A New Tool from Canada Seeks to Reduce Domestic Violence Offenses in Maine

Police officers in Maine are seeking to reduce domestic violence offenses in the new year with a tool from Canada named ODARA, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.

The ODARA is a validated checklist of factors that help authorities assess  “the likelihood of whether someone who has previously assaulted a romantic partner will do so again in the future.”

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Photo: Senior Constable Fiona Foxall, Wellington Forensic Imagery

The ODARA assessment was chosen to help reduce domestic violence offenses after Maine passed a law in 2012 that mandated “the use of a standardized, evidence-based risk assessment tool for domestic violence offenders.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explained the law was originally passed as part of an effort to reduce homicides in the state. Roughly 50 percent of homicides in Maine are domestic violence related. In 2014, there were 20 homicides reported in Maine. 13 of the 20 were categorized as domestic violence related. Out of the 13, seven were children under 13. A domestic violence case is reported every 94 minutes.

According to its website, the ODARA “is the first empirically tested and validated domestic violence risk assessment tool to assess the risk of future domestic assault, as well as the frequency and severity of future assaults.”  The ODARA is essentially a scorecard with 13 questions that consider “prior history of domestic abuse, threats to harm or kill a victim, a victim’s concern of future assault, the presence of children and whether there are indications the abuser is using drugs or alcohol.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explains the factors considered are “found to be the strongest predictors of domestic violence recidivism.”

An offender can receive a score anywhere from a 0-13. The higher the score, the more likely the repeat offense. If an offender scores a seven or higher, they are 14 times more likely to reoffend.

Maine is the first state in the U.S. to use the ODARA and will decide whether or not they will offer electronic monitoring of the offender based on the score. District Attorney Maeghan Maloney explains “What I ask the court for, in order to keep the victims safe, is either a bail amount to hold the defendant in jail or the use of an electronic monitor.”

The ODARA sounds like a promising tool in the fight against domestic violence. We are starting off 2015 in the right direction!

Another Domestic Violence Treatment Shows Promise

An innovative therapy program in the Iowa Department of Corrections, Achieving Change Through Value Based Behavior, shows promising results in changing domestic violence offenders’ behavior and rates of re-offenses in the state. The program, created by University of Iowa associate professor of psychology Erika Lawrence, is now being sought in other states.

Every week for six months, offenders in the Iowa program attend a group therapy session facilitated by Community Treatment Coordinators Brian Moffatt and Elaine Bales. The group therapy session emphasizes the recognition of angry feelings and encourages the offenders to sit with them, suffer through them, and not act on them.

facilitators of domestic violence treatment groups in the offices of the Fifth Judicial District in Des Moines

Brian Moffatt and Elaine Bales, facilitators of domestic violence treatment groups in the offices of the Fifth Judicial District in Des Moines, sit Nov. 25 inside the room where group sessions with offenders take place. (Photo: Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

It’s a less confrontational treatment method compared to the state’s traditional approach that coaches the offenders to get rid of angry thoughts. An approach  Lawrence believes is not realistic.

Lawrence explains, “What we are saying is maybe you have those emotions, but you can still choose how to behave…You shouldn’t feel anger? Changing thoughts doesn’t work. But you can choose to change your reaction to them.” She continues, “A lot of what we do is slow down what is an automatic process. My wife is yelling at me, I get upset and it just happens. We take a step back and look at the emotions. When you get angry or anxious, you notice all that and take a moment to ask, ‘What are my options? What is important here?’ It might be their freedom, not going back to jail, or it might be their relationship.”

The meeting room at the Fifth Judicial District

The meeting room at the Fifth Judicial District where group sessions with domestic violence offenders take place is seen Nov. 25 in Des Moines.(Photo: Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

The program directly questions cultural norms of masculinity that deems violence as an appropriate response to anger. Another facilitator of the group, Karen Siler, clarifies, “When those things are challenged, it can be a direct cause of violence. We have a culture of violence against women and against people who are different…We have all these laws against it and all these punishments for these crimes, and it still happens. So what are we going to do?”

