A look at almost any daily report of arrests in Flagler County is certain to yield the same grim pattern of domestic violence, day after day: there was one such arrest Wednesday, four between Friday and Tuesday, two on the 11th , 15 in the previous seven days, including that weekend. On a single day Monday, according to arrest reports, a husband was arrested for allegedly shoving a gun in his wife’s mouth, a boyfriend was arrested for Tasing his pregnant girlfriend, and a man was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend and the man she was with, in their car.
Even grimmer: There have been 10 recorded homicides countywide since 2012. Two are unsolved, one is the execution-style killing, still unexplained, at the Mobil convenience store in Palm Coast in 2013. All seven other killings involved spouses, family members, roommates or neighbors, all of whom knew each other well. And six of those seven killings involved a gun, in one case used “accidentally,” but by a felon who was barred from having guns, and who had brutalized up his wife previously.
Yet domestic violence isn’t increasing, despite of an average of nearly two domestic-violence arrests a day: There were 617 domestic-violence related assaults in 2015, the last year for which numbers are available, including 10 rapes and 83 aggravated assaults. That’s down from 635 the previous year, and slightly up from between 560 and 600 since 2009, though the population has also increased by about 10,000 since then. In 2005, the number of arrests was the same as in 2014—635.
That’s no solace to the victims or to Sheriff Rick Staly, who considers domestic violence a chronic crisis, and has decided to make a priority of finding ways to combat it. He intends to have the Sheriff’s Office organize a domestic violence “community summit,” then organize a task force that would produce a report within a few months with actionable recommendations his agency and, he hopes, other agencies in the county will implement.
The summit, from which volunteer members would then serve on the task force, would involve law enforcement, the judiciary, social service agencies such as the Family Life Center (the domestic-violence shelter that plays the most immediate and significant role to protect victims in the county and broaden education about domestic violence), and government representatives, among others. Staly intends to assign sheriff’s staff members to the task force to provide support and data, and himself to be involved, though his undersheriff, Jack Bisland, will spearhead the effort.
The aim, Staly said, is to “highlight this issue and say, community, here is the depth of this issue, here’s some examples, and here’s what some of the communities are doing, but we need a solution for this community.”
“How does it become in today’s world that domestic issues get resolved behind closed doors, attacking each other?” the sheriff asked. “That’s not the way it was when I grew up. Our parents taught us, you don’t strike a woman. For some reason today the solution seems to be–let’s get physical.”
In the past, the sheriff recalls from his earlier days on the beat, law enforcement could not make a domestic violence arrest unless the violence was witnessed by law enforcement. That’s changed. But the Sheriff readily concedes that domestic violence was also a largely an unreported crime in the past—not least because a victim’s word was not enough in situations where there often is only the victim’s word. So it was unspoken by its victims and therefore less visible in crime statistics. Any analysis of domestic violence reporting still stresses that, as with rape, more such crimes still go unreported—and when they are, the frequent outcome is when victims opt not to pursue charges, which potentially encourages the offender to be violent again. (In last Monday’s arrests, two of the four men had arrests for domestic violence previously.)
“Ultimately the community has to say: this is unacceptable behavior, and here’s how we’re going to address it. I don’t want this to be a top-down solution, it needs to be a community solution.”
“Ultimately the community has to say: this is unacceptable behavior, and here’s how we’re going to address it.”
To a significant extent, current and former local officials have already been immersed in efforts to combat domestic violence, have reported their work through the Public Safety Coordinating Council, on which Staly now sits as sheriff, and have produced tangible results that address specific aspects of the problem. The 2,500-square-foot, 32-bed Family Life Center, led by Trish Giaccone, is one. It’s usually at or over-capacity.
