Advocate Combats Violence And Abuse

By: 
Joyce Coates
County Reporter
The preamble to the Constitution asserts that “We The People …, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines “domestic” as “relating to the running of a home or to family relations; and, “existing or occurring inside a particular country.” “Tranquility” is “the quality or state of being tranquil (free from disturbance); calm.”
Sadly, neither the Constitution signed nearly 233 years ago, nor the multitude of federal and state laws enacted thereafter to enforce it have yet to achieve perfection of the Union or to establish Justice for all, let alone to insure domestic tranquility nationwide or in individual homes
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates in reports on Criminal Victimization about 3.3 million violent crime victims nationwide in 2018, up from 2.7 million in 2015. Violent incidents in 2018 rose to 6.0 million from 5.2 million in 2017. BJS’s Family Violence Statistics show from year to year between 40-50 percent of victimizations go unreported. Victims do not report because they consider the crimes to be “family personal matters,” or want to protect offenders because of emotional attachment.
In 2018 in the tri-city and rural areas of Benton County, 176 arrests were for domestic assault as the primary charge, based on the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s submission to the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Eighty-seven (87) percent of the assaults were by spouses (49), blood relatives (38) and persons living together (27).
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that 1 in 15 children are witnesses to domestic violence, and one-third of those suffer abuse as well. Long-term effects suffered by children who witness or experience domestic abuse include “generalized anxiety, sleeplessness, aggression, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, high levels of activity, and separation anxiety.”
Further, NCADV warns that children who witness domestic violence growing up:
•are three times as likely as their peers to engage in violent behavior;
•learn that violence is an appropriate way to solve conflict; 
•are more likely than peers to be victims or perpetrators of abusive domestic relationships in the future; and
•are at greater risk of serious adult health problems including obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression, substance abuse, tobacco use and unintended pregnancies than peers who did not witness domestic violence.  
Victims of crimes against persons are entitled to services of an advocate—someone to support and advise them through the complicated legal and social service mazes. Missouri’s victim advocates work under the supervision of county prosecuting attorneys. They assist victims in filing court documents, notify them of upcoming court appearances and explain procedures they must follow as participants in the prosecution of their offenders. Advocates direct clients according to their special needs to government and nonprofit programs established to provide medical, counseling or financial assistance to victims of violence.
On any given date, Benton County’s Inmate Roster usually includes at least one male or female, if not both, charged with domestic violence or abuse. The County’s Victim Advocate, Cat Gustafson, recorded 118 domestic assault cases in 2019, each with at least one victim.  That number is understated because, like the Highway Patrol’s UCR, it is based only on arrests for which domestic assault is the primary charge. In 2020, she said, the count will be more accurate and likely higher, because every domestic assault charge will be included, whether the sole charge or an additional one among other separate offenses. 
“It is important to me to make personal contact with the victims,” Gustafson said. She understands how impersonal and confusing the statutory legal procedures can be to anyone traumatized by violence. 
Laws on crime victims’ rights (www.moga.mo.gov) can be found in Chapter 595 of the Missouri Revised Statutes and in the Missouri Constitution, Article 1, Section 32. Branches of Boonslick Regional Library in Boonville and Sedalia have hard copies of the Statutes that library cardholders in Warsaw can request be sent to the local branch, or they can access them online. The Warsaw branch has a hard copy of the Missouri Constitution for reference.  
Rather than a standard, formal letter Gustafson prefers to reach out by telephone as soon as possible after receiving a crime report from law enforcement, and takes whatever time and steps are necessary to seek out a person who has suffered dire victimization. In any case, the first communication is important to explain the first and next steps in the process. Every victim’s understanding about the process and cooperation are vital to successful prosecution of the case. For that reason Gustafson does everything she can to get phone numbers that sometimes are missing on the reports.
