Half of all domestic violence offenses reported throughout Tennessee in 2012 involved family members, according to a study released this week by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and locally the numbers are similar.
Simple assault was the most often committed form of domestic violence, and the study — the Family Violence Study 2012 — also showed that women are nearly twice as likely to be the victims of men.
Looking at local statistics, in Johnson City there were 662 domestic violence offenses in 2012, with 307 being family-related. In Washington County, there were 545 domestic violence offenses, and 372 of those were committed by a family member, according to the statistics.
That represents 68 percent of domestic violence incidents in the county and 46 percent in the city being committed by family members.
When the two jurisdictions are added together, 56 percent of all domestic violence incidents were committed by family members. Adding in domestic incidents in Jonesborough, the total increases to 1,234, with 692 being committed by a family member.
The TBI study and the local figures mentioned above do not include boyfriend-girlfriend domestic violence incidents reported, which are actually higher than the spousal category. The study focused specifically on family relationships — spouse, child, stepchild, grandchild, sibling, stepsibling, parent, stepparent, grandparent, in-law or other family.
In Washington County, Johnson City and Jonesborough, there were 484 domestic assault incidents between boyfriend and girlfriend as opposed to 243 between spouses.
One of the reasons the number of spousal assaults are less could be the change in the family dynamic, said Johnson City Police Investigator Joey Whitlock.
“It used to be more husband/wife but the traditional family has changed. The husband and wife isn’t as prevalent. More people are living together,” he said. “A good bulk of calls patrol answers are domestic (but) a lot of times the situation changes by the time they get there,” he said.
Once on the scene, officers provide literature to victims with information about what they can do to protect themselves or get out of an abusive relationship.
Washington County Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Page, who spent many years as a patrol officer responding to domestic calls as well as an investigator who followed up on those incidents, said domestics are one of the most dangerous calls an officer handles.
“A domestic call is one of the most emotional calls. Tension runs high. It makes for a very dangerous situation,” Page said.
He also said the domestic violence law passed in the 1990s changed the way officers handle the calls. Prior to that time, the victim was responsible for the decision to press charges. More often than not the victim, usually a woman, would not prosecute. With the new law, it’s not up to the victim to prosecute or not. That is a decision the officer makes based on a set of criteria specified in the law. If the officer determines an assault took place, they also must determine who was the primary aggressor. It’s not always the person who strikes out first, Page said.
He recounted a call he went on as an investigator that involved a pattern of abuse on a woman by her husband. On one particular occasion, the wife hit her husband as he backed her into a corner.
“She did that out of fear,” Page said. He determined the husband was the primary aggressor and arrested him.
Whitlock said officers often don’t know what they’ll find when they respond to a domestic call, and if weapons are involved the danger goes up significantly. Even introducing the officer’s weapon into the situation can create danger, he said.
“The danger level goes up with the introduction of weapons, even if it’s the officer’s. The tension level is high and no domestic is the same,” he said.
The TBI report, which is available to the public online at www.tennesseecrimeonline.com, can be used by law enforcement agencies or other groups to combat domestic violence, according to an agency spokesman.
“This report was created to offer insight into demographic information about offenders and victims and the prevalence of specific offenses related to familial violence. Data compiled from this report may be used to support avocation for domestic violence prevention and counseling as well as provide insight for agencies dedicated to children’s services,” Special Agent Jason Locke said. “Specific data from this report could also be used by local agencies in applications for grants to combat domestic violence and by the court system and other agencies dealing with these issues to understand the problems within their particular area.”