Domestic violence, or family violence as it is defined in the Texas Penal Code, has reached epidemic proportions not only in Texas, but nationally as well.
The sad part is this totally preventable crime occurs more than 178,000 times each year in Texas alone. If this statistic doesn’t astound you, it should.
Here’s more scary news. On average annually, over 100 women are killed by their intimate partner during domestic violence incidents. Over 33 percent of female homicide victims recorded by police nationally are killed by intimate partners.
Men die during these encounters also, but at a considerably lower rate. Overwhelmingly, men are the batterers. That is not to say that women are not the aggressors or incident instigators in some cases.
Central Texas is not immune from domestic violence incidents. We’ve had our share of incidents of shootings, and stabbings, which resulted in death.
In addition to injuries and fatalities, there is a considerable financial element to domestic violence. It is estimated by the Hope Alliance that family violence costs the nation’s taxpayers from $5 billion to $10 billion annually in medical costs, court costs, shelters, foster care, sick leave and absenteeism from employment.
Texas recognizes three different crimes in the category of domestic violence: domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault and continuous violence against family.
To be clear, an act of domestic violence occurs if the violence is committed against a family member, a household member or someone the offender is currently dating or has dated in the past. This definition includes a guest staying in the home.
Domestic assault: A person is guilty of domestic assault if he or she commits an assault against a family member, household member or a current or past dating partner and intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person, threatens another person with imminent bodily injury or intentionally or knowingly causes contact with another that the offender knows or should reasonably know the victim will find offensive or provocative. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor.
Aggravated domestic assault: A person is guilty of this crime if he or she commits aggravated assault against a spouse, family member, current or former dating partner or household member and causes serious bodily injury to that person, or uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the course of committing any assault crime. If the assault is aggravated, the offense is a second-degree felony. If a weapon is used, the crime becomes a first-degree felony.
Continuous violence against family: Anyone who commits two domestic assaults in any category in a 12-month period can be convicted of continuous violence against family. A defendant can be convicted of this crime without either prior assault having resulted in a conviction, and the two prior assaults need not have been committed against the same person. This is a third-degree felony.
The crime of family violence is preventable; however, prevention requires not only family intervention, but also the intervention of the entire community.
Recognizing that children who witness battering in the home frequently become abusers themselves. If hitting and verbal abuse are the norm in a household, the child grows up believing that such behavior is normal and acceptable. This is where it begins and this is where the first step in reversing this behavior must be taken.
Churches can address family values and harmony in sermons.
Government agencies can address family violence by overtly advertising available services in more than the local telephone book.
Veterans organizations can intervene through counseling and referral services.
The courts can address this growing trend by assessing harsh penalties against repeat perpetrators, and forcing violators into mandatory family counseling.
This disgusting crime must be reversed using any legal means available to us.
John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.