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‘What we don’t have is a way to keep victims safe’: examining domestic abuse cases in Marathon County

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 7:41 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - NewsChannel 7 is continuing to cover the case against Lily Vang’s boyfriend, who’s accused of killing her. Umberto Lo is charged with the March 21st murder. He’s due back in court on Friday and is in jail on a $1 million cash bond. Vang’s family says they hope her death can spark a conversation about domestic abuse.

NewsChannel 7 is tracking the number of cases in Marathon County in the two weeks since she was killed.

In the last two weeks, online records show 13 people in Marathon County were accused of domestic abuse, including Lily Vang’s boyfriend after her murder on March 21st. Since charges against him were filed, 11 people have been accused of domestic abuse, including three in one day on Wednesday, March 31st.

“What we don’t have is a way to keep victims safe,” said Jane Graham Jennings, executive director of the Women’s Community.

Jennings says she and the law enforcement officials she works with believe those numbers are pretty standard.

In their busiest months of 2020, November and December, the Women’s Community served 122 victims, though not all of them were new victims.

“Some weeks, there might be as many as 22 arrests, some maybe there’s five. But the average number we find is usually between 11 and 12 domestic abuse arrests in Marathon County,” she said.

Jennings says some of those alleged abusers who are arrested may return right back home to their victims.

“When someone is arrested for domestic abuse, they’re taken into custody, they go before a judge, they sign a signature bond and they’re released, they go home,” she said, noting the unique nature of the crime is that it’s focused on a particular victim.

One issue, she says, is that we treat domestic violence like individual incidents, but Jennings says they’re almost always part of a pattern. One in 5 people she saw in 2020 was a victim of a repeat offender. She says in a good deal of cases, a victim will only report one of the incidents in a series.

“Domestic abuse cases are different, and we need to find a way to treat them differently because what we have right now is not working,” Jennings said.

And when nothing is done to stop the pattern, she says, one arrest doesn’t stop the harm done to victims.

“They may be arrested for the night, but they’re coming back tomorrow. Or the next day. And they’re coming back more angry,” she said.

Some people, for either safety or other reasons, decide not to report to the police and instead can go to the Women’s Community privately. In most cases, there are no mandatory reporters of abuse for people over 18 years old living on their own.

“There are a number of reasons that people don’t want to report. And what we want to do is keep people safe. Victims know what is best for how to stay safe, and they’re just trying to figure that out,” Jennings said.

Jennings says what we need most is a change of attitude to understand the many difficulties a victim is juggling in deciding when to report. She says the best thing we can do is trust that they know what’s best for them.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call 800-799-SAFE for help.

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