Oct.17, 2005 To address a crime that has left nearly 40 people dead in the territory over the last 20 years, the Virgin Islands Police Department is set to try a new strategy: Send the names and photos of people arrested for domestic violence to the media.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Thomas Hannah said last week that the information released to the territorys media outlets will be worded to protect the victims. In most cases, people accused of domestic assault are charged with aggravated assault and battery because no weapon is involved, Hannah said.
The intention of the department is to make the community aware of the frequency and severity of the crimes, Hannah said. He said the department hopes releasing the names would spur the community to intervene and break the cycle of family abuse.
Police Commissioner Elton Lewis said in a release Thursday that the domestic violence reports will be gathered daily and then sent to the media. He said the information would contain the "names, location and photographs of all persons arrested for domestic violence regardless of position, employment, race, nationality, male or female."
"It is my desire to assist in changing the notion that domestic violence is acceptable in the Virgin Islands," Lewis said. "We must do everything possible to change the mindset of our young men and women to get them to understand what they may have seen growing up in the home as it relates to violence was wrong."
Sandra Benjamin of the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas agreed. Benjamin said she hopes that the police department's new policy will reduce the number of repeat offenders and warn unsuspecting potential victims about who they are getting involved with.
The Family Resource Center served 840 victims of crime in 2004 and 600 the previous year. Benjamin said she has seen repeat offenders appear in court with a different victim each time.
"Victims have a right to know," she said.
Women's Coalition Co-director Clema Lewis said she has "mixed feelings" about the new police policy on domestic violence. She said the policy may make abusers more violent and the victim may be more at risk. However, she said there is an up-side too: If more batterers know they are going to be publicly humiliated they may think twice before abusing.
The Women's Coalition, established in 1981, served 3,000 victims of crime in 2004, according to Lewis. The organization advocates for victims rights and has programs directed to teens, children, the elderly and women. Its supporting agency, the Men's Coalition, addresses anger management issues for male and female batterers.
Stopping the Cycle
Meanwhile, Sgt. Hannah also mentioned that young people who are exposed to an abusive family environment often continue that trend when they become adults.
"They end up becoming a batterer or a victim when they grow up," he said.
That pattern, Benjamin said, is one she sees often. Children and young adults have lost the ability to respect their parents because they have observed abuse in the family, she said.
Commissioner Lewis said children exhibit no emotion and no feelings when they commit violent acts because their feelings were suppressed growing up in a violent home. Without proper intervention, the cycle of abuse increases, he said.
Hannah said that some young people living in homes where they are exposed to violence begin to abuse animals and move on to sexual abuse later in life. He added that many adults who are charged with domestic violence have juvenile records associated with some form of abuse.
"The pattern grows," Hannah said.
Every batterer who goes through the system should be ordered to take part in a batterer program and pay the fees, Benjamin said. She said there are women batterers, but the number is much smaller. Women usually destroy property, such as clothes, cars and other possessions, she said.
The VIPD receives an average of 55,000 calls for service a year in the Virgin Islands. One-third of those are domestic violence incidences.
"The numbers are significant," Hannah said.
About 500 restraining orders are issued each year in the territory according to Lewis. Both men and women take out restraining orders on their partners, Lewis said.
Over the last 20 years in the territory, 37 people – two men, two babies and 33 women – have died from domestic violence.
"After 1990 the numbers have increased in frequency," Lewis said.
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