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Domestic violence needs to be reported, county leaders say

SAN LUIS, Ariz. – The number of reported domestic violence cases here is lower than it was two years ago.

Does that mean efforts to fight violence in the home is starting to work, or is it that victims don't always report the abuse?

Either way, police and community leaders in south Yuma County say too many cases of domestic violence still go unreported.

Even as they observed Domestic Violence Awareness Month during events in Somerton and San Luis in recent days, leaders concede one of their challenges is changing a tendency of silence among victims.

Speaking during a recent rally held in San Luis as part of the monthlong observance, acting Chief of Police Richard Jessup said violence at home affects most of the city's residents, both indirectly and directly.

"It doesn't matter who you are, it's going to touch you in some way. Domestic violence in some way touches every member of the family. It probably touches 80 percent of the people."

The number of domestic violence calls answered by San Luis police dropped from 152 in 2016 to 120 last year. So far this year police have handled 83 calls, leading them to believe this year's final tally will be similar to last year's.

"Generally, the numbers remain constant each year, and we have noticed in the last three months, they have tended to increase," San Luis police Detective Sgt. Marco Santana said. "We don't know the reason, perhaps because of economic pressures in the home."

San Luis Vice Mayor Maria Ramos, who heads a coalition working to bring a domestic violence shelter to the city, said the south county's rapid population growth is at least partly accountable for high numbers of domestic violence cases. Still, she said, residents have to do more as a whole to fight the problem.

"This is responsibility of the community," she said, speaking at the San Luis rally. "If you know something or you see something, report it and let the police decide if it's alright or not."

The number of cases reported to San Luis police reflect a countywide trend.

Amberly's Place, a non-profit organization that provides shelter and other services for victims of abuse, said the number of abuse victims it assists appears to be leveling off or on upswing after falling last year. It assisted 549 victims of domestic violence in Yuma County in 2016 and 479 in 2017. Through the first nine months of this year, it helped 449.

"We are seeing high numbers of children who are victims," Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place, said at the San Luis rally. "So it's important for people to call and report the those cases, because by calling they are protecting the children."

At a recent presentation in Somerton given by that city's police department and Amberly's Place, Somerton police Sgt. Araceli Juarez said it's still all too common for victims not to report domestic violence until instances of abuse become life-threatening.

"On average we respond to seven calls from the same person before she decides to (cooperate in prosecuting the abuser), and at times if we make (an) arrest, (victims) don't speak out again and the problem continues," Juarez said.

But apart from the victims, other people who become aware of abuse must come forward, she said.

"I don't think the responsibility falls all on the police or Amberly's Place. It's the community that has to speak out when it sees these cases," Juarez said.

Speaking at the San Luis rally, Sonia Perez recounted her own reluctance to report abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband shortly after her marriage at 18.

"It began in 1997 and increased. He hit the first time six months after we were married and when I was pregnant. It lasted until 2010 when finally I spoke to the police department. I thought (abuse) was normal, but I had fallen into an emotional codependence with my husband."

Ramos said attitudes about domestic violence are changing for the better, with younger generations rejecting abuse in the home as a norm.

"I foresee a good future for young people," she said. "They are seeing what is happening and they are better informed. In the past we didn't even hear about these issues."

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