One of the most prevalent crimes in our community is also one of its best-kept secrets. It has no target demographic — it reaches every ethnicity, income level, age, religion, gender and other demographic in this county. And the criminals may be who you least expect.
Intimate-partner violence is a specific type of domestic violence. It describes physical or sexual violence or stalking by a current or former romantic partner. One in 3 women in Tarrant County, and an ever-increasing number of men, experience this form of abuse at some point in their lifetime. That is almost 10 percent higher than the national average.
Before being elected district attorney, I was a criminal district court judge in Tarrant County for 23 years. Only after becoming DA was I able to see just how prolific this crime is in our society. I put together a team to work with the police to prosecute these violent offenders. Their task: to do extensive research on these crimes, how the cases were being handled by law enforcement, and what my office could do to most effectively prosecute the abusers, assist the victims and educate the public.
In the fall of 2016, the Tarrant County commissioners approved my request to create a new team dedicated to prosecuting felony-level intimate partner violence cases. The team is made up of five prosecutors, two investigators and a support staff member who all focus exclusively on this issue. In addition to prosecuting crimes, they serve as specially trained liaisons between our office and the local police departments, hospitals, nonprofit organizations and other community partners. The team trains on best practices for dealing with both offenders and victims, and educating the community on how to recognize the signs of this secretive crime, and how to get help for those who need it.
Unlike most crimes, intimate partner violence isn’t one that victims readily report. Many victims are embarrassed that they could have become victims. No one wants to admit it could happen to them. Some don’t want to testify against their abuser — it may be the person the victim loves most — but these abusers are no less dangerous for it, and the likelihood of the violence repeating and escalating is almost certain.
As of mid-August this year alone, almost 1,000 felony intimate partner violence cases and almost twice that number of misdemeanor cases have been filed with my office. Twelve women and men and one infant have been murdered in intimate partner violence crimes in our county so far this year. It is our shared duty as a community to make sure abusers know we will not tolerate their violent actions, and my office is here to assist however we can.
Our prosecutors, investigators and I are all available to come to your organization, your school, place of worship, business or club to inform you about the warning signs of intimate partner violence and the resources available to assist victims. In almost every large group we speak to, we are approached afterward by intimate partner violence and/or sexual assault survivors who had previously been too afraid or embarrassed to come forward, or by concerned friends of possible victims.
The voices and stories of these intimate partner violence survivors have been kept quiet for too long. Not on my watch. Not in my county. My office is the voice for Tarrant’s crime victims — and we will not be silenced.
Sharen Wilson is the district attorney for Tarrant County. If you want to report a suspected IPV incident, call your local police department or the Tarrant County district attorney’s office at 817-884-1400.