LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)— State numbers show domestic abuse cases are down across the state, but some say those numbers can be deceiving.
Governor Scott Walker's budget called for investing $11 million in domestic violence prevention and treatment. Even though the state Department of Justice reports cases of domestic violence are decreasing across Wisconsin. This is, in part, because domestic violence is so severely underreported.
"Domestics are one of the most dangerous incidents that law enforcement officers respond to," said investigator Tim O'Neill.
O'Neill is the coordinator for the La Crosse Police Department's D.A.R.T. program, which stands for "domestic abuse reduction team."
"Depending on what's going on in that relationship, how close the person feels to the other person, you never know what could go through that person's mind or how that person could be inspired to act," O'Neill said.
O'Neill says in 2012, the La Crosse Police Department responded to 2021 domestic calls. That number is up slightly from the 2017 calls the previous year.
"Those are just the reported ones and I assume there are plenty more that go unreported every year," O'Neill said.
According to the latest numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, domestic violence decreased by 4.7 percent between 2010 and 2011 in Wisconsin, and went down more than 8 percent in La Crosse County. But those statistics reflect only those cases reported to police and referred to the district attorney's office.
"Domestics have always been horribly underreported," said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "Whether they're going down as much as we would like to or whether it's a reporting issue we will probably never know."
According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women will be a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime.
"If we look at the population of Wisconsin, there are about 2.9 million women. So, we're looking at roughly then anywhere between 500 to almost a million women who are victims of domestic abuse," said Crystal Jensen, an assistant district attorney for La Crosse County. "So what's reported is a very small percentage of the violence that's actually occurring."
Ann Kappauf, the executive director of New Horizons Shelter, says despite the decline in the DOJ report, she hasn't seen much of a change.
"We are serving approximately 2000 men, women and children each year, and that's more than what's even in the report," Kappauf said. "The victim is afraid to report. If you get law enforcement involved, it's just going to escalate the situation, escalate the perpetrator's reason for being abusive. And it's going to give them a reason to be abusive, in their mind."
If an individual does not want to report abuse, New Horizons still provides support.
"It's totally up to them, whether they want to report," Kappauf said. "If a person is need our services, they'll call our crisis line, they'll walk in our door, and just start talking."
So while domestic violence may be underreported, programs through New Horizons and D.A.R.T., ensure ongoing support for victims, even those who do not file a police report.
"D.A.R.T. will stay involved in the person's life as long as they allow us to," O'Neill said. "They do on occasion, decide to go back to their abuser, we're always there to continue our support. They'll always have a face, a name and a telephone number of someone they can contact."
To help keep victims who do report safe, the Governor's budget includes $1 million to fund a grant program to put more individuals who have restraining orders against them, on GPS monitoring.
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