By Hayley Crandall
Domestic and intimate partner violence remains on the rise in Milwaukee, according to a report released this month from the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.
Domestic violence and intimate partner violence have seen a significant increase from 2019 and on. Domestic violence and intimate partner violence have accounted for 12% of all homicides and about 3% of non-fatal shootings, according to the report.
For reference, domestic violence refers to violence between two people cohabitating while intimate partner violence refers to attacks on another person by any former or current partner.
The data, which was pulled from the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Review Commission, examined the number of reports from July and June in the years 2018-2019 and 2019 to 2020.
The report also analyzed the contributing factors for domestic violence and intimate partner violence throughout the Milwaukee area. These big-picture factors include social determines of health including education and poverty.
“The biggest thing we really try to do with our work is to demonstrate that a lot of these factors are connected,” Mike Totoraitis, project manager for the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission, said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, well, it’s the inner city. That’s just where violence happens.’ It’s because of other factors beyond a lot of folks control that live in these neighborhoods.”
In one instance, the report found that domestic violence/intimate partner violence homicides and nonfatal shootings rate increased by 38 per 10,000 individuals when living below the poverty line. On the flip side, as individuals obtain high school diplomas, domestic violence/intimate partner violence decreased.
“That really underscores the importance of having strong investments in education, job creation and sustainable wages because those all correlate to decreases in intimate partner and domestic violence in a community,” Totoraitis said.
There are other external factors, Totoraitis explained, that may come into play but weren’t explored fully. One of them can be the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s been a lot of focus on the increase of domestic violence/ intimate partner violence instances in relation to the pandemic, Totoraitis said, but the rates have been climbing since 2019.
Exactly what the pandemic’s role has been in the rise in domestic violence and intimate partner violence occurrences is currently unknown, Totoraitis said.
“As we move further away from this, we will be able to see a stronger correlation between the stress that COVID caused with the increase in violence,” said Totoraitis. “But at this point, it’s hard to make that clear connection.”
The presented societal determinants of health become affected by various other factors and add to the stress of situations.
“For us, the report really underscores the importance to the bigger societal issues that contribute to the cycle of violence,” Totoraitis said. “I think there are short-term societal issues we will look at.”
The report didn’t look at pandemic relations specifically in the research at the time but are trying to tease out as domestic violence/intimate partner violence and COVID-19 cases both rise, said Totoraitis. He noted that they expect to find a correlation.
“The added stress and concerns about the pandemic have put everyone on edge, both practitioners as well as folks in a lot of these neighborhoods,” Totoraitis said. “So, I think when we look for it, we will find it.”
There has been some noted increase in requests for services, noted Dr. Connie Kostelac, assistant professor at the Medical College of Milwaukee and director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. She added that there are prevalent concerns that it may not be an accurate representation of everyone who needs help.
“We’ve heard bits and pieces of other information related to both a combination of increases in some of the requests for services but also concerns we may not be seeing everything because individuals may be hesitant to reach out,” Kostelac said. “It may not be easy to reach out during this time where people aren’t out and interacting in a way they normally would.”
The Sojourner Family Peace Center has recorded an uptick in its own data, but it acknowledges that a rise has been coming since last fall.
The center noted 44 domestic violence relates homicides during this time, a 95% increase, according to Carmen Pitre, CEO of the Sojourner Family Peace Center.
“It’s the most I’ve seen in my career,” Pitre said.
The organization’s recording methods differ from that of the MPD, making its count a bit higher than general reports, Pitre explained.
Pitre noted the pandemic has escalated everything that was already rising since last year, leading to more challenges with assistance.
“The pandemic has made it worse,” Pitre said. “I think we were always dealing with high levels of violence. Absolutely the pandemic has made everything worse.”
The center started homicide reduction efforts in hopes of spreading awareness and saving victims. It has remained open, but its bed capacity has been reduced for safety.
Furthermore, many of its service are being offered virtually. Pitre realizes they’re going to be in this place for a while and has concerns about what’s to come.
“I worry about the tsunami of not being able to meet your own basic needs or get housing in the future,” Pitre said. “I also worry about the mental health implications for all of us, but especially for survivors who are in situations where they’re being hurt.”
Pitre believes the antidote to violence is human to human contact, but that’s the exact opposite of what these times call for.
“Violence is peculating, it is there, it is escalating,” Pitre said.