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By Karen Hatfield
Special to The SUN
Early in the movement to curb domestic abuse within families, advocates and law enforcement recognized that to bring safety to families, especially children, organized systems would need to work together. Domestic violence became a criminal offense, with law enforcement being mandated to arrest the predominate aggressor in a family dispute.
After a completed investigation, the person charged with crimes ranging from assault to harassment to destruction of property is booked into the jail, must appear before the judge and be placed under a mandatory protection order. The person charged with a crime under the heading of Domestic Violence is prevented from contact with the victim as well as ordered to vacate the family home for a period of time, depending on the wishes of the victim.
For a first offense, the district attorney will often offer a plea agreement that includes probation and a state approved therapy program. The mandatory protection order can be modified with the approval of the judge, district attorney and the victim. Guns are not to be in the possession of the person charged with a crime during the entire case, but may be returned at the successful conclusion of all court requirements. If the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to any crime under the domestic violence umbrella, gun rights can be terminated.
The primary goal for a first-time arrest is to provide intervention and accountability for the offender. Victim safety is always paramount to any court decision. Subsequent arrests will have more severe penalties, including incarceration. Services are provided to the victim and children to improve the probability that violence will not occur again. With the inception of arrest and court intervention, domestic violence has become a public health concern and was no longer relegated to a family issue.
Teens may also be charged with a crime under the domestic violence laws. The same process will be employed in these cases as well; arrest, appearance in court and probation with counseling.
While the criminal justice response to family violence has been mandated to include state statues that provide a zero tolerance approach, other supports have developed services intended to teach non-violence and to help families find healthier ways to solve conflict. Critics of the current approach state that while physical abuse might stop after a mandatory arrest, coercive control and other means of verbal abuse do not. Since implementation of mandatory arrest by law enforcement, homicide rates against women have decreased, but violent attacks have not. Shelters, once a grass roots movement, meant to offer peer support to women escaping violence, are now usually run by systemized groups with clear definitions of who is a victim and who can receive services.
The debate over domestic violence being a genderless crime also rages. Statistically, 86 percent of all domestic assault victims are women. This does not mean that men cannot be victims of assault in the family setting. Perhaps, rather than taking a narrow view of family violence as being only about physical assault, the definition should include a more global recognition of the problem. The answers to how to stop violence in interpersonal relationships is an ever evolving field. Education and accountability for offenders must be modified to reflect the reality of those trapped in homes that are unsafe and frightening. It is hard to legislate behavior and isolation when underlying attitudes include support for inequality. One gender cannot be more valued over another. Relationships cannot be based on power differentials and most importantly, children need to know they are safe within the family structure. The solutions to the problem of domestic violence are as complex as any that are based in relationship to other humans. All of us are part of the solution if we decide. It involves living without violence, supporting programs that build self-esteem and fairness in children and last, but not least, acknowledging that we will not tolerate violence and disrespect in any form in ourselves and our lives, where ever it occurs. The world we live in will never be violence free until individuals place value on the right to self determination and accept the need to coexist, despite vast differences in belief and opinions.
For more information, or if you are in an unhealthy relationship, call the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program’s free and confidential hotline at 264-9075.