Wednesday, March 12, 2014
“You should be safe and secure in your home,” said Cottonwood Police Chief Terry Cochran. “If not, that has to change.”
While the problems of domestic violence and sexual assault are nothing new, what has changed regionally is how those issues are being addressed. Specifically, efforts are better coordinated through a multi-agency task force with community advocates, law enforcement, medical services and criminal prosecution working to provide support and services, and to spread public awareness on the problem of abuse.
“One in four women is affected by domestic violence,” said Kristy Beckstead, YWCA outreach advocate for Idaho-Lewis counties. Last year, she assisted 66 victims of domestic violence and four of sexual assault. Part of the task force’s mission is promoting public awareness to educate and change minds so that such antisocial behaviors are “not acceptable and not wanted in our communities.”
“This is all about taking care of the victim,” Beckstead said.
Formation of the task force began in mid-2012 with eventual representation by the Grangeville and Cottonwood police departments, sheriff and prosecutor offices from both Idaho and Lewis counties, and Syringa and St. Mary’s hospitals. Its first major task dealt with providing local SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) trained registered nurses. These specialists treat sexual assault victims in a multi-faceted and sensitive way to assess injury and also document and preserve evidence for legal cases.
Prior to this, explained both Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings and Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew, officers at an assault scene would be focused on apprehending a suspect: “We would question the victim, but we wouldn’t have anyone there as an advocate,” Giddings said.
Essentially the victim would be “re-victimized” through the process that could include the embarrassment of an officer standing watch as a medical examiner collected evidence, and the potential problems with or even
dismissal of the criminal case due to problems with evidence not properly collected or documented.
Through the task force, SANE nurses are now in place within the region; currently 13 are located through hospitals in Grangeville, Cottonwood, Orofino, and Lewiston, and the SMH clinic in Kamiah.
“This was a big deal for us, “Beckstead said. “It was one of the first goals we met.”
Coordination and communication are important roles of the task force. Members can put needs out and share resources and information, streamlining the process “that puts the victim first,” Drew said, providing assurance issues will be taken care of correctly so these professionals can focus on their individual jobs, whether care or enforcement or prosecution. And they also help each other: Beckstead said this group pulled together to help secure three months of funding to keep her office open during an impending closure.
“Raising awareness is one of the reasons this task force is active,” said Marsha Lance, outpatient surgery coordinator and advocate for Syringa Hospital.
Assault victims come into the process in different ways such as with law enforcement through a criminal case, through YWCA women’s support groups or by way of public awareness events such as school presentations or last year’s blue jeans banner across Grangeville’s Main Street. Task force members discussed a problem with domestic abuse and sexual assault is victims not coming forward due to shame or feelings of it being their fault, or not knowing any different due to being raised in an atmosphere where abuse was normal behavior.
“These kinds of things just don’t happen once, especially domestic violence,” Drew said. “It goes through a cycle. These kinds of cases, when we’re finally called, have been going on for years, sometimes decades, before law enforcement gets involved.”
“We need to break the silence of the violence,” Lance said.
Heightened awareness is important, especially for those outside of such unhealthy relationships who recognize abuse, explained Beckstead, so they know to talk to the victim on leaving this cycle, on reporting what they see, and that there are resources available to help.
“And that not always does law enforcement need to get involved,” Drew added.
Members of the public interested in helping on these issues can contact Beckstead at her office in Grangeville, 983-0888, 221 West Main Street no. 2. The task force meets regularly in different communities to coordinate efforts focused on helping those impacted in abusive relationships.
“Our role,” Beckstead said, “is to advocate for the victim the best we can.”