Guest Column: “Preventing Domestic Violence”
Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger.
In the Audrain County Prosecutor’s Office, we see about six new cases of domestic violence every month; increasingly we are seeing more violent forms of domestic violence, and younger and younger victims.
Not so long ago domestic violence was ignored or largely considered a private “family matter.” Victims were mainly left to fend for themselves, and often stayed in violent relationships, hoping things would somehow get better. Fortunately, we no longer ignore domestic violence, or try to convince ourselves that it does not occur. And, we no longer leave victims without any support or alternatives.
It is really difficult to know how frequently domestic violence occurs, partly because it is not always reported. But we do know that, sadly, it is not rare. In fact, estimates are that nearly 25 percent of women and 8 percent of men have experienced some type of domestic violence in their lifetimes. This can include pushing or shoving, slapping, punching, emotional abuse, stalking, choking, and other forms of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
One type of domestic violence that is receiving increasing attention is teen dating violence: estimates are that one in every three teens experience some type of abuse in their romantic relationships, and 40 percent of teenage girls report knowing someone their age who has been hit by a romantic partner.
At its most extreme, domestic violence can include death at the hands of a domestic partner; estimates are that every day in this country, more than three women and one man are murdered by an intimate partner. And, domestic violence knows no boundaries when it comes to the income levels, race, age or religion of abusers and victims.
Most of us know someone who has been directly affected by domestic violence, whether it is a friend, a neighbor or co-worker, or a family member. It is a reality in rural America.
Until fairly recently, we really didn’t recognize that domestic violence affects not only the victim, but entire families, including and perhaps most importantly the children who live in violent family environments. Kids who see domestic violence in their homes often think they are to blame for the violence, are often constantly afraid, and are 15 times more likely to be abused themselves than are kids who do not witness domestic violence.
It is not unusual for kids who witness domestic violence in their families to suffer from depression, behavioral problems, difficulty concentrating and functioning at school, and even high suicide rates. It is not unusual for children who grow up in violence-prone homes to think violent behavior is normal or acceptable, and to live at least part of their adult lives as an abuser or a victim of abuse, or sometimes both.
We’ve made a number of strides in bringing domestic violence out into the open, including enacting laws to hold abusers accountable, recognizing that domestic violence takes many different forms and takes an often tragic toll on victims, and in improving our services to victims.
One example of our changing views toward domestic violence is the designation of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. Designating an entire month for awareness gives us an opportunity to talk about these issues and to educate community members about the dynamics of domestic violence.
The hope is that as we become more aware of the incidence of domestic violence, the forms it takes, and how it impacts all of us, we may work together to prevent domestic violence in our families, friendship networks, and in our communities.
In addition to increased public awareness, resources are available to help victims cope with the aftermath of abusive relationships and remain safe in their homes. Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services (ACCIS), for example, offers group and individual counseling, assistance with the filing of ex parte and full orders of protection, and help with developing safety plans.
My office also offers advocacy and support for those who have been victimized by domestic violence through our Victim Services unit. My office’s Victim Advocate, Debra Cheshier, has recently been recognized as the 2013 Statewide Victim Advocate of the Year by the Missouri Victim Services Academy.
Ms. Cheshier assists Assistant Prosecutor Ashley Turner in aggressively investigating and prosecuting domestic violence, sexual abuse and adult protection cases.
Together, we can break the cycle of violence and abuse with community and law enforcement support.
For those who abuse, my first responsibility is to hold these individuals accountable and keep our community safe through appropriate prosecution. One aspect of prosecution involves working with the court system on sentencing recommendations for those pleading guilty or found guilty of domestic violence offenses.
I often recommend mandatory participation in community-based programs as one component of abusers’ sentences, with the hope that those successfully completing these programs will not re-offend in the future.
Programs that hold promise for rehabilitating abusers include community-based therapy services, such as Anger Management and the Batterers Intervention Program, which are offered through Evergreen Behavioral Services. Evergreen’s Batterers Intervention program is an intensive, offender-focused program that encourages batterers to openly and honestly confront how and why they choose violence and change those behaviors to positively interact with intimate partners and family.
Domestic violence is prevalent in our community, and those victims need not suffer in silence. Law enforcement, my office and the advocacy community are working together to provide victims, both direct and indirect, a way to know they are not alone, and that abusers will be held accountable. Together, we can change our community for the better.