INDIANAPOLIS, IN – October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to shed light on the troubling domestic violence rates across the country and particularly in Indiana. Recent studies show that domestic violence continues to be a massive issue in the state, with homicides and 911 calls increasing despite the efforts of advocacy groups.
Dramatic Rise in Domestic Violence Homicides
A study by the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) uncovered a shocking 181% increase in domestic-violence homicides between 2020 and mid-2021 in Indiana. The sheer scale of this spike is deeply concerning and illustrates that much more needs to be done to curb domestic violence in the state.
Caryn Burton, ICADV’s Homicide Reduction Strategies Coordinator, explained that these numbers are likely even higher than reported due to the tendency of domestic violence to go unreported.
“We know that domestic violence is underreported,” Burton said. “Survivors do not always report what is happening in their home or within their relationship – whether it is to healthcare providers, law enforcement, family and friends.”
In fact, domestic violence is considered the second-most underreported crime in the United States after sexual assault. This means the true domestic violence rates in Indiana are likely significantly higher than official reports indicate.
Between July 2022 and June of this year, ICADV confirmed 78 homicides in Indiana resulting directly from domestic violence. Each of these deaths represents a massive failure of society to protect vulnerable individuals from harm in what should be the safety of their own homes.
Spike in 911 Calls in Hard-Hit Areas
In addition to the uptick in homicides, Indiana 911 call centers have also reported elevated call volumes regarding domestic violence in areas disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The social isolation, economic stress, and health impacts of the pandemic exacerbated issues in households already experiencing domestic abuse. With victims unable to leave home or access resources, violence likely escalated in many cases. Call centers are now seeing the effects of these heightened tensions playing out through increased calls for help.
Burton explained that the combination of increased 911 calls and homicides illustrates the escalating severity of domestic violence incidents in the state. “When a survivor maybe doesn’t receive some safety planning assistance with that protective order, they may remain vulnerable to that escalation of violence,” she said.
Restraining Orders Offer Inconsistent Protection
For those experiencing domestic violence, restraining orders should offer protection against further abuse. However, the reality is that restraining orders are often ignored by abusers.
Restraining orders, also called protective orders, are court rulings requiring an abusive individual to stay away from the victim. In the past, court advocates were available to explain the process of obtaining these orders. However, in 2021 the group providing advocates in the Marion County court system ceased operations.
Burton stated that this loss of assistance makes victims more vulnerable. “When a survivor maybe doesn’t receive some safety planning assistance with that protective order, they may remain vulnerable to that escalation of violence,” she said.
Even when survivors understand how to get a protective order, the orders themselves are often disregarded by abusers. The legal system struggles to consistently enforce these orders and prevent further contact. For domestic violence victims in Indiana, a restraining order provides only inconsistent and uncertain protection.
Indiana Ranks High for Domestic Violence Nationally
According to the Domestic Violence by State report by ‘wisevoter.com,’ Indiana ranks 5th in the nation for incidents of domestic violence. The report found that almost 43% of women in the state experience some form of domestic abuse.
This shockingly high rate shows that domestic violence remains a systemic issue across the state. The trauma and damage of domestic abuse plague a staggering proportion of Indiana’s population.
Clearly greater steps must be taken to address the root causes and prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place. In addition, more robust systems are needed to identify at-risk situations and intervene before violence escalates.
Advocates Call for Holistic Solutions
In response to the daunting domestic violence figures, advocates are calling for holistic solutions encompassing prevention, early intervention, and improved support systems.
Shelley Rose, executive director of the Domestic Violence Network in Indianapolis, argued for more comprehensive prevention starting at an early age. “Teaching safe and healthy relationship skills to our youth and adolescents is vital,” Rose said. “Doing so brings awareness to developing minds that may normalize unhealthy behaviors.”
Other experts emphasize the need for enhanced training for law enforcement, healthcare providers, educators and others in close community contact to identify warning signs early. “So often warning signs are dismissed,” said Sandra James of the ICADV. “We need attentive training across all our public services.”
Finally, advocates push for an amplification of resources to help survivors safely escape situations before the violence becomes deadly. “We have victims turned away from shelters due to lack of space and staff,” said Rhea Gardner of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Our support systems are totally inadequate to match the need.”
Commitment to Change Needed
October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides an opportunity to refocus attention on this critically important issue. While progress has been made over the years, Indiana’s current spike in domestic violence homicides and calls show the state is sliding dangerously backwards.
Turning the tide will require commitment from politicians, law enforcement, educators, healthcare providers, community leaders, and society at large. Together we must unequivocally condemn domestic violence, promote healthy relationships for future generations, and build robust systems of prevention and intervention.
The tragic deaths and trauma resulting from domestic abuse are preventable with courage, compassion and determination. This October and going forward, Indiana must re-double its efforts to combat domestic violence head-on – the safety and wellbeing of Hoosiers depend on it.