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Las Vegas panel discusses domestic violence ‘epidemic’

Updated October 24, 2019 - 10:57 pm

Officials and nonprofit leaders met Thursday night at Las Vegas City Hall to acknowledge Domestic Violence Awareness Month, honor victims and talk about the “epidemic” across the country.

“Chances are, whether you’re aware of it or not, there are people in your sphere or your circle who are affected by this,” SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger said before the panel discussion.

Joining her were members of the Metropolitan Police Department and Las Vegas Valley nonprofits The Shade Tree and the Rape Crisis Center.

Nearly half of women and one-third of men in Nevada have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking, or a combination of all three, at the hands of an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has consistently ranked Nevada among the worst states in the nation for domestic violence fatalities, according to a news release about the panel. Nevada had the fourth-most domestic violence fatalities in the U.S. in 2017, according to a study by the nonprofit Violence Policy Center.

From July 1, 2018, to June 30, there were at least 34 domestic violence homicides in Clark County — 20 women, 11 men and three children — according to Metro statistics.

Ortenburger said that while the statistics in Nevada are staggering, the numbers aren’t spread out evenly across the state. Clark County bears the brunt of domestic violence criminal cases in Nevada.

That in part is because of the county’s population, but Ortenburger said the issue also “has to do with the fact that we have a lifestyle here, and a reality here, and a culture here that is dealing with these kind of issues in a big way.”

Before the panel, U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., addressed the crowd of about 40 and praised the nonprofits for their work addressing domestic violence.

Titus briefly mentioned a recent state Supreme Court ruling that required defendants in misdemeanor domestic violence cases to be afforded the option of a jury trial.

The ruling led to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson enacting ordinances that determined how the cities will prosecute the misdemeanor cases without requiring those convicted to give up their firearms.

“I know this has been an issue here at the state level with the new misdemeanor court issue,” Titus said. “We have legislation at the federal level there too. If you commit a domestic violence, you certainly don’t need to be able to get or keep a gun.”

‘Wake-up call’

Ortenburger and the other panelists discussed the repercussions of the ordinances. There is no easy solution, she said, but keeping guns in the homes of people convicted of domestic violence would increase the chances of a homicide.

Metro Detective Juan Fernandez, who works with the Southern Nevada Family Justice Center, said the uproar over the ordinances might bring greater attention to domestic violence in the county.

“This might be a wake-up call,” he said. “Hopefully it does shine a light on this issue.”

Fernandez also spoke about the Family Justice Center, which was opened in March 2018 and is a “one-stop shop” for victims of domestic violence to receive counseling, talk to advocacy organizations, get legal advice or file a temporary protective order.

Later in the evening, the group walked outside City Hall, which was lit in purple in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Dozens of paper luminaries lined the steps, and the crowd held candles to honor the victims of domestic violence, especially those who lost their lives.

Linda Perez, The Shade Tree shelter’s executive director, said that as a child who lived in a household where she saw domestic violence, she normalized that behavior until she saw otherwise.

She said that spreading awareness about domestic violence’s reach can help other survivors.

“Know that your voice is important, your story matters and that somebody needs to hear it,” Perez told the crowd.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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