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Our View: No easy answer to domestic violence

3:51 PM, Jan. 21, 2013  |  Comments
Battery-powered candles cover a table during a 2012 special vigil at the Domestic Violence Center in Manitowoc.
Battery-powered candles cover a table during a 2012 special vigil at the Domestic Violence Center in Manitowoc.
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Battling domestic violence is a long-term battle, and it's one that resists easy conclusions. A new state report might indicate a reduction in violence, but we would be well advised to avoid the temptation to rest on our laurels or pat ourselves on the back. There is a lot of work that the community has yet to do.

First, the data. The Wisconsin Department of Justice this month released a new report showing that domestic abuse incidents reported to law enforcement and referred to prosecutors had decreased by 4.7 percent in 2011.

On the surface, that is surely good news. But it is hard to know whether this particular data represents an actual reduction in the frequency of domestic violence. It is universally acknowledged, including in the state's report itself, that many cases of domestic abuse are never reported to law enforcement and therefore never counted.

Here are some of the numbers in the report:

? Number of domestic abuse incidents reported to law enforcement and referred to Wisconsin district attorneys' offices in 2011: 28,539

? That number in 2010: 29,941

? Rate of arrests in reported incidents in 2011: 71 percent. Arrests were made in 20,250 incidents and no arrests were made in 8,086 cases.

? Nearly half of all domestic abuse victims fell within the age range of 18 to 29. Roughly one-quarter of victims were 30-39; 18 percent were 40-49; and 13 percent were 50 or older.

These data should make it clear that even if the decline in reported cases represents a real reduction in violence, the total numbers remain intolerably high. The goal is not to have fewer incidents of domestic violence. The goal is to have none.

The forces - social, psychological, economic and other - that keep victims in abusive relationships are powerful and insidious.

Any indication that violence is waning is welcome. But as a community, as a state, as a nation, we still have a very long way to go.

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