Monthly Archives: May 2008

Address Confidentiality Program

The Colorado Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) will begin accepting participants by July 1, 2008. The ACP helps survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking protect their location by providing them with a substitute address and a confidential mail forwarding service. This service is available to survivors who live in Colorado and have recently moved or are moving and do not want the abuser to know where they live. The service prevents potential abusers from locating their victims through public records. Another program benefit is allowing eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old or a parent or guardian acting on behalf of a minor or incapacitated adult, live in Colorado and be a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and fear for their safety. They must have relocated within the past 90 days to an address that is unknown to the abuser, or be planning to move in the future. They must be willing to designate the ACP as their agent to receive legal documents, service of process, certified and first-class mail.

ACP certification is effective for four years. Participants may cancel their enrollment at any time, or renew their certification at the end of four years. 

The first step towards enrolling in the ACP is meeting with an  Application Assistant.  The Application Assistant is a person who provides counseling, shelter, or other services to victims of domestic violence, sexual offenses, or stalking and has completed the training and registration process required by the ACP.

The Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which guided the legislation in 2007, recommends that advocates in local domestic violence and sexual assault programs get training to beomce an Appication Assistant. CCADV will be offering advocates training on ACP in regional meetings, online, and at their annual conference. In-person or on-line training is also offered by the State ACP program to become a designated Application Assistant. 

Why Doesn’t She Leave?

By Marie De Santis – Women’s Justice Center/ Centro de Justicia Para Mujeres

There’s a seemingly simple little exercise we’ve done dozens of times at workshops on violence against women. The usual responses, however, are anything but simple. They’re confounding and cause for concern.

Recently we repeated the exercise with a conference room full of 70 social workers, advocates, therapists, and mental health workers. “Why don’t some domestic violence victims leave the relationship,” we ask? “Call out the reasons!”

The answers, as always, come fast and freely. “Because she doesn’t think she can make it on her own.” “Not enough money to feed the children.” “She feels obligated to her marital vows.” “It’s learned helplessness.” “She doesn’t believe she deserves better.” “She doesn’t know where to go.” “She wants the children to have a father.” etc.

I jot down the familiar list until the group exhausts their thoughts. And there, again, is the enigma. How, at this date, with this group, – with almost every group – do so many miss the obvious? To be sure there’s truth and need for remedy in every reason given. But the one thing that should top the list, the thing that freezes so many women in place, is not even mentioned at all.

Women often don’t leave domestic violence because they know that when they do leave the danger of more severe violence increases dramatically. Violence, and the sheer terror of it, is one of the principle reasons women don’t leave. And the women are right!

Fact: When domestic violence victims attempt to leave the relationship, the stalking and violence almost always escalates sharply as the perpetrator attempts to regain control.

Fact: The majority of domestic violence homicides occur as a woman attempts to leave or after she has left.

Fact: The most serious domestic violence injuries are perpetrated against women who have separated from the perpetrator.

“Instead of Helping Me, They Sunk Me Even More”

The women also know these dangers are heightened still more because so many officials, first responders, and courts are also in denial of the gravity of her situation. And she’s right again. Despite the modern-day rhetoric about treating domestic violence seriously, the reality is that the critical protections she needs when leaving are still as precarious and unpredictable as a roll of the dice. One responder may help effectively. The next may ignore, mock, underestimate, misdiagnose, walk away, blame her, take her kids, shunt her into social services, arrest her, send her to counseling, or one way or another refuse to implement real power on her behalf, abandoning her to a perpetrator who is now more enraged than ever.

The paths leading up to so many domestic violence homicides are paved with officials’ failures to protect. Just weeks before she was murdered by her estranged husband, Maria hauntingly summed up her own, and so many others’ experiences with officials. “Instead of helping me,” she said, “They sunk me even more.”

You can work tirelessly and compassionately to social work, counsel, and support the victim. But if you ignore this critical piece of making sure the system puts failsafe brakes on the perpetrator and his violence, it will be for naught. The perpetrator will continue to stalk and terrorize or worse. The victim will still be trapped in the violent relationship no matter where she has moved and how much independence she has attained. In fact, the freer she is, the angrier he gets.

And if you look just a little closer, you’ll see that for domestic violence victims there really is no such thing as leaving, or escaping, until the system does, in fact, step up and effectively stop the perpetrator. There is no Mason Dixon line over which women can run and escape and be home free. The perpetrators can and do hunt her down anywhere.

Domestic Violence! Not ‘Domesticated Violence’, nor ‘Violence Lite’!
It’s interesting. When you do the same exercise, but merely shift to other forms of violent relationships, a group’s responses are dramatically different. “Why doesn’t the field slave,” for example, “Run away from the plantation in the middle of the night while the master sleeps?” The answers are immediate and unequivocal. “Because the slaves know they’ll get hunted down.” “Because they know if they’re caught they’ll get beaten like never before.” “Because they stand a good chance of getting killed.”

