The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) maintains annual statistics on domestic violence, which includes the following offenses: murder, manslaughter, rape (including attempted rape), forcible sodomy, forcible fondling, aggravated assault, aggravated stalking, simple assault, threat/intimidation, and simple stalking.

The number of reported offenses declined 22 percent from 1997 to 2017, while Florida’s population increased by 39 percent over the same 10-year period. While that represents progress of a sort, some would say there are still far too many domestic violence cases reported (not to mention those that go unreported.

There were 619 domestic violence cases reported in Charlotte County in 2017, including one murder, 12 rapes, and 597 assaults (aggravated and simple). DeSoto County recorded 23 cases, with no murders, two rapes and 227 assaults, while Sarasota County’s 1,421 cases included four murders, 14 rapes and 1,372 assaults.

Judith Harries, board chair of C.A.R.E. (the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies of Charlotte County), believes “Abuse is all about control. You have control over someone else’s life. That’s what keeps the abuser going. Abuse can be verbal, emotional; it’s not always physical. But it is always controlling.”

Rape may be the ultimate form of control, as feminist Susan Brownmiller postulated in her 1975 book ”Against Our Will,” writing that rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

C.A.R.E. began operating as the Charlotte County Rape Crisis Center in May of 1983. Domestic violence became an increasingly public issue in the 1970s and 1980s. As awareness for violence between intimate partners grew, so did criticism of the way police were responding to the issue.

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed a Task Force on Domestic Violence in 1993 to investigate the problems associated with domestic violence in and to compile recommendations as to how the problems should be approached and, ultimately, resolved.

“I was part of the original task force locally,” said Dr. David Klein, a Port Charlotte ophthalmologist and community leader. “Our task force educated people and got the word out. We established a statewide 800 number where people can call for help. We put that number in every building and every bathroom in Charlotte county. We did it through the medical society.”

Dr. Klein remains involved in efforts to combat domestic violence and rape.

“I lecture all the doctors in town on domestic violence every six months. It’s a mandatory lecture for all healthcare professionals.”

Before the task force, many rape victims received less than ideal treatment from law enforcement and hospital personnel, which made a traumatic, devastating, painful experience even worse.

“Back in the ’80s, most of the police were men,” said Harris. “ Not that the police did a bad job, but it was difficult for a woman who had been raped or worst Communication sometimes was difficult.

“Our founders felt a need to put together a hospital response and have more women involved in talking to victims,” she added, “and it has grown. It’s so important in this community.”

C.A.R.E.’s hospital response team brings clothing, since in many cases, victims’ clothe are kept as evidence.

“Women were leaving the hospital in hospital gowns and those paper slippers,” Harris said. “How demoralizing is that? You’ve been raped, and you’ve gone through this, and you come out of the hospital in a hospital gown. So now, we can at least give them underwear and sweats and shoes – flip-flops, but still shoes — and hopefully, a little dignity.”

While care for the victims has improved, so has law enforcement attitudes.

“We work very closely with the Sheriff’s Office and the police department,” Harris said. “They do wonderful jobs for us and with us. What we do is different because we see people at the very worst times of their life.”

C.A.R.E. has a pair of emergency numbers victims may call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for assistance the Crisis Hotline at 941-627-6000 and the Sexual Assault Helpline at 941-637-0404; in Englewood, 941-475-6465. For additional information, call 941-639-5499 or visit http://carefl.org.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome. Call Dan Mearns at 941-893-9692 or email danmearns@gmail.com.

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