According to a recently released Whatcom County data report, domestic violence is still a significant problem for our communities. Many domestic violence indicators in the criminal and civil justice systems increased in 2011, as compared to past years. Especially significant are increases in the numbers of domestic violence offenses reported to law enforcement, domestic violence felonies filed, and Domestic Violence Protection Orders filed. The number of victims receiving support services from local domestic violence advocacy agencies increased in 2011 as well.
Unfortunately, data collection methodologies limit our ability to ascertain the causes for these increases. We are unable to determine if there is more domestic violence happening in Whatcom County, if increases are due to more awareness about domestic violence and thus more victims seeking assistance, or if it is a combination of both. Additionally, increases could partially be attributed to rising population in Whatcom County.
Regardless of the reasons behind the data trends, the numbers of people affected by domestic violence in Whatcom County is still a concern. Each offense reported to law enforcement, domestic violence felony filed and Domestic Violence Protection Order filed represents a victim whose life is forever altered by the power, control and violence of the perpetrator. Moreover, domestic violence impacts not only the victim, but also children, family members, friends, neighbors, faith communities, coworkers and others in our community.
The report, titled Domestic Violence in Whatcom County, 1998 - 2011, is the ninth annual domestic violence benchmark report published by the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence. The mission of the commission is to provide leadership in the community's efforts to reduce and prevent domestic violence.
Specifically, the benchmark report includes the following data:
In 2011, more than 1,400 domestic violence offenses were reported to Whatcom County law enforcement agencies. This represents an increase in domestic violence offense from past years. In 2011, domestic violence offenses represented 16 percent of all reported criminal offenses in Whatcom County; this is slightly higher than the Washington State percentage. In addition to criminal offenses, Whatcom County law enforcement agencies also responded to more than 1,500 verbal domestic calls.
A total of 229 domestic violence felonies were filed in Whatcom County in 2011. This is an increase from the number filed in 2010. In fact, in 2011 domestic violence felonies filed made up 18 percent of all felonies filed in Whatcom County, which was a higher proportion than in any of the past eleven years. This indicator underlies anecdotal information provided by local law enforcement officers and prosecutors that the severity of violence within domestic violence incidents is increasing.
There were 393 Domestic Violence Protection Orders filed in 2011. This is an increase from 2010, and the highest number of protection orders filed since 2004.
There was one intimate partner fatality in 2011. Kriston Peterman-Dunya was shot and killed by her estranged husband, Keayn Dunya, in Bellingham on July 3, 2011. There were a total of two homicides in Whatcom County in 2011.
In the 2011 Whatcom County Homeless Count, 17 percent of those counted as homeless listed domestic violence as a cause of homelessness, for a total of 99 households. Eighty-eight percent of these had a female head of household, and 43 percent included children in the household.
There were more than 1,500 domestic violence-related jail bookings in 2011. This number represents a significant increase from 2010, following another significant increase from 2009 to 2010. Domestic violence-related jail bookings were also a higher percentage of total jail bookings in 2011 than in 2010.
To see more data, view the figures and tables that depict this data, and read more about the data indicators and trends, you can view the full report at dvcommission.org/resources under New & Noteworthy.
Susan Marks is the director of the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence. For information, go online to dvcommission.org. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can call Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services at 360.715.1563; Womencare Shelter at 360.734.3438; or Lummi Victims of Crime at 360.384.2285 for advocacy, support, and information.