Moffatt was initially skeptical of the program but then he began to witness the change in the men.

Nick Ceretti, an offender in the program is an example of how the program is changing lives. Originally, Ceretti hated coming to the weekly sessions but by week seven, it clicked. Before the program, Ceretti said he wasn’t very good at expressing his feelings during an argument with his girlfriend and would turn to drugs and alcohol to solve the problem. Now he says he’s able to talk things out with her. “Every week I came home from class, I would talk about things with her,” Ceretti said to The Register. “She has way more respect for me. It came down to acting like a grown-up instead of like a child.”

Results of the program to date

  • Men in the program had lower rates of physical, psychological and sexual aggression at week 24 compared with men in cognitive behavioral therapy models used in Iowa for decades.
  • Men in the program had a lower rate of violent reoffenses one year after treatment or dropout (13.4 percent) than men in cognitive behavioral therapy (22.9 percent).

Ray Rice Wins Appeal Against the NFL

Ray Rice, Janay Rice

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife, Janay, during a news conference. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend we learned that Ray Rice won his appeal against the NFL, reinstating him into the league with the eligibility to sign with any team. Rice won the appeal on a technicality. According to Article 46 of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, Rice is not allowed to be punished twice for the same incident. Since the NFL originally didn’t take the assault against his then-fiancée seriously, Rice has the possibility to continue to play football without any serious consequences. Devastating, but not at all surprising in a society that clearly values men’s careers instead of women’s lives. While many argue Rice is just a one time offender with a squeaky clean history, I am having a hard believing that beating your partner unconscious is a “mistake” that can be easily rectified.

On February 15th, Ray Rice and his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, were arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence after a “ minor physical altercation” that resulted in Palmer being dragged unconsciously off an elevator by Rice. Even though the police had retained the video of the “altercation” when Rice and Palmer were arrested, Rice was only charged with simple assault. How does beating someone unconscious equate to simple assault?

It wasn’t until TMZ released the infamous video of Rice beating Palmer on the elevator that Rice received serious charges for beating her unconsciously. Even with this evidence, his attorney has been on a crusade to downplay the entire incident as a lovers quarrel. With no explanation, Rice and Palmer pushed up their wedding and got married after Rice’s charges were upped to aggravated assault by a grand jury. A suspicious move that helped minimize the whole affair.

Domestic violence is not an issue to be taken lightly. Rice’s case should have served as an example to others that if you use violence as a means of communication, there will be severe and lasting consequences. It’s the least that can be done when a victim of violence has to live with that moment for the rest of their lives. Instead this case has become one of the many that clearly demonstrates the need for a cultural and systemic revolution regarding the fight against domestic violence.


For a complete timeline of the Ray Rice assault case, go here.

Maine Pilots Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence Offenders

In October, Maine authorized a pilot program in Somerset County that electronically monitors domestic violence offenders. The jury is still out on the program’s success, but all counties in Maine have already been invited to submit proposals for their own pilot projects to begin next year.

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Maine’s Somerset County commissioners approved use of a Blutag — a one-piece GPS monitoring device for tracking the movement of people charged with domestic violence crimes.

Alongside electronic monitoring, the state also approved the “development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases.” The risk assessment being used, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, helps determine the level of threat an offender poses to a victim. Depending on the level, the offender receives an ankle bracelet monitor.

In the Somerset County pilot program, a $28,000 ankle bracelet monitor is given to repeat domestic violence offenders before trial , when Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says the “chances of a repeat offense are highest.”

This program is a potential game changer. In 2011, a domestic violence offender in Somerset County awaiting for his court day drove to the home of his wife and two children and committed homicide before fatally shooting himself. The victims’ relatives believe electronic monitoring could have saved their family members’ lives. Maloney agrees, “If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In addition to saving lives, the program also saves money. In a country where prison overcrowding has become an epidemic, electronic monitoring can help offset this issue when used as an alternative to bail and incarceration. Maloney explains, “Instead of the bail being set at $10,000, the request is, instead, X amount of money for electronic monitoring, it becomes a reasonable request that’s not cost prohibitive for the defendant – in fact it’s less than what the bail amount is.” Maloney already has a case of a domestic violence offender that was given a bracelet rather than posting bail. The offender’s movements are tracked by a Texas firm for the low cost of $7 per day, a fraction of the cost of a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.

