The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 29, 2014

Our View: Take action on domestic violence

Why it matters: Domestic violence continues at a pace that threatens public safety

The Mankato Free Press

---- — A state report on domestic violence homicides released Tuesday once again offers a sobering reminder just how deeply damaging this crime is to communities and families across Minnesota.

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women released its annual Femicide Report that detailed 37 people killed in the course of domestic violence last year, 24 of them women murdered by an intimate or former intimate partner.

The crime of violence had no boundaries and left few communities unscathed as 16 of the murders were committed in the Twin Cities and eight in Greater Minnesota, with two of those in the Mankato area.

Yesenia Gonzalez was murdered by a former boyfriend in a crime that occurred at about 10 a.m. last June in the neighborhood off of Riverfront Drive. Jacquelyn Johnson was murdered in St. Peter, not far from the Courthouse.

The coalition is behind some bipartisan changes in the legislation that will make it easier for victims to know when convicted perpetrators are being released from jail and their whereabouts.

Another would make it easier for police to arrest perpetrators who have left the scene of a domestic violence incident.

Safety is the first concern when it comes to those at risk of domestic violence. But such safety precautions are just the beginning.

The community must be involved in preventing domestic violence, be willing to report it when they sense there is a risk of it, and stand up for victims in court and the community.

A Blue Earth County program initiated a few years ago aimed to tackle the issue by helping coordinate courts, law enforcement and domestic violence social agencies in ways the prevent domestic violence or at the very least help the victims gain a level of safety.

Area agencies adopted the Blueprint for Safety, a statewide program used in some metro area counties with success.

A report in March 2012 noted that probation agents were going to do more thorough threat assessments of misdemeanor domestic violence cases and that prosecutors were going to be at bail hearings to let perpetrators know the crime is being taken seriously.

The program also helps officers assess the threat when they are called to domestic violence cases. Judges would be acting on bail hearings with safety in mind of domestic violence cases, not just whether the suspect showed up in court.

The Femicide report suggests more of the same and a kind of community-wide approach to helping victims of domestic violence but also assessing the risk of offenders in re-offending.

While the report notes some domestic violence victims don’t have contact with the legal system, they often have contact with the medical system and the housing and human service systems. Those systems should be aware that domestic violence is everyone’s issue. The report suggests all agencies form partnerships and set up assessment and screening for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

The report and the Blue Earth County effort both noted that resources for agencies to add the coordinated domestic violence effort are taxed at every level. But domestic violence programs and funding should be a priority.

The community must understand how it can prevent domestic violence. That may involve creating an environment where, according to the report “everyone knows that violence will not be tolerated and where healthy, respectful and violence-free relationships are the norm for everyone.”

Parents, partners, workplaces, neighborhoods, the report notes, all need to “talk about domestic violence and work to create healthy communities where domestic violence is not accepted or tolerated.”

These may be tough charges. It may mean we report our neighbor who is having a loud and profanity-laced argument with his or her partner. It may mean reporting what kids hear about other kids’ parents at school. It may mean intervening in a parking lot episode that looks like it is turning violent by calling police.

Legislation will help, but ultimately the community effort will make the most difference to reducing the startling numbers of domestic violence cases and murders.