MISSOULA — Missoula County recorded nearly 500 domestic violence-related crimes last year in according to the Montana Board of Crime Control.
That number is actually lower than in previous years. For example, 2018 saw more than 800 domestic violence crimes across the county.
Additional data from 2020 showcases more than 4,500 victims of intimate partner violence documented in the state of Montana.
About 78% of those victims were female and about 16% identified as Native American or Alaskan Native.
Eight homicides were also reported between intimate partners in addition to 156 kidnapping or abduction victims.
Connecting victims to services can be life-saving and the Missoula YWCA is one organization that helps.
The new YWCA Meadowlark is a domestic violence shelter — a visible upgrade to the previous site — that provides a confidentially located residential space.
“We also had to have individuals sharing rooms and sharing bathrooms, and it just wasn't as much of a dignified space as we have now in the Meadowlark where we’re really able to like double our capacity,” Lyndayle Mattis, YWCA Pathways Program Manager, told MTN News.
According to Mattis, the new site is filling up because of increased demand and the next steps are getting harder for survivors.
MTN News previously spoke with one woman facing a difficult reality as she gets ready to leave the YWCA program.
“When it comes to obtaining housing, we're just not seeing as many transitions into permanent housing after shelter. So really what we're seeing is survivors are going back to abusive situations, they're sleeping in their cars, and they’re like going to be homeless," Mattis said. “We really do need our community to recognize that this is a huge crisis.”
Missoula County has other resources available to help with domestic violence-related crimes.
Community Justice Department Director Shantelle Gaynor says the risk is high among people who experienced violence early in life or don’t have the tools to recognize abuse.
“The folks in our community who have been at highest risk of homicide have been folks who've never had services. So I guess the good news is in Missoula, domestic violence homicide is very rare, but it does happen,” Gaynor explained.
Missoula City-County’s Crime Victim Advocate Program helps people obtain restraining orders and navigate the justice system. Gaynor said in 2020, the service had about 1,800 clients and about half were domestic or dating violence related.
“Year over year numbers have been ticking up for the past several years, certainly when there's national attention on issues,” Gaynor said, “there has just been a national high profile case of a domestic violence homicide, and I wouldn't be surprised if locally there's a handful of folks who are contemplating coming in for services for the first time.”
The body of 22-year-old Gabby Petito from Florida was recently found in Wyoming spurring international news recognition. The cause of her death was determined to be strangulation.
According to Gaynor, a heightened awareness of domestic violence can sometimes lead victims to hide even more, "it can also have a chilling effect”
If you or someone you know is at risk of danger, call the YWCA Domestic Violence Hotline at (406) 542-1944.