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George Racumos of Cheyenne holds up a silhouette during the annual Silent Witness event, hosted by Safehouse Cheyenne and the Wyoming Domestic Violence Coalition, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. The silhouettes the volunteers hold represent women killed by domestic violence, and Racumos' plaque represents a girl who died when she only 5 years old. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Domestic violence isn’t like any other type of crime. It has a tendency to be more complex, with cyclical abuse and the messiness of emotions.

This is also why it can be the most dangerous type of crime.

In Laramie County, as well as nationwide, reports of domestic violence are extremely prevalent. In 2018, the Cheyenne Police Department received about 1,500 domestic violence calls, and it’s on track to respond to that number again this year.

The Laramie County Sheriff’s Department isn’t any different. Deputies arrested 108 people for domestic violence last year, and as of June, they have arrested 67, public information officer Capt. Linda Gesell said.

People are more willing to report now, said Leslie Burch, victim’s assistance coordinator with the police department, as to why the number seems to be growing. People want to do the right thing and start protecting others, instead of watching and doing nothing.

“It’s difficult to put your finger on what’s causing domestic violence. There’s so many factors as to why it’s so prevalent here,” Cheyenne Police Department spokesman Kevin Malatesta said. “There’s a lot of information into what causes it, but we certainly have a problem here.”

The police department set a goal to increase domestic violence prosecutions by 10% this year. The department’s 2018 annual report said many of the domestic violence investigations weren’t prosecuted by the district attorney’s office.

Police want to work with the newly elected district attorney, Leigh Anne Manlove, to increase prosecutions.

The department is applying for a grant so it can fund a full-time domestic violence detective. Officers would be able to follow up with the incident, document things like bruising, and talk to more witnesses, such as neighbors, and more.

“It’s too easy just to say why doesn’t she just leave her abuser,” said sheriff’s department detective Sgt. Curtis Burch. “Domestic violence crimes are significantly different than any other crime because of the emotional attachment between the victim and defendant.”

Most domestic violence is commonly the man in a romantic relationship abusing the woman who is his partner. But there are other instances where this is reversed.

Domestic violence also isn’t exclusively relegated to people in a romantic relationship. According to Wyoming state statute, domestic violence can occur between people who cohabitate with one another. This can be roommates, siblings, parents and more.

The violence operates on a cycle based on power and control. The abuser usually begins to slowly groom the victim to further their control.

The abuse usually starts off as emotional, intimidation and isolation. Once the victim is groomed and isolated, that’s when things usually get worse.

“What starts off as hitting or pulling of hair can turn into serious physical injury,” Malatesta said. “It can turn into people getting killed, and that’s why we take it so seriously.”

The abuse then can turn physical, possibly even lethal. The abuser sometimes will also threaten things the victim finds near and dear, such as children or pets. In some cases, the abuser will hurt the pet or child in front of the victim to further their control.

“Domestic violence is a cycle. The victim in these types of cases will be abused, be a victim of that domestic violence, but then there’s kind of a honeymoon phase after it’s occurred where the abuser tries to make things up to the victim,” Malatesta said. “That cycle just perpetuates. What we really try to do is get in and break that cycle, get that person out of that relationship. Because, really, if they stay in that relationship, it’s going to continue, and it’s going to get much worse.”

For the abuser, the violence is usually a learned behavior, Leslie Burch said. Abusers will often act remorseful and say they want to change, and this is also why victims might not leave.

“Domestic violence is one of those things that’s not just a learned behavior ... but it’s learned and reinforced,” Curtis Burch said.

If arrested and convicted, sometimes abusers will be required to do a batterers re-education program, he said.

But for victims in the community, if law enforcement is able to inject itself in the cycle of violence, sometimes the resources for help are still slim.

Safehouse Services is the only domestic violence shelter in the community, and only one circuit court judge is assigned to reviewing those protection order cases – but they have to come out of Safehouse, he said.

“That’s where I think, in our community, we have a bit of a barrier. We’re pretty limited on resources,” Curtis Burch said.

Even with a shelter, victims still might be out of options if they need to bring a pet or children with them. The victims can’t bring pets to Safehouse, so sometimes they have to choose between abuse and leaving their furry friends behind.

In some cases, the Cheyenne Animal Shelter will temporarily house a pet for a victim, but this isn’t always the case.

“I think it’s important for people to understand it’s not OK to be harmed or hurt by anyone,” Leslie Burch said. “With their hands, verbally with their words, that is not a type of relationship that is meaningful or is loving. It’s important that we know those options are available for people in an abusive relationship.”

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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