Advocates working to better protect domestic violence victims, concerned about rise in homicides


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CLEVELAND (WJW) — Domestic violence prevention professionals in Cuyahoga and Lorain County are voicing concerns about domestic violence homicides.

“Lorain county had gone almost three full years without seeing a domestic homicide and then since March, we’ve had three different episodes of domestic homicide,” said Virginia Beckman, executive director of Lorain County Safe Harbor Genesis House Shelter.

“[One] was an instance of a complete family annihilation unfortunately,” she said.

Beckman who oversees Lorain County’s only domestic violence shelter said domestic violence thrives in isolation, a fact she said is only complicated by the pandemic.

Jill Smialek, manager of the Witness Victim Service Center in Cleveland said the initial drop in reports to her office in March, has since steadily increased beginning in May. She said reports tend to be more violent, putting the victim in more danger.

“That’s certainly unfortunately a trend that domestic violence professionals across the country are preparing for, there’s a concern that domestic violence rates are actually much higher than what’s being reported,” she said.

Cleveland Police report a 2.46 percent change from 2019 to 2020 year to date in domestic violence calls. From January 1, 2019 to September 30, 2019, there were 5,235 domestic violence calls. In 2020 during that same time period, Cleveland Police report 5,364 domestic violence calls.

In September, the Cuyahoga County’s Witness Victim Service Center (WVSC) Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention program announced an $824,800 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women to expand services across the county during a three-year period.

WVSC in partnership with the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center and Cleveland Police worked towards this federal domestic violence homicide prevention initiative since 2016. More than 800 police officers have been trained to better assess domestic violence crime victims who are at an increased risk for homicide.

Smialek said if they can continue successfully identifying those cases early on and triage them through the justice system with extra care and attention, it may help avoid future violence and higher levels of violence.

“We’ve seen very good success within the city of Cleveland specifically within [police] districts 1 and 5 which is the far east and far west side,” said Smialek. “We really tested out the model there. I think it’s really effective and hope to take it county wide at some point.”

In addition to Cleveland Police, the South Euclid Police Department was trained under this model in June according to Smialek. It’s not clear which suburban police department will be selected next, but Smialek said she is hopeful the model will be implemented on a larger scale and faster thanks to the grant.

“Domestic violence, it does thrive in secrecy, so when somebody shares that they’re being abused we need to believe survivors,” said Beckman.

“We need to believe people when they say they’re being abused, that denial is so prevalent and it’s so problematic because people who abuse are very invested in presented a charming face to the rest of the world.” 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.


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