A victim advocate working closely with Long Beach police detectives, Carla Aguilar has seen the effects of domestic violence in families first-hand. She once encountered a 19-year-old girl who had suffered a broken nose and various other injuries from her boyfriend. Aguilar began taking down the victim’s address to help her file a restraining order when the girl began to back out of the situation. Aguilar said, “Her mom had experienced this and she had seen it all her life.”
Aguilar said it’s all too common. In many cases, domestic violence may be “normalized” in abusive households, often getting passed on from generation to generation. For victims, however, the problem is never addressed.
But today, there’s more assistance available to help victims in need, said Aguilar, who works for the WomenShelter of Long Beach in cooperation with the Long Beach Police Department’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (D.A.R.T.).
For the past four years, Aguilar has been stationed at the police department’s headquarters at 400 W. Broadway downtown, and she goes out with police to calls to direct potential victims to the right legal avenues or counseling. The shelter’s doors are open to men and women, including those in the LGBTQ community, and children as young as 7 years old.
Depending on the case, victims may seek assistance at the organization’s emergency shelter– an eight-bedroom, 29-bed facility at an undisclosed location that provides a 30-to-45-day shelter for victims and their families, or the Domestic Violence Resource Center, which offers victims group counseling, legal advocacy, case management, social services and emergency food and clothing.
“When we have victims coming in, they don’t know what’s going on with their case or the criminal aspects of it, and to have somebody here is very valuable,” Aguilar said.
In Long Beach, police routinely get called out to domestic-violence incidents.
In 2012, there were 1,918 reported incidents of both misdemeanor and felony domestic violence in Long Beach, according to statistics the police department provided to the Signal Tribune. The number of reported incidents was the highest in six years, according to the statistics.
The data also shows there are typically more reports of felony incidents that involve corporal injury than misdemeanor cases. According to the statistics, there were 584 domestic-violence reports that carry a misdemeanor and 1,334 that carry a felony.
Law-enforcement officials point out, however, that statistics on domestic violence don’t necessarily correlate to an increase in prevalence since domestic violence and sexual assaults are often considered “under-reported” crimes, unlike burglaries or auto thefts, for which police can accurately gauge the level the crime is occurring.
“Domestic violence is a heavily under-reported crime, and so oftentimes the stats we look at don’t truly report what is happening in the community as it relates to domestic violence,” said Long Beach Police Sgt. Aaron Eaton.
He said an increase in domestic-violence reports might signal that police, detectives and victim advocates are paying more attention to the issue. And, as more social-service agencies have spread awareness throughout the community, victims may be more willing to notify law enforcement, Eaton said.
“Often when we do see crime numbers go up, it may be an indicator that there are more reports of those crimes, but it also may be an indicator that law enforcement and social services have been effective at reaching out to the community and requesting them to report those crimes,” he said.
Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said police work closely with victim advocates and advocacy groups in Long Beach to reach out to the community. He said part of the public education in recent years has been to make it more comfortable for victims to report incidents and get the help they need. The prosecutor’s office also often helps victims to get a protective order.
“Police and prosecutors take domestic violence more seriously today than they did a decade ago or two decades ago,” Haubert said. “There’s certainly more education and awareness of the issue, not just with public safety professionals but with the public in general… The shame that might have been involved in making a report is not as it may have been in the past, and I’m actually glad that people are more willing to report incidents of domestic violence, because that’s the only way we’re ever going to reduce and end it.”
While the majority of domestic-violence reports that come through the city prosecutor’s office are misdemeanors, suspects or batterers still face steep consequences if convicted, Haubert said. In some cases, a series of domestic-violence offenses may lead to a felony conviction that is handled by the district attorney’s office.
Felony convictions may result in sentences of more than a year in prison while misdemeanor convictions can carry sentences of up to a year in county jail, he said. Haubert added that in many cases domestic violence is often related to gang affiliation and drug and/or alcohol abuse. He added that the courts often order suspects to seek anger-management counseling and other treatment as part of their sentence.
Giovanna Martinez, youth-services coordinator for the WomenShelter of Long Beach, said a recent trend is the prevalence of domestic-violence victims age 18 to 25, or “young adults in transition.” These young adults, many of whom are teen moms, used to be secondary victims of domestic violence in the home but are now becoming primary victims, often in teen-dating situations, she said.
“About six years ago, we started getting referrals about teens who have their own relationships that were abusive, and they were asking where to find help,” Martinez said.
Last year, the WomenShelter of Long Beach reached 2,236 youth in Long Beach through presentations on domestic violence throughout the community. The shelter also saw 118 adult intakes and 155 youth intakes.
Wendy Asman, the shelter’s executive director, said community outreach continues to be one of the main focuses of the organization, in hopes of encouraging victims to report domestic-violence incidents and seek the assistance they need.
“We go out a lot in the community, and we talk about it,” she said. “Community education and outreach is huge, and we definitely see an increase in reporting after an event or after something that we do. We’re definitely going out more and more. We go out to churches and events to spread the word. As more people hear about this, it’s becoming more of an issue where people are comfortable with reporting.”
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