Is there a more complex issue having to do with families? After all, we turn the news on and what do we hear? Someone just shot and killed a police officer who was answering a 911 call about domestic violence. Or a distraught father decides to kill his whole family instead of letting go of something that really didn't belong to him in the first place. At least not in the way he thought they belonged to him.
A quick check of our County Jail shows in excess of 650 inmates and a whopping 1/3 of those were due to assaulting a family member. This is the typical population of our county jail. That number is not going down and as long as I have been tracking it (seven years), it's been fairly flat - the only thing that changes is the name of the inmate. Of course, many of those are back in jail because they violated a No Contact Order. You can add that number to the 1/3 I mentioned, by the way.
How do we fix that? Why is that number still the same? After all, we have a Coordinated Community Response, we have multiple DV perpetrator treatment programs in the area, and a YWCA with a great program in place for victims of family violence. There is also a dedicated prosecution setup just for family assault prosecution yet we have a steady flow of customers into our treatment programs. One could say, "Our community has a program set up to handle this problem." But if the number of people being prosecuted doesn't decrease, can we say the program is successful?
It's a multidimensional problem and needs a multidimensional solution in order to effect change. What change is that? To lower the number of assaults on family members? That may be the ultimate goal but between now and that goal, think of all the work to be done. All the moving parts of the system that really do have an effect on the outcome.
We have the Law Enforcement which is an after the fact component, the YWCA which is in place with many advocates to support the victims and typically this too is after the fact. And of course, we have the DV treatment providers, again, after the fact. This list is not all inclusive but you get the point…everything we have is geared to handle a problem after it happens. What do we have that helps with prevention? And why is it not or more accurately, why is the number of arrests constant?
It takes more than a post on LinkedIn to answer these questions but for the sake of this limited post, let's say that number of arrests can be decreased by:
1. Teaching our children how to communicate effectively. Eventually, we'll have a generation of people who know how to place a bid with their partner without fear of reprisal or rejection and even if there is rejection, they know how to process that too.
2. When a person is arrested for assaulting a family member, a careful vetting of the individual who is accused should be a must. A complete risk assessment that considers not only the abuser but the victim as well. We want to believe this is being done already but it's not and in most cases, I'll go out on a limb and say they're not effective in doing so.
3. From a very early age, hold those in our care responsible for all they think, say, and do; without fail and consistently. Be equitable when handing out punishment and know what is a teaching moment and what is a punitive moment (can be the same). When punishing/teaching, don't be angry - not necessary to make the point.
4. Remember, and probably the most important of all…treating perpetrators who have been found guilty of assault/DV is only one part of this equation. A person attending a treatment program may be able to alter behavior by learning how to channel aggressive feelings or by learning relaxation techniques or even developing empathic tendencies but until a person changes internally, it is my opinion that the change will not be permanent.