Domestic violence shouldn’t just be fodder for a Seattle mayoral campaign three weeks before election day. It’s a perennial crisis our community has failed to respond to.
Last year, 53 men, women and children died in Washington from abuse at the hands of a family member or partner, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Twelve of those deaths occurred in King County. Thousands more incidents — from stalking, intimidation to physical abuse — get reported in the Seattle area every year. The King County Prosecutor’s Office files about 1,200 felony charges annually.
My questions for Mike McGinn and Ed Murray: What happens after Nov. 5? What would each of you do to curb this public health and safety epidemic?
Both indicate they support a Family Justice Center to respond to domestic violence victims’ needs in official campaign literature and questionnaires like this one from the Seattle Human Services Coalition.
Lately, they’ve resorted to finger-wagging.
On Thursday, Mike McGinn demanded Murray’s campaign stop airing the ad below because it’s “deceptive.” (The Murray campaign can’t do that. The ad was paid for by an independent political action committee called People for a New Seattle Mayor.) Read Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner’s analysis of the ad, which he deemed “mostly false.”
McGinn has to own up to the fact his administration eliminated a domestic violence prevention unit and its director two years ago. According to this Seattle Times news report, McGinn says he maintained funding while folding those services into the Human Services Department to “break down silos.” Money alone can’t end abuse. The city lost people during that transition with institutional knowledge.
However, the group that produced the ad should be dinged for faulting McGinn alone for a 60 percent increase in aggravated assaults over the last four years. Advocates say the 2008 economic crash may have pushed some abusers over the edge. More people are reporting crimes. David Martin, head of the Domestic Violence Unit in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, says another possible reason for the spike is a 2007 law that upgraded strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony crime. By 2011, there were 774 annual cases of strangulation countywide, making it the second most common charge brought by the unit.
“At the end of the day, you can’t prosecute your way out of this. You also can’t shelter or provide emergency services for everyone,” Martin says. “You have to prevent domestic abuse from happening.”
Though community-based organizations like Seattle-based New Beginnings are on the front lines of responding to domestic violence victims, advocates say a city mayor plays a vital role in creating awareness of the problem.
“It’s not only funding for domestic violence services specifically, but it’s promoting a community in which there’s affordable housing and human services available,” says New Beginnings Executive Director Susan Segall. “The work we do in a domestic violence organization is only so good as the safety net and supports elsewhere in the community.”
To learn more about domestic violence resources, click on this link to the King County website.