Every five days, someone in Wisconsin dies in an act of domestic violence.
In all, 80 people died in domestic violence incidents last year in the state - shattering the record set in 2020 when 68 people died, according to a new report from End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.
Sixty-five people were killed in domestic violence homicides, while 15 perpetrators died by suicide, the report found. Four of those perpetrators died after trying to kill someone who ultimately survived the attack.
"We knew it was getting worse and it is getting worse," said Monique Minkens, End Abuse's executive director.
The annual report was released Wednesday, the same day Gov. Tony Evers announced $2.7 million for domestic violence programs and emergency and homeless shelter services.
The amount includes $1 million for the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee to support the High-Risk Team that works with cases at the highest likelihood for a fatal outcome. From 2017 through 2021, the team took on more than 3,100 cases and prevented the abuser from killing the victim in all but one case.
It also provides $1.2 million for Safe Shelter and Homelessness Grants and $500,000 for homeless case management services.
"We know the past few years have been tough on folks and families across the state, both financially and emotionally, and that many are at risk for homelessness or facing unstable or unsafe housing situations," Evers said in a news release.
The funding comes as advocates who work with domestic violence victims have increasingly called for a focus on education, prevention and meeting basic needs, such as housing, instead of relying on the criminal justice system.
"Our legal system is more reactive than proactive and lots of times when reactions happen it's too late," Minkens said. "And so how do we go upstream and talk about and address what's causing the violence and put our resources there to have better outcomes."
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The End Abuse annual report also found that firearms were used in 67% of domestic violence homicide incidents and more than one-third of the perpetrators who used a gun were legally prohibited from having one.
The 2021 data does not include the six people killed at the Waukesha Christmas Parade because it did not fit the specific criteria. However, the report does highlight the tragedy as an example of the strong link between mass killings and domestic violence.
The suspect in the parade killings had a history of domestic abuse and investigators have said he had just been involved in a "domestic disturbance" minutes before he plowed through the parade.
"People that are violent in their relationships, that violence isn't limited just to that relationship. Sometimes it is but oftentimes there is an overlap," said Sara Krall, End Abuse's homicide prevention program director, in an interview.
Survivor urges others to seek help
As has been the case in prior years, many of the victims were killed after the relationship ended or when one person was taking steps to end the relationship.
"This demonstrates, once again, that leaving does not equate to safety," the report notes.
End Abuse, a statewide advocacy and policy organization, is calling for more community-based support for victims of domestic violence.
"People that we know are at the greatest risk of homicide aren't necessarily reaching out to their local programs," Krall said.
"There are survivors out there that aren't aware that services exist."
Jennifer Moston knows firsthand how important those services are. A domestic violence survivor, Moston regularly shares her experience to help others.
"Definitely seek professional help," she said in an interview. "Go to a women's shelter and talk to somebody there because they understand."
Those professional advocates can help develop a safety plan and know that getting out of the relationship is "the most dangerous time," she said.
End Abuse's report also outlines how responses to domestic violence have traditionally focused on those who are victimized by it, not those who are causing harm and have relied on the criminal justice system for accountability which is not always effective.
"Many survivors indicate they do not want complex criminal justice interventions in their relationships, they just want the abuse to stop," the report states.
The annual report highlights a new hotline from Marinette-based Rainbow House Domestic Abuse Services and Milwaukee-based Alma Center as one potential tool to help those who want to stop being violent.
The hotline will be staffed by trained individuals who will not validate any excuses offered by callers but will try to engage them in a conversation about accountability. The pilot project is expected to launch next year.
It's modeled after other programs, including Respect Phoneline in Great Britain, which began in 2004 and typically received about 6,000 calls, texts and online chats annually though the volume surged during the pandemic. The concept came to the U.S. last year when Massachusetts launched the 10 to 10 Helpline.
Where to find help
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.
The Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee operates a 24-hour confidential hotline at (414) 933-2722.
The Women's Center in Waukesha has a 24-hour hotline at (262) 542-3828.
The Asha Project, which serves African American women in Milwaukee, provides a crisis line from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at (414) 252-0075.
The UMOS Latina Resource Center in Milwaukee offers bilingual, bicultural, domestic violence, sexual assault and anti-human trafficking supportive services and operates a 24-hour hotline at (414) 389-6510.
Our Peaceful Home, which serves Muslim families and is a program of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, operates a crisis line at (414) 727-1090.
The Hmong American Women's Association, which serves the Hmong and Southeast Asian community, has advocates available at (414) 930-9352 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin has a directory of resources across the state at www.endabusewi.org/get-help.
Need more help with crime and safety questions? The Milwaukee Resource Guide is here to help. Have something you want answered? Submit a question.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Domestic violence homicides, deaths rise in Wisconsin for second year