GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Silent Observer has teamed up with police in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood to issue a list of the most wanted domestic violence suspects from the area, hoping for the public’s help to find them and lock them up.
Silent Observer launched its “Love Does Not Hit” campaign as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Grand Rapids-based Safe Haven Ministries says domestic violence impacts nearly a third of women and is among the most underreported crimes. Experts say that means there’s a lot more to ending it than just making arrests.
“If you look at the vast majority of domestic homicides that took place (in Michigan) this year, we’ve had 72 of them, and almost every single one of those that killed someone had a long history of violence,” said Tara Aday, the director of prevention and education at Safe Haven Ministries, which helps women and children escape domestic violence.
Experts say domestic violence often escalates over time.
“Abuse doesn’t start and end with a bruise or a broken arm. It is a pattern of controlling behavior that in some cases does lead to violence,” said Charisse Mitchell, executive director for the YWCA of West Central Michigan, which provides resources for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The Silent Observer list includes 17 men and one woman accused of multiple crimes, including domestic violence at the misdemeanor and felony level. The backgrounds on many include other crimes like assault and armed robbery.
“It’s been a very successful program. We see tips that lead to the whereabouts of about 75 percent of the people we highlight,” Silent Observer Executive Director Chris Cameron said. “If the victim sees that she will be believed and police will take action and enforce the law and arrest the person that has been perpetrating against her, or him, that’s a good thing for them to see.”
This is the third year of the program, which pays $500 for a tip leading to a felony conviction and $250 for a misdemeanor conviction in the hopes that people who may not want to get involved will make the call.
“We guarantee that those that call us remain anonymous and we have law that backs us up,” Cameron promised.
Getting involved can be the difference between life and death for victims, experts say.
“It absolutely is our business and if it isn’t, then we’re not going to end this epidemic,” Aday said.
Pointing to the sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh before he ultimately became the nation’s newest Supreme Court justice, she noted that reporting can lead to devastating results for the victim and perpetrators often aren’t held accountable. In more common cases, those who report often risk their housing, their incomes, their reputations and their safety.
“Reporting is one of the hardest things we can ask victims and survivors to do,” Aday said.
Aday said that while police and the courts have come a long way, there is more work to be done.
“I will say that there are folks within the law enforcement community that do get this and are tireless advocates,” Aday said.
She said attitudes about the relationships between men and women need to change, and that starts with boys and girls.
The Silent Observer website allows citizens to click on a suspect’s picture and fill out a report. They can also call 616.774.2345.