Flagler Cares, the initiative started by former County Commissioner Barbnara Revels, former Florida Hospital Flagler CEO Ken Mattison, Steve Bickel of the Free Clinic, and its executive director., Carrie Beard, among others, is another effort to ensure better access to health care, with domestic violence as one of effort’s pillars
Sally’s Safe Haven, the more recent creation of a joint judicial and county government initiative, is another: the haven, named for Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman, provides a safe location in Bunnell where families that have been sundered by domestic violence can still have a place where the parent who may only see a child under strict supervision may meet and spend an hour together.
Sherman and Revels, along with Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano, were largely instrumental in taking the haven from concept to reality. But it addresses only a sliver of the problem, important though that sliver is.
Last summer Revels, Giaccone, Sherman and Circuit Judge R. Lee Smith, who presides over family court in Flagler, reported on a pair of conferences they’d attended separately in Washington and in Boston on domestic violence. They presented several findings, among them the need to change the mindset around domestic violence victims, who are too often not believed, and to find ways to rehabilitate offenders who, left not only unpunished but untreated, are likely to reoffend.
“Envision a world where gender-based violence is unacceptable, where perpetrators are held accountable, and victims receive the compassion, support and justice they deserve,” is how Revels summed up the three-day conference she’d attended. It dovetailed well into a presentation by Giaccone, whose Family Life Center’s stated mission is to end domestic and sexual violence.
“There is no shame when a loved one dies. There’s no shame when a home is lost or a car is stolen,” Giaccone said. “There’s usually comfort and support, and we usually are sympathetic and respectful. Unfortunately, with domestic violence and sexual assault, our response is very, very different.” She offered examples, including here: “In Flagler County we have survivors who have disclosed to us, when they told the police officer in one particular instance that the perpetrator kicked them, the two male officers said, ‘lift your shirt, let’s see.’”
Giaccone was speaking of the “Start By Believing” campaign intended to change such mindsets.
When contacted this week about Staly’s proposal, both Revels and Giaccone said they’d be willing to be part of the task force, and both were quick to cite pragmatic ideas that could be enacted quickly and realistically—starting with better training for law enforcement.
Giaccone notes that today, the Family Life Center gets to provide one hour of training for new recruits in law enforcement ranks. That’s it. One hour for their entire career. Giaccone says much more than that is needed—not necessarily all up front, but on an annual basis, including for veterans on the force. “It is a crime they are going to repeatedly be exposed to so we want to foster the conversation of things that can be helpful to them hen they’re out in the field,” Giaccone said.
Just have a look at the daily domestic violence stats.
Giaccone extends the responsibility to what she calls “bystanders,” people in all walks of life who are present or in the proximity of acts of violence and who, unlike law enforcement—who cannot be present everywhere—can be valuable eyes and ears, witnesses, and believers—people who lend a victim credibility and support rather than doubt and dismissive attitudes. Domestic violence, Giaccone says, should not be a secret.
Revels echoes the approach, recalling a recent trip to New Zealand where on the approach of towns, she saw billboards familiar to Americans about drinking or texting, but also billboards announcing communities as zero-tolerance zones—again, the sort of pragmatic, doable message that could be put in place locally without too many contortions (assuming some local governments’ notoriously prickly sign ordinances don’t get in the way).
“There’s no reason why we can’t do something like that here,” Revels said.
And of course accountability. “Accountability of perpetrators of domestic violence is a key factor,” Giaccone said, “and I mean that from the very first incident of violence to all the subsequent incidents, and that’s going to send a message to the perpetrators that our community is not going to tolerate acts of domestic violence and look the other way.”
Those words resonate with Staly, who wants to explore ways to make the prosecution of domestic violence perpetrators more effective, even when victims become uncooperative. “Obviously when you have uncooperative victims it makes it difficult to prosecute,” the sheriff said. But without teeth to domestic violence laws, victims would feel as if even coming forward might not lead to prosecution, so why bother.
“That’s why,” Staly said, “it needs to be a community type summit with the community coming together and say, let’s develop a comprehensive set of recommendations on what this community and its partners and providers say we should do to try to combat this scourge in our community.”