According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), there are 23 states either using GPS monitoring, or in the process of obtaining GPS monitoring for Domestic Violence.

Private Violence: A Documentary That Will Save Lives

pv-stills-6Private Violence, directed by Cynthia Hill, is an intimate portrayal of the heartbreaking reality of domestic violence in the United States. The film takes a new approach to the issue by exploring the unattainable answer to the question: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Through the eyes of survivors, Deanna Walters and Kit Gruelle, the audience learns why asking that question is futile. It’s not up to the victim to end the abuse.

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Through the legal case of Walters, the audience experiences alongside her the variety of injustices a victim goes through during the healing process. The most enraging being the amount of burden society and the justice system places on the victim, rather than the offender, to end the abuse. Throughout her abuse and later on during the case, Walters was constantly asked, “Why didn’t you just leave?”

“This film will literally save lives,” says executive producer and prominent feminist Gloria Steinem on the documentary, Private Violence.

In the film, Walters’ case clearly demonstrates the flaws in local, state and federal justice systems when it comes to domestic violence. The overwhelming responsibility placed on a victim to provide proof of her abuse is unacceptable. And the fact that victims need to experience violence at a level that is seen as “serious” in the eyes of the law is abhorrent. Even then, assault against a woman is still not considered a serious offense. Walter’s abuser almost killed her and was originally only charged with a misdemeanor. One of the main characters, survivor and advocate,  Kit Gruelle, explained in the beginning of the film the consequences when the legal system refuses to see domestic violence as a serious crime.   She paints a bleak picture, “I sometimes refer to restraining orders as a last will and testament… There’s probably 45 or 50 orders here, and every single one of the women who went to obtain these orders of protection was murdered in precisely the ways that they said they would be.”

There’s no question this film is an important tool in the fight against domestic violence in the United States. It demonstrates why offender-based programs like the one in North Carolina’s High Point Police Department are vital to end this injustice once and for all.

 If you find yourself in Austin, Texas in December, Big Mountain Data is sponsoring a public viewing of this film. Many of the members of the cast will be present, including, Kit Gruelle. Details below. Please join us. 

 SUNDAY DECEMBER 7th

Featured Film: Private Violence

With Special Guest: Kit Gruelle

Stateside Theatre at the Paramount, 719 Congress Avenue

VIP Reception, 1:00-2:00 p.m., Theatre lobby

Film, 2:30 p.m.

Q & A, 4:00-4:45 p.m.

 

Photos: Private Violence 

Two Programs Show Promising Results in the Fight Against Domestic Violence

It’s hard to fathom that in 2014, Domestic Violence, or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), in the United States is still an epidemic. Intimate partner homicides make up around 40–50 percent of all murders of women in the United States. If that statistic didn’t disturb you, The Huffington Post noted the difference between American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 and the number of American women killed by current or ex male partners during the same time frame,  6,488 and 11,766 , respectively. IPV homicides are practically double the amount of casualties lost during war.

It’s quite clear that something is seriously not working with how the U.S is addressing domestic violence.  While domestic violence committed by intimate partners has declined by more than 60 % since Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, since then, the numbers have stayed “relatively flat.”

High Point Police Detective J.W. Thompson waits as a person is processed before entering the city’s jail to serve a domestic violence prevention notification to an offender, in High Point, N.C. (AP Photo/Lynn Hey)

Thankfully, programs like the High Point Police Offender-Focused Domestic Violence Initiative and Futures Without Violence’s Coaching Boys Into Men are starting to put a dent in the dismal statistics. Both programs focus on preventing domestic violence by concentrating on the offender and their behavior instead of the victim. Most traditional IPV interventions have been victim-focused, having a “heavy emphasis on helping victims avoid patterns of abuse, on disengaging from abusers, and on physically removing themselves from abusive settings.”

