and Imperial produced 58, Holtville produced zero domestic violence calls — a rarity for a California city, at least in that year.
The 2009 service figures for the Center for Family Solutions of Imperial Valley — the most important domestic violence advocacy agency in the county — weren’t available; but 2011-12 numbers show that this agency received 2,477 new clients seeking domestic violence services.
Meanwhile, in 2011 the county District Attorney’s Office reviewed 669 domestic violence cases, of which 358 were approved, said county Deputy District Deborah Owen. She added that many times cases reported to advocacy groups aren’t reported to police, and that many times victims recant statements, making domestic violence prosecution a challenging issue.
In El Centro, domestic violence is a situation police officers respond to at least once and generally more than once during a 24-hour period, said El Centro Police Commander Jeff Mason.
And in Calexico, the holiday season is one of the busiest times for the police department in terms of domestic violence calls, said Calexico Police Lt. Gonzalo Gerardo. The increased family dynamic along with the pressures of the holiday and the economy, often mixed with higher alcohol use, can result in fights between siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends and married couples.
Behind closed doors
Still, domestic violence in the local and national arena is difficult to measure as it generally happens behind closed doors. In fact, domestic violence represents the largest segment of unreported crime in the United States, according to a study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Many victims are embarrassed or afraid, so they don’t notify the authorities or seek services, said Judith Klein-Pritchard, director of legal services at the Center for Family Solutions of Imperial Valley.
Hence, there are no definitive estimates of how many incidents of domestic violence actually occur or go unreported. Most studies probably underestimate domestic violence incidents, she said.