Hey heres a novel idea punish the absolute BE JESUS out of a man OR woman who strikes and or beats his or her wife, GF, BF, significant other et al…Set the tone and an example that there will be severe, harsh penalties bestowed on those that committ such and stop letting people OFF EASY JUDGE.
The reason things are being taken care of behind closed doors is because when you all the FCSO they do nothing to the person and neither does the court system. I have been through the nightmare and I still am with my sister who’s a drug addict. All they say is until she puts her hands on you she can do anything else she wants to do. Harass, steal and lie. So people are sick of it and taking matters into their own hands.
If only it were that easy. I’ve been in law enforcement nearly 15 years. Many times over, the victim does not wish to follow through and press charges. So, its a repeat cycle of violence, arrest, no prosecution. The police are merely a referee until the next round.
Emotional abuse is also a form of domestic violence but they don’t care about that.
I think what Giaccone said makes a lot of sense .
Now all we need is a lot of follow thru .
Punish these people harshly the first time and maybe there wouldn’t be a second .
The judges have to be made more aware of the situations and deal with these offenders more ridgedly.
People with 3 or 4 felonies or gun possession should be dealt with ever stronger consequences. Don t let them off easy !!
Criminals are NOT being held Accountable in your Jurisdiction your HONOR
I swear, sometimes I think there’s a list out there that gets exchanged by probation and parole officers that says, here are the towns you can “suggest” as options to your most troublesome Domestic Violence and Sex Offender cases…and Palm Coast/Flagler Beach are in the top ten.
Thank you. Thanks too, to the people cited in your report.
There is nothing novel about your suggestion. But it does sound like you might be happier living under Sharia.
S Peters says
What is the main cause for the violence? Is it alcohol, drugs? How do we get to the bottom of the ‘WHY’ is this happening? It’s sad. There’s so much meanness in this society. No morals or respect. :(
Alcohol and pills, two legal substances, two major contributers to almost every domestic case ever. We need to change the tone of our society. Our sheriff has come out against marijuana decriminalization saying he would not have his officers enforce the law but merely let them use discretion.
It is sad to see the people held down by the very ones who are in place to protect them. Stop this crazy war on drugs and allow our families to be happy and rise from the thought suppressing , rage inducing fog ,created by alcohol and pills which they are forced to turn to if they wish to avoid jail.
Jailing people for minor drug infractions causing money problems and stress on home relationships. More rehabilitation centers, less jails and prisons.
Here are three very important points that need to be made about domestic violence that were missed in this article:
1- Domestic violence is more than physical violence. It also encompasses verbal and emotional abuse- sometimes even financial abuse. Words can hurt more than punches and can leave spiritual wounds that continue to cause pain long after bruises heal. People often wonder why someone stays in a physically abusive relationship- it’s because the abuser gets into the victims head and convinces them that they are lucky the abuser loves them enough to mistreat them. And don’t assume there are socioeconomic factors that insulate people from being victims. Low self esteem knows no boundaries but abusers are very good at exploiting it. Victims can be rich, poor, middle class, highly educated or middle school dropouts, professionals in their fields or unemployed. They can be male or female, large or small. They can be the most upbeat, together people to the outside world- because often they are people pleasers who desperately seek approval from others.
2- The stigma connected to being a victim of domestic violence needs to be erased. People who have been there need to comfortably be able to share their stories without fear of being judged, minimized or mocked. Survivors have to feel comfortable owning their past and sharing their experience with others because that often provides a light at the end of a very dark tunnel that many people desperately need. There are horrible feelings victims have about their abusers that seem to validate the things the abusers say about them. It’s hard to explain unless you have been there but showing victims that they are not the first or only people to feel this way and that those feelings are natural survival instincts.
3- As someone who was raised from childhood to feel that she had little of value to offer, the most important thing I can emphasize is a need to raise children to be strong, self assured adults who deserve to be loved and cherished and valued by the people in their lives. I’m sure this point will generate comments about snowflakes and all kids receiving trophies but this is the best prevention to becoming a victim. That old saying about not being able to give or receive love from others until you love yourself is so true. A fortified self esteem and self worth is much harder to tear down than one that is riddled with cracks and holes.
