Local leaders: Domestic violence on the rise hereNorth Dakota’s junior senator was in Jamestown Tuesday for a roundtable discussion with local officials on ways to decrease and prevent cases of domestic violence here.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
North Dakota’s junior senator was in Jamestown Tuesday for a roundtable discussion with local officials on ways to decrease and prevent cases of domestic violence here.
“The one thing that we knew from some of the work that we did when I was attorney general was at that time 80 to 90 percent of all assaults that occurred in North Dakota happened in the home,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who served as North Dakota attorney general from 1993 to 2001. “We knew this wasn’t just a family problem or a victim advocacy problem, this was a problem where we were dealing with violence in our communities.”
Jamestown was one of six stops in North Dakota for the senator. Heitkamp will continue her tour to six cities through Friday to gain information to better support and improve the Violence Against Women Act.
The Senate passed a reauthorization of the act last week. Next it moves to the House where Heitkamp said it could find opposition.
“I want to think beyond the act, into what the next phase would be that would help protect people in the communities,” Heitkamp said.
Members of local law enforcement, leaders from groups that provide counseling and assistance for victims of abuse, Jamestown College and the mayor all voiced their concerns.
Domestic violence has been increasing in Jamestown and the surrounding areas, according to officials at Tuesday’s roundtable discussion.
“Our numbers in the last few months, we have seen an increase, seeing more serious kinds of violence going on in homes,” said Lynne Tally, executive director of Safe Shelter in Jamestown.
Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff, said there has been a 10 to 15 percent increase according to the latest statistics.
“I think our domestics have gone up,” Kaiser said. “I think there are more people also that are getting protection orders now, before they were more scared to get a protection order.”
Law enforcement here has also applied for and received Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors Violence Against Women Formula Grants, said Scott Edinger, chief of the Jamestown Police Department.
“One of the ways these guys have really helped with my job too and the work we do, they actually did apply for STOP funds in the last round and did get some equipment to do their job better and it helps our victims in the long run as well,” Tally said.
Another issue that was brought up is that law enforcement sometimes can’t immediately pull up an offender’s federal charges on local computer equipment.
“This is something I need to look into because I would have thought those federal prosecutions would have appeared on our database,” Heitkamp said.
Edinger also said that talks to increase penalties for offenders require improved facilities. Both the Stutsman County Correctional Center and the James River Correctional Center are at or near capacity.
He said any increase in penalties need to be “practical, affordable and effective.”
Acting as ‘referees’
A growing concern that Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney, sees is what happens after a domestic violence arrest in regard to protection orders.
Fremgen said victims often take out a protection order, the offenders enter a sobriety program, and by the time of the trial, victims recant their statements.
“We’re seeing a lot of that and I don’t think there’s anything the federal government or Lynne, I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing about that,” he said.
Fremgen said law enforcement and prosecutors act as “referees” in some domestic issues. That in turn makes providing help for victims and punishing offenders more difficult.
“You can throw all the money you want at that — I don’t know how you’re going to solve it with money,” he said. “It’s the type of people we’re dealing with today.”
Heitkamp and Tally agreed the victim’s self-assessed worth plays a factor in cases like that.
“A lot of times some women will be thinking about what it means to have him in jail,” Tally said. “Maybe she relies on him for paying for some support, paying for food or shelter for the children, and what it means if he’s in jail.”
Another issue Heitkamp brought up was how domestic violence is a cycle. Children who have dealt with parents with issues can have it imprinted on them, she said.
“This to me is so much of what we do as adults is what we saw as kids and the trauma kids experience with that kind of behavior in the house is not helping,” Heitkamp said.
Dealing with rural
issues and the future
The same issues can happen in rural communities, except the response from law enforcement can take much longer.
“So many of these cities when I was growing up, for good or bad, you had a town cop. Now the sheriff is the town cop and the sheriff can be 40 minutes away,” Heitkamp said.
Kaiser said the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office responded to every city in Stutsman County outside of Jamestown. Sometimes he said it can take 45 minutes to respond to a call.
Amanda Brumfield works with Kedish House, which serves domestic violence victims in Logan, McIntosh, Dickey and LaMoure counties.
She travels to schools and works with students directly. Coming from an abusive household herself, she said it’s important to let children know there is hope.
“To be able to tell those kids that I went through it, and that I have a life that has love and hope and friends that I’ve made … I get to share that victory with those kids,” Brumfield said.
Sharron Brady, director of Kedish House, said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to provide safe and affordable housing for victims.
“There is just not housing in these rural areas that’s decent to live in,” Brady said.
Also, all domestic violence shelters are full in the state. Oftentimes Brady said she sends victims to an Aberdeen, S.D., shelter, or puts them up in a motel.
With tight housing market in the Oil Patch, and plans to expand the Spiritwood Energy Park, Heitkamp said problems with domestic violence and the benefits of an expanded population will be coming to Jamestown and surrounding rural communities.
“We can talk about Dickinson and Williston, but this is unfortunately, good or evil, a problem that’s going to come to Jamestown …” she said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com