The Fight to Conquer Domestic Violence

IMG_9119On February 15th 2014, security cameras in a casino elevator in New Jersey, caught NFL Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his wife, Janay Rice, so hard that she was out cold in a matter of seconds. The instant viral attention this act received,  hit people of all groups to the core and not only resulted in Rice’s suspension from the NFL but showed that domestic violence doesn’t just happen to people of the lower and middle class but, can happen to anyone.

It called into question the conduct of other athletes and also drew focus to the domestic abuse issue in the world beyond sports. It is out of this negative string of news focusing on the worst of human behavior, that a positive and important social media trend grew. The #WhyIStayed #WhyILeft campaign gave an immediate voice to countless people who had been suffering silently and created an online community which reminded people struggling in abusive relationships that they were not alone.

Tweeters could now share their domestic abuse stories in 140 characters thanks to Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) who reacted to news reporters questioning why Janay stood by her husband, by starting this campaign.

She started out by tweeting: “He said he would change”; “I thought love would conquer all.”

Her tweet drew instant response. Some of these were:

“I was scared to be alone #WhyIStayed I finally got some perspective; I realized my self worth #WhyILeft” -@Tiggers

“Because I was afraid he’d kill me #WhyIStayed because I was afraid he’d kill me #WhyILeft” -@BACDST

“WhyIStayed Because I wanted my son to have a father #WhyILeft because I wanted my son to have a mother” -@ABrenda

While this case and twitter campaign got national attention, domestic violence is very much a reality in Saco as well. According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence statistics, in 2012, one of the most prevalent years, a domestic abuse report was called in every hour and thirty-four minutes and in 2013, 11 out of the 24 homicides in Maine, were related to domestic violence.

Officer Ted Gagnon, Thornton Academy’s resource officer, SPD believes that the national attention the case got after the Rice dispute went public will ultimately be a good thing. He said it will have a positive impact because it shows that domestic violence transcends the barriers of race, social class, social status and involves everyone from very wealthy families like the Rice’s to families that have a very low-income. He believes breaking down stereotypes is essential to reducing the violence.

Officer Tammy Girard, a court officer who works closely with Caring Unlimited, dealing with victims mostly in domestic violence cases, agrees.

She said,  

“Domestic violence has been such a long time issue and this shows the public in an ‘in your face’ kind of way how serious this issue is and that it can happen to anyone rich, poor, in the middle.”

According to local police officers, domestic cases seem to spike around the holidays when there is so much more stress on families. Officer Gagnon went on to say that 2nd shift (3 p.m-11 p.m) and 3rd shift (11 p.m-7 a.m) are the times when the majority of domestic abuse calls come in. Officer Girard notes that they get more calls in the summer months too because people tend to have their windows open so bystanders are more likely to hear altercations and report the disturbance.

Rudy Skowronski, a therapist and domestic violence specialist in Saco, says he gets far more women than  men as clients, but said domestic abuse definitely happens to men too. Gagnon said,  “Most men are ashamed, so not a high percentage report…but there would still be more female victims.” He went on to note that it is unfortunate but it seems, “society doesn’t view men’s cases as seriously as women’s cases.”

All these experts have a unique style for approaching victims after they have been exposed to domestic violence. Gagnon said that he likes to try to be as calm as possible.

“The victim just went through something very stressful and traumatic,” he says. “Not only that but, the victim, in most situations, now has to live off one income with kids to support for at least a little while.” He understands the extreme stress they are under and tries to be quiet and gentle in his approach.

Officer Tammy Girard says that she likes to be straight-forward and honest. Her main goal is to build trust with the victim and also to be there for them, especially the next day when things start to set in and reality becomes more and more clear.

Skowronski says that he likes to be, “Very Direct” He tends to focus “more on the feelings and less about the details” with his clients. His style is to get right to the point, which is different from many therapists who prefer to ease into things.

All abusive relationships are very important and scary. Perhaps the worst cases are those where there is a child involved like the Rice’s two year old daughter, Ravyen, or if the relationship is even between two young people.

Skowronski states that 14-20 are the youngest that he deals when it comes to teenagers being in abusive relationships. So what’s the best way to deal these situations where a child is involved?

Gagnon says that he tries to involve the child as little as possible,“Now you’re asking to pick mom over dad or dad over mom.”

Maine Code. Sec. 1.25 MRSA § 2803-B, sub § 1 of the Maine Code of Ordinances states that  Domestic violence law enforcement efforts include a process to evaluate and determine who is the predominant physical aggressor in a domestic violence situation. Once they find the predominant aggressor, law enforcement is required to make an arrest.

According to twitter a lot of times the victim feels the need to defend the perpetrator when police arrive. Gagnon says, usually the situation is volatile and dangerous. They want to show the perpetrator “I don’t actually want you to go to jail” and sometimes the victim even attacks the law enforcement to really put that message out there, it’s also a tactic to prevent future assaults. No matter what happens in a domestic violence case, he tries to keep in mind: 1. His own safety and his partner’s safety 2. Ruling out any possible danger and/or and weapons and threats 3. Making a victim, a victim only once 4. Making sure that the predominant aggressor is arrested because if not looked at carefully, the victim could actually be the one that ends up getting arrested.

According to local police officers, there is no special training to respond to DV cases. However, in pre-schooling they tend to spend two to three hours out of 100 mainly focusing on DV calls. They also spend about two to three days out of an 18 week academy just focusing on DV cases. They learn that one of the most important things other than safety is to show up without warning.

“You won’t know were there until we’re banging on your door,” Gagnon said.

Another thing that is important with DV cases is the follow-up work after all of the police work has been turned over to the court. According to Officer Girard cases can take anywhere from 3-18 weeks to process. In that time she says that the victim has time to think about things and it is definitely possible that they decide that they want to take back their statements, take the blame or lie. So she tends to stick by the victim and remind them and always keep what happened in their head in one way or another.

48 hours later, Gagnon checks on the victim because the suspect may have been released on bail and conditions say no direct or indirect contact with the victim. He goes to the house to check that the suspect is not there and hasn’t been there. He also makes sure that no new injuries have surfaced. More injuries may have surfaced.

According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, in 2013 (the second year in a row where complaints to police had risen 4.5%), resource centers in Maine got calls from 12,610 adults and 648 children and Maine Child Protective Services served 560 survivors in just the first 6 months. 2014 seems to be following the footsteps of the recent years.

As most of America’s attention shifts away from the Rice’s Story and the social media fire dies down, people like Skowronski, Officer Girard, and Officer Gagnon as well as millions of others who have devoted their life to the cause, will continue to fight for the termination of domestic violence. Today Maine, tomorrow the country.

 

To see what President had to say about domestic violence at the 2015 Anual Grammy Awards click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEx-qyZAmqs

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