She helps victims complete one of the first steps toward personal safety, which is to file an application for an ex parte order of protection against the offender. People sometimes misunderstand the purpose and scope of a restraining order, thinking that it applies to almost any situation in which another person annoys them or causes repeated stress, only to learn that a judge would not sign or issue an order unless it meets specific eligibility criteria.  
The Missouri Attorney General’s website describes who is eligible to file ex parte applications:  
“Any victim of stalking or an adult abused by a present or former spouse, adult family or household member, or adult who is or has been in a continuing social, romantic or intimate relationship, or a person with whom the victim has a child.”      
Gustafson is in court for ex parte hearings on Mondays where the judge approves and signs temporary orders. Signed orders indicate a court date within 15 days, which orders are then served on respondents. At subsequent hearings restraining orders may be extended for periods of six months to one year, with renewals up to a two-year maximum for each. 
When victims are children or adults under guardianship, contacts include a parent or guardian. When appropriate for the child’s age, s/he is accompanied by the arresting officer to Sedalia to give the child’s version of events to personnel at Child Safe of Central Missouri. Parents or guardians remain in a waiting area during the child’s interview. 
In reciprocal cases in which two parties have perpetrated violence or abuse against the other, Gustafson meets and assists each of them separately and individually. Gustafson works with both because each is victim of the other; otherwise, she does not work with perpetrators.
Gustafson said she feels disappointed when, despite her best efforts, clients are unhappy with how the case ends. Unfortunately, for various reasons, not every victim’s case ends to the victim’s or Gustafson’s personal satisfaction.. The process may not lead to a prosecution because of insufficient evidence. When some cases are resolved, the guilty party may be sentenced to less time of incarceration than expected, or be given probation. Cases may take a few months or a few years to be resolved, and some victims get frustrated with delays. Some move on and away and leave no contact information. Some victims go back to the abuser and then blame the Advocate for interfering.
On the other hand, Gustafson leads a majority of her clients through the challenges they face during the process, especially in court when they feel intimidated by a defendant’s lawyer and attorney “legalese.” She keeps watch over their mental and emotional conditions during court appearances, and if victims appear to need a short break to regroup from the tension, she requests one. Most of the time they persevere through delays and disappointments to get to closure. People she has served in the past send or bring friends who come as walk-ins, often for help to get ex parte orders. Overall, said Gustafson, the number of ex parte orders is decreasing while the daily workload remains stable.
“My greatest satisfaction comes when a case is closed and the victim is satisfied,” Gustafson said, “when a trial ends with a guilty verdict, and the victim is able to move on.” 
Clearly, the legal system is designed with two primary goals in domestic violence cases: to protect victims from further harm while meeting their needs resulting from the violence, and to prosecute guilty parties. But to reach the end goal of insuring domestic tranquility in the Nation means achieving tranquility in every home. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes violence between spouses, between people living together, between people having a child together—“intimate partner violence”--as “a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans.” 
Further, CDC’s report in 2017, Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices said data shows that before the age of 18, 8.5 million women and 4 million had experienced intimate partner violence. Considering the preventable nature of domestic violence, it seems the 40-50 percent of victims who consider it a family matter and do not report to law enforcement could, if they are willing, work together as a family to get help to overcome the violence and live in tranquility. 
Help dealing with every aspect of domestic violence is available through law enforcement, Victim Advocates, the courts and government and nonprofit organizations and programs. And help is available for individual victims, abusers and communities to prevent and overcome domestic violence so that we can at last, as decreed in our Constitution, actually insure domestic tranquility. 
•Access CDC’s entire 2017 report at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv-technicalpackages.pdf . Find CDC information and additional resources for community prevention programs at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/resources...
•Abusers who want to change their behaviors, as well as victims and family members, can get information and assistance from experts through confidential communication with The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org) via online Chat 24/7/365, or by telephone at: 512-453-8117. 
•Abusers may voluntarily, or when ordered by the court, enroll in credentialed Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP), some of which are offered online. 
 

Category: