Saturday, January 31, 2009
Posted on: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Hawaii failing to get domestic abuse data
But progress made in other areas of 5-year plan to combat abuse
By Rob Perez
Advertiser Staff Writer
Legislators yesterday questioned why Hawai'i lacks comprehensive data to gauge the extent of a pervasive domestic violence problem, even though the dearth of information has persisted for years and the state spent $100,000 in the 1990s to set up a computer system to compile data.
The data collection never started because once the system was established at the request of domestic-violence service providers, none of the agencies reported data to the attorney general's office, Adrian Kwock, chief of grants and planning for the office, told legislators.
Even though the attorney general's office sent the agencies reminders, no data came in, so the office eventually shut down the federally funded system, Kwock said.
"That seems like a lame excuse," said Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), noting the waste of taxpayer dollars.
The exchange took place yesterday during a legislative hearing to update lawmakers on the state's five-year strategic plan to combat domestic violence, which was adopted in 2007.
some progress made
Officials in the domestic violence community told legislators about progress being made in key areas, such as increasing community awareness and promoting more education and training efforts. But in improving data collection, one of the major priorities in the strategic plan, little has been done.
"That's a real weak area for us," said Angie Doi, a Child & Family Service executive who helped with the plan.
Data collection has been a problem for years in part because agencies put the vast majority of their resources into providing services and little, if any, in collecting data — beyond what they need to justify the money they get from funding organizations. The statistics that are available often become tailored to the needs of the funding groups, making the data difficult to compare and analyze beyond those needs.
The practical effect is that legislators and others dealing with public policy have a tough time gauging how serious Hawai'i's abuse problem is and what measures are most effective in curtailing the violence.
"Policy is hard enough to make when you have data," said Rep. Gene Ward, R-17th (Kalama Valley, Queen's Gate, Hawai'i Kai). "But when you don't have data, it's even harder."
police reports down
One of the few measures Hawai'i has to gauge its domestic violence problem actually has shown a declining trend over the past decade, even though virtually everyone who provides services to victims say the problem is not getting any better and seems to be getting worse because of the sputtering economy.
Since 1996, reports to police of abuse of family or household members — Hawai'i's main domestic-violence statute — have declined dramatically, as have arrests and prosecutions under that statute, according to state figures. Abuse calls to police statewide, for instance, fell 64 percent from 1996 to 2005, according to the most recent numbers available.
One major reason for the decline, some victims and their advocates say, is that abused women have lost faith in Hawai'i's criminal justice system, believing it will not hold their abusers accountable or provide sufficient protections. Victims therefore are reluctant to report their beatings, they say.
Following yesterday's briefing, Espero said he was "dumbfounded" by the explanation on why the attorney general's data-collection system was discontinued and that such little progress has been made since then.
"You just shake your head and say we could do better," he said.
no plans laid out
Those at yesterday's meeting said they would continue to address the data problem, but no one mentioned any specific plans.
The problem, legislators were told, is that no good system for collecting comprehensive, apples-to-apples data is in place, and no funding is available to establish one.
Kwock noted that the office even collects data differently for two U.S. Justice Department programs.
Even though no statistics were produced, several speakers told legislators that they have seen a rise in domestic-abuse cases since the economy started heading south.
Joblessness, homelessness and other economic struggles have added to family stresses and contributed to the increase in abuse, the speakers said.
"It is far more rampant than even the statistics we don't have show," said Joan Chatfield, executive director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change.
Reach Rob Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org.