Majority of domestic violence reports uncharged in Kent

The Family and Community Services Center is the home of Safer Futures battered womens shelter, where women may go to seek counseling and services in cases of domestic violence.

The Family and Community Services Center is the home of Safer Futures battered women’s shelter, where women may go to seek counseling and services in cases of domestic violence.

Christina Suttles

In 2012, there were 485 domestic-related calls for service put into the Kent Police Department, of which only 101 resulted in an arrest, according to records obtained from the department.

“It can be physical or it can be threats,” said James Prusha, administrative lieutenant for the Kent Police Department. “Calling names doesn’t count, but saying they would hurt the person would count. The ones who are charged are often found not guilty, because victims and witnesses decide not to testify.”

Violence in the home is the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined, according to the domestic violence resource center.

Shelley Marsh, director of Safer Futures, a shelter for domestic violence victims and their families in Portage County, was taken aback by this statistic.

“I’m not in law enforcement, and I’m not on the scene, and I can’t begin to speculate on why they’re not arresting more,” she said. “I do know that if they can determine primary aggressor, they should be making an arrest. If that’s not happening, I can’t imagine of that several hundred, the majority didn’t want to press charges.”

Officers have the right to make an arrest regardless of the victim’s wishes, or a warrant if a primary aggressor can be determined and physical harm is visible, according to the Ohio Revised Code Section 2935.032, which guides the department on how to handle these altercations.

In September and October of last year alone, there were 61 domestic-related police reports filed; Nineteen were found to have no sufficient evidence to make an arrest, and 18 were cleared by arrest.

But there are grey areas. In eleven cases, aggressors were cleared of arrest by “exceptional means.” In these cases, prosecution is denied at the will of both parties, or charges are dropped before the court date.

“In many situations, neither party claims the arguments turned physical, and there isn’t enough evidence to file a charge,” Prusha said. “At that point, it’s out of our hands.”

In a report filed in mid-October, for example, police were contacted after a witness reported a man pushing a woman to the ground while walking down South Water Steet. The victim said she simply tripped, while her boyfriend admitted to pushing her. According to the police report, the victim had no visible injuries and wanted no further police involvement, leaving no room for prosecution, according to police.

In this particular case, the offender’s admission of guilt could have been enough to make an arrest, and this type of behavior is atypical of repeat offenders.  Many wonder whether or not the decision not to prosecute could lead to more serious complaints down the road, although Prusha said the victim’s unwillingness to testify would have significantly inhibited the case.

“I’m not familiar with that case specifically,” he said. “But we’ve found that if there’s no cooperation from the victim, and there’s no physical evidence of assault, most times aggressors are cleared.”

Sentences for domestic abuse in Ohio:

  • For 1st degree misdemeanor, up to six months in jail and/or a fine up to $1000.

  • For 2nd degree misdemeanor, up to 90 days in jail and/or fine up to $750.

  • For 3rd degree misdemeanor, up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine up to $500.

  • For 5th degree felony, six to twelve months in prison and a fine up to $2500.

  • For 4th degree felony, six to eighteen months in prison and a fine up to $5000.

  • For 3rd degree felony, nine months to three years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Throughout the United States, it is estimated that as much as 70 percent of domestic-related assaults go unreported, and those that do fail to lead to an arrest many times, according to the U.S Department of Justice.

It begins as unprovoked name-calling, guilt trips or character attacks. Many find themselves isolated from family and friends or giving up financial autonomy at the request of another. Soon the shouting matches turn to punches, and they feel like a prisoner in a house they helped furnish, according to Marsh.

Shelley Marsh’s organization, Safer Futures, is one of the largest in Portage County that assists victims of domestic abuse. The shelter can house up to five families who typically stay there from 60 to 90 days while shelter advocates work on finding them housing, legal assistance, child care and social services. Safer Futures includes two programs: legal advocacy — or outreach — and in-shelter assistance. Marsh said the demand for civil protection orders have increased dramatically, while the shelter still remains at mass occupancy throughout most of the year.

“I think the reason protection orders have increased is it allows people to stay in their homes and have the abuser removed,” she said.

Marsh said there are countless examples as to why many victims refuse to press charges, but that it’s important to remember the psychological hold many abusers have on their victims.

“If the victim’s in jail, they have no one to support them and their children,” she said. “A lot of times they call the police because they want the abuse to stop, but then all of the emotions that are wrapped up in this relationship kind of start, and of course the abuser starts to make promises, and those feelings of love start to surface again.”

Lt. Prusha said he’s seen similar symptoms, possibly as a result of isolation or financial dependency.

“They’re dependant on the person or for a place to live or finances or because it’s the other parent of the child,” Prusha said. “Some of it is they just don’t feel like going to court. Maybe they don’t have a car to get there, but I think a lot of it is second guessing.”

The police reports reflected a majority of domestic arguments were verbal, and reflected primary aggressors of all ages, races and genders. Most of those arrested for assault were also charged for possession of drugs or alcohol.

Marsh said there’s no typical breaking point in which a victim decides to leave an abusive situation; that it varies by individual.

“I’ve worked with clients that would end up in the hospital from beatings and then decided that was it,” she said. “Some people endured years of abuse and decided to leave after the aggressor looked at them the wrong way.”

It’s very natural for friends and family to get frustrated because domestic violence is an ongoing, difficult process, and leaving is the same way, Marsh said.

“It’s so isolating, anyway. These victims need to know that when they’re ready to leave, there’s going to be somebody who is going to accept and help them,” she said.

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].