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For the next five days, we will be publishing a special series of articles on domestic violence. It’s always a tough subject to deal with, but given its wide scope and frequency, it’s an important one.

One in four women (perhaps even more, according to a World Health Organization study) and some men, too, will experience some form of abuse from a partner in their lifetime. Sometimes that comes in the form we traditionally associate with the term “domestic violence” — physical assault and battery — but it can also come in the form of threats and emotional abuse, which are traumatic in their own ways. It’s all about control, and victims too often feel powerless to stop it.

So many feel powerless that they don’t report it for fear of retaliation, or they depend on their abuser for the basic necessities of life and don’t want to risk losing those. Many abusers are masters at manipulation and convince their victims that they’re sorry and they’ll never do it again.

While Idaho State Police reported 5,715 incidents of violence between spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners in 2011 (some of them multiple reports from the same people), three-quarters of assaults go unreported. The frequency with which this is happening is frightening.

If a higher percentage of domestic abuse cases were reported — which it should be — imagine the increased workload on law enforcement, to say nothing of the challenge posed to our criminal justice system.

Remember that, on three occasions in recent years, Canyon County voters have said “no” to bonds that would build a new, larger jail. Instead of paying more money in property taxes, the electorate has demanded more alternative sentencing programs.

So with limited jail space, the challenge is even more daunting for judges who have to determine which domestic abusers are likely to pose a significant safety threat and which aren’t. If more victims come forward, where do we put their abusers? It’s not like we’re locking up jaywalkers and pickpockets right now. Whom do we release?

On April 23, 2003, Angie Leon was shot to death by her estranged husband, Abel, who had been improperly released from jail while awaiting sentencing on a felony charge of eluding police. He was a known danger to Angie, and her tragic, unnecessary death was the result of a horrible error for which the county ultimately agreed to a $925,000 settlement with her mother.

Does our limited jail capacity mean a higher risk of releasing more potentially dangerous criminals and running the risk of another case like Leon’s? The question has to be asked.

Domestic abuse just recycles itself over future generations, as children in these families observe this behavior and accept it as “normal.” But it doesn’t just affect the people and families directly involved — it affects all of us.

Someone you work with everyday could be an abuser or a victim. That impacts their job performance, and quite possibly, yours as well. It has an effect on productivity as well as workplace morale.

Children in abusive homes require more attention and care from dedicated educators, which has an impact on the education other students receive, not to mention the taxes you pay. When you think things through, it truly is astounding at how the dominoes fall and how it takes its toll on so many people in so many ways.

And it isn’t just people on the low income, low education scale who are wrapped up in this. It cuts across all demographics — class, ethnicity, religion, education. Men are traditionally thought of as being the abusers, but some men are victims, and some women are abusers.

As you read our series of articles this week, look for ways you can help identify both abusers and victims who may be trying to keep the problem under wraps. Find out how you can be a positive influence and offer assistance. The more we understand a problem, the better we can work to making a dent in it.

* Our view is based on the majority opinions of the Idaho Press-Tribune editorial board. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges and community members Maria Radovich, Kenton Lee, Rich Cartney, Megan Harrison and Kelly Gibbons.

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