I truly hope this initiative to combat domestic violence includes youth of all ages because victim/abuser tendencies can start on playgrounds, manifest in puberty and can become part of a person’s identity in the teens when they begin dating.
I also think a mentoring program of sorts that connects survivors with people struggling to escape could be very helpful. Knowing you are not alone and being absolved of shame are keys to recovery and healing.
Ben Hogarth says
While I commend Sheriff Staly on bringing this issue to the forefront, I can’t help but to lament the inadequate justice system and laws that govern domestic violence. All too often we hear stories from friends or family about those who suffer abuse and torment for years because of the lack of protections in the justice system and their inability to remove themselves from the situation – especially when children become a factor.
I have a friend who is going through a similar circumstance right now in St. Augustine. She divorced her ex once he became violent toward her. Unfortunately they have a young daughter together. He is an immigrant from Chile. She is a naturally born US Citizen. They have shared custody of their daughter, however recent events where he attacked her during an exchange in a public setting with witnesses caused him to be arrested (finally) for battery whereas the first event he committed battery against my friend is when she left him the first time. It was that first event where he was not arrested and charges were not brought against him. Because of this, he only has the one battery pending to his record currently.
However, a judge who I will not call out by name on here in the circuit court in St. Augustine has decided to go against common legal practice and rule on this case between my friend and her ex regarding custody issues (following the assault/battery incident). Funny enough, the counsel (attorney) that was retained by my friends ex husband is the blood relative of the judge ruling on her case. You can imagine my anger when I found out his office was giving her a hard time when she was trying to get a temporary injunction through.
Upon going to court this week to have her hearing for a permanent injunction, a different judge was set to rule on the matter, however the legal counsel for her ex requested the case be delayed for 2 weeks so that the other judge (his blood relative) could oversee the case because of his history with the case in the past.
That judge granted the continuance without question (a common law practice). So now my friend gets to go in front of this judge, who is the blood relative of the legal counsel for her ex husband and explain why she needs a permanent injunction against him.
There are more facts to this case that are even more incriminating, but I will stop short here as I have illustrated the corruption in our system. The fact that a male judge, the blood relative of a legal counsel on a case has decided not to recuse himself is beyond me.
If the Florida Ethics Commission is listening – perhaps the real proliferators of domestic violence are NOT the perpetrators… but rather those who stand idly by and allow the abuse and the corruption in the judicial system.
Staly – we can’t fix domestic violence until we clean up our courts. These crooks need to go!
@ pogo Thx but no Thxxx Marshall Law would be better
@Kendall @Ben Hogarth
Proud to say I agree with you. And the people cited in the report:
“…Giaccone extends the responsibility to what she calls “bystanders,” people in all walks of life who are present or in the proximity of acts of violence and who, unlike law enforcement—who cannot be present everywhere—can be valuable eyes and ears, witnesses, and believers—people who lend a victim credibility and support rather than doubt and dismissive attitudes. Domestic violence, Giaccone says, should not be a secret…”
Indeed. Want to see some knees jerk? Here it comes. It’s true – it does take a village.
Thousands of more words could be said: Abusers learn to abuse from their own abusers, victims are dependent on their abusers, children become parents to their parents. Victims hate the abuse but still love and/or depend on the abuser.
One thing we ought to realize for certain. If harsh punishment alone was a solution to any problem – we would have solved most of them long ago.
“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
– Adlai Stevenson
So too, I would say, of being a well rounded person.
I appreciate your service. But I will say this try the same behavior in Seminole Cty. With regard to DV and spouse or no spouse on LE side the same results of the Court would not be seen. They do not put up with it period. …just an excuse per Judicial IMHO
The prosecutor now just wants to make deals. The prosecutor from last year wanted to give my ex the max of 10 years. The new prosecutor settled on under 2. These people who beat their significant other and damage their property need to see real consequences.