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Domestic Violence Drops In Escambia County

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  Figures released by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office last week show a 14 percent drop in the number of domestic violence incidents in the county from mid-2015 to mid-2016. 

Back in the day, about 60 years ago, the thought of a man hitting his wife was actually funny to some, if the man was Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners,” threatening to use his fist to send his wife Alice “to the moon.”

“The normal audience who views it, who would not think of harming a loved one: a spouse, a girlfriend, a child,” said Richard Hough, a former law enforcement officer who’s now a criminal justice instructor at the University of West Florida. “{They] saw the comic humor that throughout history we’ve always seen in mock violence.”

Hough says that type of humor suggests that it was socially acceptable to threaten those in a position of disadvantage. His career in law enforcement began in the late 1970s, when attitudes towards domestic violence were roughly the same as that of drunk driving.

“Many people thought, ‘Oh, those are private affairs,’ or ‘it doesn’t happen as much as we think,’” Hough said. “To use the example of drunk driving, you had Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Similarly, the groundswell – instead of a tipping point perhaps we saw a ‘tipping decade’ of the 1980s, where it finally culminated in most states changing their laws.”

Instrumental in the welfare of abused women in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties is Favor House. Executive Director Sue Hand says one major advance over the years in curbing domestic violence is offender accountability – both male and female.

“We have now developed not only attitudes, but we have state statutes where we will hold the offender accountable,” Hand said. “Where they will have to go to a six-month class; where they will have to be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, so that our attitude toward responding to this crime has certainly changed.”

Another plus is Favor House’s relationships with local law enforcement and UWF. The former providing financial aid and the latter, education.

“An annual conference [at UWF] where we train law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers, nurses and the community at large, on how we can address the domestic violence crime that we have in our community,” Hand said. “And how we can reduce that and hopefully, eventually, get to zero tolerance.”

Many in law enforcement say a domestic dispute is among the most dangerous – if not the most dangerous – call officers can answer. Hand doesn’t disagree, but says that was once a handy excuse to do nothing.

“They have now learned how to circumvent those and still realize how dangerous it is to go out on a domestic violence call,” said Hand. “You never know the volatility, you don’t know who’s on drugs, you don’t know who’s drinking, what weapons are involved. I think law enforcement has really come a long way.”

And let’s set the record straight when it comes to “The Honeymooners.” Ralph Kramden never laid a hand on Alice. Six decades later, the domestic violence numbers indicate that – at least in Escambia County -- others are following in Ralph’s footsteps.