Domestic Violence & 1st Responders

The challenges, frustrations, and stressors encountered with domestic violence can be constant and compelling.

Officer Ron Stevens, of the Sensitive Crimes Division of the Milwaukee Police Department, acknowledges the frustration of victims who are in crisis and upset at the time of the violent incident. They will come to court, admit they are back together with the defendant, and want to drop the charges. Officer Stevens emphasizes, however, it is important not to have a why bother? attitude. "You can't stereotype and put everyone in the same boat. You still have to make the effort," he says. Despite the frustrations, he recognizes the importance of being fair, doing the right thing, and not permitting anxieties and emotions to get the best of you. "Do the best you can. You are making a difference," he advises.

Kara Schurman, the Domestic Violence Liaison of the Milwaukee Police Department, who interacts with Officer Stevens and provides victim services, also finds it frustrating when victims do not come to court after officers and prosecutors have expended a lot of time on a case. Schurman understands she cannot become desensitized, and she has learned how to maintain a healthy perspective. "I have seen a lot of things. Be concerned. Your heart has to be behind it when you do this kind of work," she emphasizes. She understands the nature of the repetitive cycle. "I don't go into a case expecting a victim to end the relationship," she says. Ms. Schurman feels it is important for victims to know they have someone to count on.

Christina Miles, the Director of the Family Violence Division of the State's Attorney's Office for Montgomery County Maryland, agrees. "We have to keep in mind we have to do what we have to do and be there for the victims," she says. She finds it both frustrating and stressful to see children caught in the middle of a domestic violence situation. Ms. Miles is also disheartened with married victims' utilization of the Marital Privilege law in Maryland which is a one-time option allowing a legally married spouse to drop charges against the abuser spouse. "It's a one hit rule. It's frustrating," she says.

"I find it fairly challenging and very difficult getting a victim to understand that she can make the system work for her instead of against her," says Teri LaJeunesse, the Director of the Victim/Witness Division of the Greene County Ohio Prosecutor's Office. She recognizes that when victims do realize what it means to go forward with prosecution, it is not uncommon for "some sense of waffling and wavering to exist. "

Prosecutors often feel as though they are beating their heads against the wall in cases of domestic violence. Heather Jones, the Franklin County Kansas County Attorney, admits one of the most frustrating issues is the lack of victim cooperation and the whole cycle of violence. "It's still extremely frustrating to go after these folks without the cooperation of the victim," says Ms. Jones. She acknowledges that the victim will often present herself to the court differently than she does to the prosecutor. Though she admits judges have come a long way, a huge frustration still exists with the system with the perception that an offender will get a mere slap on the wrist the first time around. "Sometimes the system, as a whole, is a total failure no matter what I do or what law enforcement does," she says.

The Honorable Hassan El-Amin, of the Prince Georges County Maryland General District Court, presides regularly over the designated domestic violence court. Experienced on domestic violence issues, Judge El-Amin has observed an increased receptivity towards intervention in domestic violence cases. He notes the Enlightenment Approach has worked, and he often orders offenders to attend Dr. Steven Stosny's Core Values Workshop where offenders learn to recognize their reasons for anger in relation to their own inadequacies and in directing anger to their loved ones. "I like his course. People who finish can tell me mechanisms they are using to control anger to avoid triggers that, heretofore, have set them off," says Judge El-Amin.

"I've seen so many men who have pretty women and they've reduced women to where they're just surviving and knocked down their self-image. Some people have developed chronic dependency on the domestic violence court to arbitrate their disputes and how to micromanage their relationships. Our function is to separate warring parties so peace can happen," says Judge El-Amin.

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