Domestic violence calls down

Advocates say more help for victims needed

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Police still remember a case, years ago, of a woman who was beaten up so badly by her husband that he broke off the handle of a cast iron pan after repeatedly hitting her.

Still, the next day, while in the hospital with eyes almost swollen shut, the woman signed papers to approve bond for her husband's release from jail.

Stricter laws and mandatory restraining orders have tried to limit these types of scenarios. Police officers now are required to arrest the predominate aggressor in domestic violence calls.

But victims' advocates know there's more work to be done.

Although Moffat County is set to receive accolades for a voluntary audit that sheds a favorable light on how local agencies are handling reported domestic violence incidents, the system always has room to improve, said Pat Tessmer, director of Advocates-Crisis Support Services.

"The whole purpose of intervention is hopefully to serve as deterrent (to domestic violence) for the future," Tessmer said. "We have problems here, but we're really open to looking at ways that make things safer for folks. There still aren't enough options for victims of domestic violence."

Moffat County agencies that assist victims of domestic violence have spent the past two years complying with an outside audit to be released in about a month, said Sgt. Bill Leonard with the Craig Police Department.

It shows that local agencies are trying to serve the gamut of domestic violence issues, he said.

"I think we have a model for small towns," Leonard said.

Craig police officers spent 167 hours in domestic violence training last year, Leonard reported. That's an increase in domestic violence training from the previous year, he said.

Advocates-Crisis Support Services reported serving fewer victims in 2004 than the previous year, but sex assault cases are up in 2005, Tessmer said.

The agency served 334 new victims of domestic violence and 51 new victims of sexual assault in 2004. It also provided 80 nights of shelter for 24 women and 16 children.

In 2003, the agency topped its 2004 numbers of new victims by more than 100.

"It's the first time in years we've seen it go down," Tessmer said. "We had one of the quietest falls. It was a quiet hunting season, and I don't know why. It's difficult to tell."

Although last year's number came in lower than 2003, reported sexual assaults have been up this year. Like domestic violence, it's difficult to determine what fuels the trends, Tessmer said.

Tessmer said a goal of Advocates is to offer victims a long-term shelter. One byproduct of the state's stricter laws has more women getting arrested for domestic violence calls. Women were arrested in connection with 11 percent of last year's domestic violence calls, Leonard said.

A lack of subsidized housing and stricter standards for low-income residents is makes it difficult for some people to live without abusive mates, Tessmer said.

That there hasn't been a death attributed to domestic violence in years is a good sign, she said. More specialized domestic violence training for law enforcement also would help, Tessmer said.

Funds in a small community can be tight. In the past, the area had plenty of subsidized housing, and low-income victims had more options for legal assistance.

"Before, we had lots of shelter," Tessmer said. "Now getting subsidized housing is an issue, and legal assistance is harder to get. It's for that class of people that we don't have services for."


Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com

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