Tessa Sicble, Bismarck, column: Domestic violence: It's more than a headline
By Tessa Sicble BISMARCK -- High-profile cases of domestic violence always will attract headlines. As readers, we're often quick to make judgments based on what is being told to us by the media. We're even quicker to judge and criticize the actio...
By Tessa Sicble
BISMARCK -- High-profile cases of domestic violence always will attract headlines. As readers, we're often quick to make judgments based on what is being told to us by the media. We're even quicker to judge and criticize the actions of victims -- something many people thought went out of style in the 1970s.
Recently, we read stories about Mel Gibson and his verbal and physical outbursts toward the mother of his young daughter. Fans did not want to believe Gibson, their beloved action hero, could possibly be guilty of the allegations being made by his ex-partner. Then a series of recordings were released; but fingers are still being waved in her direction by people wondering what she did wrong.
North Dakota is not immune to high-profile headlines. For more than a year, such headlines have described two incidents associated with a state legislator. Regarding the most recent incident, the lawmaker's wife now has recanted her earlier statements that her husband had hit her, and the prosecutor has moved to dismiss the charges.
But some seem to have forgotten that this lawmaker pleaded guilty in 2009 last year to assaulting his wife.
And readers are less familiar with the thousands of other stories of domestic violence that unfold in North Dakota -- stories that don't make the front page.
While each story is unique, one common thread weaves them together. That is the sheer terror felt by victims of domestic violence.
Other characteristics of domestic violence also are very clear. For example, domestic violence tends to involve a pattern of behavior rather than a single incident. Prosecutors have a responsibility to respond carefully and proactively to domestic violence crimes in order to ensure the safety of victims and to hold perpetrators accountable.
Domestic violence perpetrators often seek to control the victim without regard to the victim's well being and often whether children are spectators. This means prosecutors must carefully listen to the safety concerns of victims.
Through effective early intervention, prosecutors may be able to prevent future incidences of domestic violence, including homicides. By relying primarily on the evidence collected by police rather than solely on the victim's testimony, prosecutors may be able to reduce the risk of the perpetrator's retaliation against the victim and increase the likelihood of a successful prosecution.
In North Dakota, there were eight domestic-violence related deaths in 2009. Nationally, three women die every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Many of these deaths take place when a woman tries to leave her abuser.
Violence in an intimate relationship is different from other acts or threats of violence. Domestic violence involves elements of control, domination and manipulation; the abuse simply is a tool to accomplish these primary goals.
Domestic violence perpetrators often carefully pick the time, place and means. In some instances, abusers are respected members of their communities and are violent only at home and behind closed doors.
Thanks to years of efforts, survivors now have many options, including reaching out to a hotline or domestic violence program, getting a court order of protection, staying in a shelter and exploring support groups and other services.
Victims of domestic violence show tremendous courage and resilience in their daily lives.
And the most important message that they should remember as they read the celebrity headlines simply is this: You are not alone.
Help is available. For more information, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline number at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Sicble is public relations and communications coordinator for the North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services/Coalition Against Sexual Assault in North Dakota.