Domestic violence on the rise in Las Vegas area

Angela pleaded and begged her boyfriend not to kill her as he held a gun to her cheek.

It was the third time that evening her boyfriend had snapped.

“I remember blacking out after he choked me with an auxiliary cord,” said the 28-year-old, who asked that her last name be withheld. “I woke up and he was shaking me, apologizing for what he did.”

Angela’s boyfriend was convicted last year of several felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon and battery constituting domestic violence-strangulation.

Stories like hers are all too common. Another Las Vegas woman was raped as a 19-year-old by her boyfriend, who never faced charges.

“He lifted me off the ground and bashed my head into a brick wall,” said the woman, now 24, who asked not to be identified. “Then, he pushed me down on the curb and raped me. I had a black eye, the back of my head was swollen and my back was bloody. By the time it was over and I could reach my phone, it was shattered.”

She’s tried to block the abuse from her memory, but it’s hard to forget that her assailant was never held accountable.

“He had his friend punch him in the face and tried to blame it on me,” she said last week. “I had to show the police my back and take pictures after being traumatized for over two hours. The police could never determine who was at fault so the bastard never went to jail.”

Five homicides involving domestic violence have happened in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson so far this year.

In 2012, 25 of the 84 homicides within Las Vegas police’s jurisdiction were related to a domestic dispute.

In 2013, that figure jumped 32 percent, to 33 of 105 homicides.

“A lot of factors are beyond the Police Department’s control,” said Metro Sgt. Blake Smith. “They’re some of the most dangerous calls to go on. Tensions are running high and we have to step right in the middle of it.”

Smith is one of two sergeants in charge of the Family Crimes Bureau for Las Vegas police. He said the city’s transient population makes it difficult to keep the number of domestic violence crimes down.

“Vegas is very unique,” he said. “People don’t know their neighbors like they used to. Society in general is getting away from that.”

In a 2012 study released by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., Nevada’s rate of women killed by men was the highest in the nation, but has since improved.

The 2012 study, which based its data on 2010 statistics, found that 2.62 of every 100,000 women in Nevada were killed by men.

Lisa Lynn Chapman of Safe Nest, a Las Vegas shelter for victims of domestic violence, attributed the high rate of such crime in Nevada to several factors.

“The drinks, the drugs, whatever it is. They’re all excuses,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’re No. 1 in the country in domestic violence.”

Nevada, according to the survey, has ranked No. 1 for five of the last six years. In 2013, the state’s national ranking dropped from No. 1 to No. 16, when the rate of women killed by men declined to 1.48 per 100,000.

“Our numbers have been trending down, and a lot of our systems around the city are doing work to improve them,” Chapman said.

In 2012, Las Vegas police handled more than 22,000 domestic violence-related cases where a crime was committed. The department responded to more than 60,000 calls for domestic-related cases throughout the year.

“Domestic violence is one of Metro’s highest priorities,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, a lot of factors are beyond the Police Department’s control.”

Chapman echoed Smith’s observation about Nevada’s transient population leading to higher rates of domestic violence.

“A lot of people don’t know their neighbors out here, so they tend to isolate themselves,” she said.

According to Chapman, 48.2 percent of all women will experience some form of domestic violence while living in Nevada.

“The objectification of women is a huge issue that has led to these numbers,” she said. “It’s easier to be violent toward an object than a person.”

In 2010, Safe Nest partnered with Las Vegas police to create the Lethality Assessment Program to prevent domestic violence attacks from worsening.

When police arrive at a domestic dispute, they fill out an assessment with the victim. If they feel the situation has the potential to be lethal, they’ll immediately call Safe Nest to connect them with the victim.

“That immediate intervention is why we’ve seen a decrease in domestic violence and our numbers are trending down,” Chapman said. “But we have to change our culture if we want to get them down even more.”

Nevada’s nation-leading unemployment rate of 9 percent hasn’t done anything to decrease the amount of domestic violence across the valley, but Chapman said the poor economy hasn’t affected domestic disputes as much as people think.

“In the 13 years since I’ve been here, we’ve had very good economic times and we’ve had very bad economic times and we’re usually No. 1 regardless,” she said. “There may be more arguments because of the economy, but taking those options into your own hands is a choice.”

Smith disagreed.

“The economy is a huge factor,” he said. “Financially, people are struggling, and that just adds more stress. Relationships are already stressful enough. Throw in some of these extra factors like a lack of money, being foreclosed upon and not knowing where you’re gonna live, those are huge factors and lead to a lot of our calls.”

Smith encouraged more community outreach to keep domestic-violence numbers down.

“People are more hesitant now to get in somebody else’s business than in past days,” he said. “If you sense something’s wrong and you’ve seen some signs that indicate there could be violence, you need to get it out there.”

Chapman remains confident that the numbers will continue to drop. However, she said society has to change.

“This sense of entitlement that some people have where they think they have the right to put people in their place doesn’t help,” she said. “When you continue to have these patriarchal ideas as a society, then we’ll continue to have domestic violence.”

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at 702-383-0381 or email him at Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.