How The Enquirer uncovered family histories of domestic violence in Hamilton County

By Quinlan Bentley

To examine the intergenerational legacy of domestic violence, The Enquirer focused on one month's criminal court docket in Hamilton County for the crime then built a database of family histories.

The Enquirer chose April 2020 and collected all cases charged under the Ohio law that makes domestic violence a misdemeanor crime. That month, six women were murdered in Cincinnati, more than all of 2019, amid the strictest stay-at-home shutdown of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Experts say the pandemic fueled a rise in domestic violence that has not abated.

In April 2020, 161 people were charged in Hamilton County with domestic violence, about the monthly average of the past two years. Since March, the monthly case counts have been rising and hit a two-year peak in July at 205 cases.


In April 2020, men made up 83% of the arrests in Hamilton County, slightly higher than the statewide average of about 75%. Women were the survivors in 79% of the cases.

Offenders often had previous arrests for domestic violence. Of the 161 people accused in The Enquirer's analysis, 71 had been arrested before April 2020. Twenty-one were arrested on a new charge after April 2020. 

To build the database of family histories, The Enquirer gathered basic personal information – names, birthdates, street addresses – from court documents. Then The Enquirer turned to online public records databases to identify relatives of offenders and survivors. When a relative was identified, The Enquirer determined through older court records whether that relative had a history of domestic violence and the relationship to the survivor or accused offender.

Criminal and domestic relations court records were also used, though in many cases the documents did not state exact relationships, or the case was old and its documents unavailable on the Hamilton County clerk of courts website.

From the database of the April 2020 cases, The Enquirer found immediate relatives with arrests or convictions for domestic violence in the histories of at least 40 of the 165 survivors and 38 of the 161 accused offenders. Often those relatives were parents.

Domestic violence occurs in families regardless of race or income level. But court cases against Black people for domestic violence exceed their share of the population. In April 2020, 68% of people charged in Hamilton County for domestic violence were Black, although Black people are 26% of the county's population. 

The findings are a big spike in a trend. The Ohio attorney general reports on law enforcement and domestic violence, and since 2013, Black people have made up at least 30% of all domestic violence arrests in Ohio. Black people are 14.4% of the state's population.

Pulling the various records to build the April 2020 case database took an Enquirer reporter 30 days.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that only about 56% of domestic violence is reported to the police. The Enquirer found that when people are charged with domestic violence, about half the cases are dismissed.

But in April 2020, 86% of domestic violence cases ended in dismissal or were ignored by a grand jury, The Enquirer's analysis found. Nearly 7% ended with the accused being convicted on a different charge or sentenced to mental health treatment.

In April 2019, more than 86% of Hamilton County domestic cases were dismissed. In April 2021, 59% of domestic violence charges ended in dismissal. The overwhelming cause for dismissal was because the survivor or complaining witness did not appear in court for trial.

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