The first answers out are never ‘learned helplessness’, ‘low self esteem’, or ‘not enough money’ even though there’s no question these same psycho-social factors are just as much at work. In fact, if one were to lead off their explanations as to ‘why slaves don’t leave’ with the ‘learned helplessness’ or ‘not enough money’ aspect, the insult of it would ring perfectly clear.

Whether you ask the question in regard to slaves, prisoners of war, kidnap victims, concentration camp captives, or residents of violent regimes, etc., the horrific dynamics and dangers of attempting to escape are well understood by everyone. Some victims of these violent relationships do, in fact, make a run for it. Some succeed. Some are killed. Some are recaptured and punished unmercifully.

Most victims, however, never go beyond an initial evaluation of the risks. The obvious dangers are just too great. They stay. Violence works. Violence, and the sheer terrorizing threat of it, has always, everywhere, worked better than anything else to keep victims compliant and pinned in place.

So why the glaring blind spot in regard to domestic violence victims? Why are women denied even the validation of the dangerous dynamics of her dilemma? Why do so many people still hold a view, as cloaked as it may be in paternal tones, that is more in sync with the perpetrator’s stance than with the victim’s? The view that the problem rests with her. That it’s she that needs to be propped up and fixed.

As if this violence that plagues women around the world is a ‘domesticated violence’, or ‘violence lite’!

The Patriarchy Still Rules! And Still Needs to be Upended!
The glaring blind spot is rooted deep in the self-preservation mechanisms of patriarchal rule. If the violent repression of women were to be recognized on a par with other violent repressions it would require nothing short of upending the missions of law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and service organizations, and not just the adjustment of rhetoric we have now. The male-dominated power structure resists implementing its real powers on behalf of women in order to preserve the power for itself. That’s fairly obvious.

But what about the blind spot of so many social workers, advocates, and therapists? Those who care about the women, and dedicate their lives to helping them? Perhaps it’s one more layer of the battered women’s syndrome that needs to be exposed. Because if we ourselves truly recognize the gravity of women’s plight, we, too, have to move beyond the safety zones of the nurturing, supportive roles we find so comfortable.

We will be compelled to step out, challenge, watchdog, fight, demand, and make sure that the powerful, male-dominated institutions are, in fact, upended, and that they, indeed, begin to implement their full powers on behalf of women, and against the perpetrators. Only then will domestic violence victims truly have a real choice to leave.

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women’s Justice Center,

Who’s the victim? Police look for ‘predominant aggressor’ in domestic cases

The Bismark Tribune, May 4, 2008
The man on the video holds a towel to his bleeding head, screaming at officers about how his wife struck him with an ashtray. Responding to his demands to get in the room, his wife soundlessly walks in, shoulders slumped, head down, tears running down her face.

The officers try to figure out what happened. Still yelling, the man tells one officer he and his wife were arguing and she hit him in the head. The woman confirms his account of the events to another officer.

So, who, if anyone, should be arrested? Clearly, both parties agree that the woman hit her husband with an ashtray. It seems like a simple case.

But today’s officers are asked to take a closer look.

Officers in North Dakota are required to consider whether either party in a domestic dispute used violence in self-defense and to determine before making an arrest which person is the predominant aggressor in situations where both used violence.

The 2007 Legislature passed the “predominant aggressor” law, becoming one of 30 states to have such a statute, said Shelly Carlson, criminal justice project coordinator at the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services.

Officers responding to domestic violence reports first have to determine whether either person acted in self defense. If neither did, they have to determine who was the predominant aggressor.

A predominant aggressor is defined by North Dakota law as the person who is the most significant, not necessarily the first, aggressor in a situation. The factors that go into deciding who was the predominant aggressor include weighing the severity of injuries each person has, history of domestic violence or other violent acts on the part of either person, and the likelihood of whether one person could face future harm from the other person.

“You start to look at all the past history, and it helps you make the decision who is the batterer,” Burleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy Troy Fleck, a domestic violence investigator, said.

Though the predominant aggressor measure passed easily through the Legislature, with unanimous do-pass recommendations from committees and votes of 84-4 in the House and 35-10 in the Senate, not everyone was enthusiastic about the new law. Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, voted against the bill because he felt it took away the discretion of police officers in making arrests. The bill, HB1238, changed the law from giving officers criteria they “may”consider to criteria they “shall” consider in determining who to arrest in a domestic dispute.

“That means we’re telling a police officer how to do his job,”Potter said.

Bismarck attorney Tim Purdon thinks the new law makes decision-making in domestic situations harder for law enforcement. While previously, officers could look at the crime scene and determine who should be arrested, they now have to dig into whether either party has done anything violent in the past and try to determine whether they could be involved in other violent acts in the future.

Throwing in the additional factors to consider could make domestic disputes harder for officers to handle, Purdon said.

“Law enforcement already has a really, really difficult job in these situations,”he said.

Purdon said the use of a person’s criminal history in determining who to arrest also is “troublesome.”

“We don’t punish people for acts they’ve done in the past,”he said.

