Begun Center joins Cuyahoga County anti-domestic violence initiative

Since 2009, domestic violence in the Cleveland area has resulted in the deaths of more than 40 victims, according to Cleveland police.

Case Western Reserve University’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education has teamed with the Witness/Victim Service Center from Cuyahoga County’s Department of Public Safety & Justice Services, the Cleveland Police and the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in a one-year, $192,000 grant from the $2.3 million U.S. Justice Department initiative to prevent domestic violence from escalating into homicides. The Begun Center will lead the project’s research.

“Domestic violence has no pattern and cuts across all races, income levels and areas,” said initiative director Jill Smialek, manager of the Witness/Victim Service Center.

Cuyahoga County was among 12 sites chosen for the project. The project plans to focus on Cleveland and Parma, which has had only one domestic violence-related homicide since 2009, to offer a comparison of how two different cities cope with domestic violence.

Jeff Kretschmar, a research assistant professor at the Begun Center in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, will track data for the project through March 2014. He will compile information to produce a community plan identifying how safety and emergency crews, hospitals, shelters, churches, social service organizations and others respond to domestic violence.

Researchers face some enormous challenges in data collection because not all victims of domestic violence call police. Some victims escape to family and friends, disappear to create new lives elsewhere, go to hospitals for care, or check into a shelter.

Once compiled, “this information will be extremely useful to this project and others in the future,” Kretschmar said.

Cuyahoga County’s data will be submitted to the national research evaluator that has been selected by the Justice Department. In turn, the federal government will use the data to create a portrait of the most lethal domestic violence situations nationally, Kretschmar said.

After evaluators review all cities’ data, half of the 12 projects will be chosen to implement one of two successful interventions over three years. One relies on a checklist of risk factors to help police determine whether someone’s life is in danger and when to move to a safe haven. The other is a community social services initiative that also determines the victim’s danger risks and then finds appropriate help. Such strategies have worked well in Maryland and Massachusetts, Smialek said.