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Milwaukee Continues Battling Domestic Violence on Several Fronts

Marti Mikkelson
Barbara Sibley reads the names of those who've lost their lives to domestic violence.

Last year, the number of people who lost their lives to domestic violence in Wisconsin fell -  from 55 to 43. Yet those involved in fighting the problem vow to remain vigilant.

People gathered at Milwaukee City Hall Monday to show solidarity with people still suffering. Each marcher wore an orange t-shirt reading “say no to violence against women.”

They staged a walk for peace downtown and then gathered inside Milwaukee City Hall to remember last year’s victims of domestic violence.  While men’s names are on the list, much of Monday’s gathering focused on women.

“The walk we just took in silence is a reminder of all we have lost. Daughters, mothers, aunts, lovers, co-workers," Carmen Petrie said.

She heads the Sojourner Family Peace Center, which shelters people running away from domestic abuse.

“This loss is unbearable and it leaves a gaping hole in the lives of everyone who knew them," she said. "The loss of these women also robs our entire community, robs us of their creativity, the love and the light that was uniquely theirs to bring into the world."

The center also sends speakers into schools and workplaces to educate people about domestic violence. Petrie implored the crowd to help root out the problem in every corner of the community. Although the numbers are down from 2013, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn fears there will be an increase in domestic violence deaths when the count is taken next year.

“Last year, we had 86 homicides in this city and only one was domestic violence related. We felt like our interventions were working. We felt like we were focusing on the right offenders. We increased our referrals to the Sojourner Peace Center by 100 percent. So far this year, we have 114 homicides and 11 were domestic violence related. That’s ten percent of our total. It’s too many,” Flynn says.

While Flynn says his department will continue working to prevent domestic violence, District Attorney John Chisholm also credits advocates for their outreach to potential victims.

“It makes a difference. It makes a huge difference. We would not have this enormous and exciting opportunity to really change the culture in our city that’s represented by this coalition of forces coming together to provide services to victims and their entire families,” Chisholm says.

Chisholm thinks the opening later this year of an expansion at the Sojourner Peace Center could help bring down the number of homicides. The new facility will be able to accommodate more than 50 victims and the Milwaukee Police Department’s Sensitive Crimes unit. The center’s Carmen Petrie says intervention programs are crucial.

“I think that they do work. When you hear that the numbers are decreasing, our goal is to get to zero. We will meet next year to walk with the idea and belief that the numbers are going to decline,” Petrie says.

The expansion at the peace center will make it the largest facility of its kind in the country.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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