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MPD logs almost 500 domestic abuse calls yearly

October may get its reputation for the Halloween holiday with the plethora of candy and costumes, but since 1989 the month has also represented a time of awareness and education for domestic violence and abuse. And Marshalltown community members want more focus placed on domestic abuse.

October has served as National Domestic Violence Awareness month since 1989 and has been a time to serve as a reminder. One of the main goals for National Domestic Violence Awareness month is to educate community and family members on what domestic violence really looks like and how to break false stereotypes about the topic.

Breaking misconceptions

Kristina Griego works at ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support) in Marshalltown as a domestic abuse housing advocate and economic justice coordinator. ACCESS has been in Marshall County since August 2013 and offers many services to survivors of domestic abuse. ACCESS provides criminal and legal advocacy, a 24-hour crisis line, counseling services, emergency shelter and relocation assistance.

Griego helps her clients find new housing options and begin taking the steps to living independently.

She said one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to domestic violence and abuse is how the issue is usually framed. For many, when the topic of domestic abuse comes up, violence is the first and sometimes the only scenario imagined. Griego said that isn’t the case, adding that abuse can also be mental and emotional, verbal or sexual.

Breaking the false ideas of what domestic abuse has been hard for most people to overcome and Griego said the idea of victim blaming is very common in domestic violence.

Throwing around phrases like “Why didn’t they leave?” or “Why did they say this now?” is harmful because it makes it seem like emotional damage and fear doesn’t hold back most survivors.

There is no playbook on how to handle abuse and Griego said most people do not understand that manipulation plays a large factor in why people choose to stay in harmful relationships.

“Honestly, the truth is so much more than that,” she said. “Their power was taken from them when they were abused.”

A Marshalltown survivor of domestic abuse, who wished to remain anonymous, said domestic abuse is tough when even family and close friends feed into false narratives on the issue.

Coming forward is already hard enough, but when family and friends offer excuses or buy into the things they see in public, it gets to a point where survivors are trapped.

“They see you out in public and they say, ‘You are such a family, why would you say this about them?'” the survivor said. “They put a mask on outside and then they let it go when they’re with you.”

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and yet for most survivors, everyone assumes they would never know someone going through it.

“They will not understand unless they go through it,” the survivor said.

Marshalltown Chief of Police Mike Tupper said in his 28 years in law enforcement, communities continue to handle domestic abuse in the same approach.

In most cases, people ignore it or pass it off as a one-time issue.

Domestic abuse has long been pitted as private family problems and the issue will take care of itself. Most people would rather not interfere or be seen as nosey.

“I think there are many people that only think this happens to other families,” Tupper said. “They don’t call the police when they hear things.”

Marshalltown domestic violence

In 2019, Marshalltown police responded to 493 calls for domestic abuse situations. Of those, 120 domestic violence arrests were made.

With two months left in the year, Tupper said the numbers are looking to be on track from what they were in 2019.

As of Oct. 2, Tupper said Marshalltown police investigated 317 calls for domestic abuse with 101 arrests being made.

Despite the numbers for 2019 and 2020 being similar, Tupper said police are only dealing with a small number of the real problems in Marshalltown.

He referenced multiple national studies on domestic violence which have determined only 25 percent of cases of abuse are ever reported, leaving unknown amounts of domestic abuse situations in the dark.

More studies have pointed out when COVID-19 forced states into lockdowns in early March and April, domestic abuse got worse. With families and partners being with each other more often and with added stress from the early uncertainty with the pandemic, domestic abuse cases climbed.

“Pandemic or not, domestic abuse doesn’t stop,” Griego said.

Tupper said he has not been able to determine if cases of domestic abuse increased in Marshalltown during the early months of the pandemic but has seen the severity of calls increase. Tupper said higher levels of violence and increases in injury occurred, with increased accusations of strangulation being reported in calls.

“I think because of COVID-19 lockdowns and people being confined, I think it’s probably likely that fewer of these crimes, fewer than ever, are being reported,” Tupper said.

What can be done next?

Bringing awareness and finding new ways to educate the community is important going forward.

The survivor said they would like to bring formal domestic abuse awareness training and education into schools to help children. Many children are in situations where they might not even realize domestic abuse is taking place, so bringing awareness to children would be a good first step.

Young children interact in tight social circles and if they feel comfortable enough to share their experiences with their friends or teachers, the survivor thinks this could start breaking the cycle of abuse.

Tupper said taking on domestic abuse is much more than responding to calls and making arrests. If domestic abuse is to be eradicated from families and communities, a commitment to funding and supporting social services like ACCESS and others is the only way to make change. The role of social workers in the cycle of stopping domestic abuse goes a lot further than arresting individuals, discarding them and going on to the next problem. It has to start and end with education.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Tupper said.

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