In 2009, The High Point Police Department asked,  “What if, in addition to providing services for the victim, we used very focused formal and informal sanctions against the offender? Can the IPV offender be held accountable with real predictable consequences without creating additional harm for the victims?” Thus, after consulting with researchers, practitioners and community members, the High Point Police Offender-Focused Domestic Violence Initiative was born. The initiative was implemented in 2012 and “targets the offender with a strategy of aggressive deterrence.”

Since the implementation of the program , the recidivism rate for domestic-violence offenders in High Point has been cut to about 9 percent, which according to the police department, is about one-third the national rate.

Over in Pennsylvania, the Coaching Boys Into Men program engages young male athletes to practice respect towards themselves and others by learning how to build non-violent relationships from their coaches. The curriculum based program feeds on the premise that young athletes view their coaches as role models and take their advice seriously.

The  Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum is broken down into a series of “training cards” and addresses issues such as “catcalling and demeaning boasts about girlfriends.”  The curriculum is usually given before practices. Wendell Say, head football coach for 35 years at Aiea High School, has been using the program for over five years before practice.  Say told ABC News, “The curriculum is simple — it just takes 15 minutes at most, unless you let the kids talk…I sometimes take 45 minutes.”

The philosophy behind the program is evident in the pledge taken by players and coaches:

“I believe in treating women and girls with honor and respect. I know that violence is neither a solution nor a sign of strength. I believe that real men lead with conviction and speak out against violence against women and girls. I believe that I can be a role model to others by taking this pledge.”

Offender-based programs are the vanguard in the fight against domestic violence.  As National Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones reminds us, “Like all  domestic violence cases, there is one person to blame: the abuser.”

Stearns County Sees Record Results with Intervention Court

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The cardboard cutouts represent women killed by domestic violence. 

A court in a small  county of 150,000 people, Stearns Central Minnesota, has been recognized as a “national expert in both the prevention and prosecution” of domestic violence  by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.

The county is home to the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court , a court whose main goal is to prevent homicide by monitoring repeat domestic violence offenders. The court uses a two-pronged approach to address the issue. The court holds the offenders accountable with weekly hearings and a special surveillance officer that monitors the offenders’ whereabouts. Simultaneously, the court provides an array of support services for the victims to help ensure their trust and safety. According to its website, the court “supervises a core group of the most dangerous repeat felony domestic violence offenders with close judicial and probationary supervision enforced by strict conditions of release, surveillance, weekly offender accountability check-ins directly to the court and utilizing an extended slate of victim support services to enhance victim safety.”

The DOJ office awarded the county training grants to brief other agencies across the country on the innovative practices used in the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court. Created in 2008 the court has received over $1,000,000 in grants to support its work.

The Stearns County Attorney, Janelle Kendall, created the court six years ago while looking for a way to control jail-crowding and prevent homicide. In 2008, seven out of eight of reported homicide cases in her jurisdiction were domestic related. After some internal research and conversations with other law enforcement officials, Kendall determined the best way to prevent homicide in the area was to address  and intervene in the lives of repeat domestic violence offenders with a “specialized team of domestic violence-trained professionals.”  The addition of a surveillance expert to monitor the offenders and ensure they are following the rules given by the court has been the key ingredient for the court’s success. The “unarmed but experienced investigator,” Bill Nelson, spends his days tracking and randomly checking in on the offenders to confirm they are not stalking their victims.

Options for pre-trial release supervision for felony repeat offenders include the following:

  • Electronic Home Monitoring Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Domestic Abuse No Contact Order Enforcement
  • Mandatory Weekly Compliance Hearings
  • Daily Schedule and Curfew Enforcement
  • Supervision and Surveillance

According to Jim Hughes, Chief of Police in Sartell, Minnesota, they have been “seeing a lot of great change.” 

“In three full years of operation, the population of repeat offenders (136 total) has committed only five new domestic assaults. Prior to the court there were on average three felony assault arrests a year per defendant,’’ according to information on the program from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

– StarTribune Editorial Board,  6/3/13