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Rise In Domestic Abuse Cases Strains Louisville Shelters, Resources

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A 17-year-old has been charged as an adult for attempted murder after police say he fired shots at Clarksville Police Chief Mark Palmer's home in September.

There were 10 murders in Louisville last month — seven were related to domestic violence. That’s an alarming figure considering the city had nine total domestic violence homicides in all of 2017.

Now, a new study commissioned by Metro Government found that reports of domestic violence also increased from 2015 to 2016. The report, published Feb. 1 by the Domestic Violence Prevention and Coordinating Council, analyzed the 16 cases of domestic violence-related murders in Louisville in 2015 and 2016.

In those two years, according to the report, domestic violence-related fatalities involving firearms jumped to 81 percent, up from 71 percent in 2013-2014. And in the 16 cases the committee reviewed, the presence of a firearm was the most common factor in the victims’ deaths.

For Jeanine Triplett, the Center for Women and Families’ vice president for development, that raises concerns.

The center offers shelter and aid to domestic violence victims, helping them escape violent situations. The center doesn’t track data on guns in homes, but Triplett said the availability of guns creates dangerous situations for both victims and police officers.

“If you talk to any police officer that’s been training, and this has been for years, the most dangerous call is a domestic violence situation,” Triplett said. “People are passionate, they’re upset, they don’t think and then someone has a firearm in their home, then – there you are.”

Analyzing domestic violence data outside those 16 homicide cases, the study found the total number of reported assaults, offenses and arrests for domestic abuse increased from 2015 through 2016. Reported assaults increased the most, jumping from 3,499 incidents to 3,839, data show.

There were more domestic violence calls for police during that time period, too: from 38,049 calls to 40,011.

Committee co-chair and retired family court judge Jerry Bowles said the increased number of calls could be attributed to a changing mindset about domestic abuse.

“People are starting to understand that they do have rights, even within a familial relationship,” Bowles said. “There are systems out there that will believe them and take their pleas for protection serious.”

But the rising violence has taxed resources at organizations like the Center for Women and Families.

According to the report, the number of crisis calls to the center swelled from 5,461 in 2015 to 5,897 in 2016, and the number of victims receiving counseling and sheltering in the center also increased.

The center only has 80 beds. Triplett said they’re often forced to turn victims away, referring them to partnering shelters and organizations such as Volunteers for America.

“We’ve always turned people away,” Triplett said. “The sense of urgency is the same.”

The center has responded to the increased demand by offering more resources online and making its website easier for victims to use, Triplett said.

Bowles said the issue could be addressed with tougher penalties for domestic abuse  charges, and he agrees with Triplett that people could help by not rushing to judgement.

“Often, society wants to disbelieve because of the fact [a victim] stayed in the relationship or because some of their counterintuitive behaviors before they left the relationship,” Bowles said.

“We as a society tend to judge whether somebody has the potential, or is engaging in violence in their home. Nobody knows what’s happening inside someone else’s home.”

Among recommendations to the Domestic Violence Prevention and Coordinating Council, the Fatality Review Committee suggested Louisville needs more shelters for domestic violence survivors, as well as opportunities for at-risk youth who've experienced domestic abuse.

Attorney Ellie Kertsteder, council co-chair, said the council will review the recommendations and could potentially begin implementation this year.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.

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