Carlson, who lobbied in favor of the law, said the measure was intended to decrease dual arrests, where law enforcement arrests both people involved in the dispute, and to keep victims who use violence in self defense from being arrested.

Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Pamela Nesvig, who prosecutes domestic violence cases, said the measure seems to have slowed the number of dual arrests. In 2007, only 10 dual arrests were made in 800 domestic cases in the county, which she said was down from previous years. The law went into effect on Aug. 1, 2007.

Carlson uses the video described above in law enforcement training on domestic violence situations that she does in North Dakota and nationally. In situations such as the one portrayed on the video, officers need to ask more questions to get to the root of the problem, she said.

The video goes on to show what happened before the police arrive. The woman shows her husband the new dress she bought for a party. He becomes angry over her using “his money” for a dress. He calls her names. He tells her she’s not going to the party, because he wants to go out with friends, and he’s not hiring a baby sitter. He accuses her of having a boyfriend she wants to see at the party.

As he backs her into a corner, he takes off his wedding ring. Then, the woman hits him at his hairline with a nearby ashtray.

Though the woman was the only one in the situation who used violence, officers trained to investigate domestic violence try to figure out what else may have been happening before making an arrest, Fleck said.

The officers on the video learn that the man had a previous domestic assault conviction in another state. In that case, he had left a mark on his wife’s face with his ring. As they questioned the woman, they learned her husband takes his ring off before he hits her now. So, the woman’s action in hitting her husband when he took off his ring can be seen as self defense, a preemptive measure to keep him from hitting her, Carlson said.

“The law absolutely allows people to defend themselves and or others,”she said.

Without asking more questions and looking a little closer, the officers would have arrested a woman who was a victim, Carlson said. Since the man also did nothing illegal, neither of the people should be arrested, she said.

If one person has convictions for domestic violence or other violent offenses, those convictions lend credibility to that person being the predominant aggressor. That’s part of the reason officers are trained to look for signs that someone may have acted in self defense. If officers in the training video acted on first impressions, they would have arrested a woman who had acted in self defense. She may have been charged and could have pleaded guilty before anyone looked at the case, Carlson said.

Then, the next time the couple gets in a fight and police show up, both people have criminal histories related to domestic violence.

Nesvig said area officers do a good job of determining who to arrest in such situations. Rarely does she receive a domestic assault case where someone has been arrested that she doesn’t think should have been, she said.

“They’re really good at judging people at the scene,” she said.

At training sessions for determining predominant aggressors, participants are given a disclaimer telling them that the “suspects” will be referred to as males and the “victims” as females, Burleigh deputy Fleck said. The purpose of the stereotypes is not to perpetuate discrimination against men, but to show normal situations, he said.

In 2006, 4,734 calls were made to North Dakota domestic violence crisis centers. Women were callers 95 percent of the time, Carlson said.

Though women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, officers look at the facts of the case to determine who to arrest, Fleck said.

“Law enforcement in general gives everyone a fair chance to report their crimes,” he said. “The evidence carries the same weight whether it’s male or female.”

Nesvig said she has prosecuted women for domestic violence, though it does not happen as often she prosecutes men.

All domestic violence reports, even ones that do not yield arrests, are passed on to domestic violence advocates, Fleck said. Advocates often send letters to the address where the domestic dispute occurred, not addressed to one person or the other, offering their assistance, Carlson said.

Such efforts are done to try to stop problems before they get out of hand, Fleck said. Burleigh County has a domestic violence task force, which Fleck and Nesvig are on, that combines law enforcement, prosecution and advocates to make sure domestic violence victims are offered help and cases are handled in a uniform manner.

“People are less apt to report it if they’re not getting help,” Fleck said.

Once the investigation concludes, prosecutors like Nesvig make the determination of what, if any, charges to file. Even if someone wasn’t arrested at the scene, prosecutors may still decide to charge someone. Burleigh County has moved toward an “evidence based” system of prosecution, where prosecutors will proceed with a case even if the victim doesn’t want that to happen, Nesvig said.

“In most domestic cases, the victim either doesn’t want to cooperate or recants their original version of the story given to law enforcement,” she said.

“It’s natural for them to want to protect their spouses,” Fleck said.

Victims often believe they are the ones who are bringing the charges against a suspect, Nesvig said. However, criminal cases are for violations of state law, and if evidence exists that a crime occurred, prosecutors proceed with the case even without victim cooperation, she said.

The decision on how to proceed with a case is determined on a case-by-case basis, Nesvig said. “He said, she said” cases might be dropped if a victim doesn’t want the case to go to trial, but a case with enough evidence without a victim’s testimony likely will go through the system just the same, she explained.

“If we have enough evidence to proceed without the victim, we will,” Nesvig said.

Prosecutors proceed with the cases because it’s their job to charge people for breaking the law, she said. In domestic cases, they also hope to stop the cycle of violence and hold people accountable for their actions.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to look out for their best interests,”she said.