Advocates sees spike in domestic violence

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People may see bruises and cuts, but the victim is faceless.

A neighbor might hear shouts and the slaps, but there is no voice.

The pros of a victim escaping are often outweighed by the cons.

And so, the victims of domestic violence become numbers.

In Moffat County, the numbers are substantial.

Advocates-Crisis Support Ser--vices is contacted by an average of 450 victims of domestic violence each year.

"It's a huge number of people in this area," Advocate Karen Aragon said. "We're seeing an increase of people, which means domestic violence increases."

The agency logs an average of 50 sexual assaults a year.

Ironically, October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month, has been Advocates' busiest month.

"I don't know how to educate the public on the amount of people we work with," Aragon said. "If October continues like it has, we'll double what we had in September."

The number of calls Advocates receives was down in 2003 and 2004, but this year looks to end that trend, Aragon said.

"We've tracked everything from the full moon and weather to shift work," Aragon said. "What it comes down to is violence is a choice."

Moffat County's law enforcement agencies are years ahead of others in terms of response -- making arrests before it became mandatory and seeking victim services in nearly every case. Advocates are trained and ready to respond, providing resources, support, even shelter.

Still, victims are often afraid to come forward.

"When they weigh the pros and cons, there are more reasons to stay than to go," Advocates Director Pat Tessmer said.

Victims stand to lose a lot by leaving, Tessmer said. They may be risking their lives to stay, but they could be risking their lives if they go.

They may escape with their children or not. They're giving up their homes and financial security.

"Victims don't know what's out there for them," Tessmer said. "It's so much more complex than you initially think."

What's lacking, Tessmer said, is social support. Victims have access to clothing, temporary shelter and counseling. What's missing is the bridge that gets a victim from an abusive situation to independence.

And that's after they've reached the point at which they are ready to get out.

Tessmer said victims first think the abuse is warranted because of something they've done wrong. Eventually, they realize that, even though they've changed, the situation doesn't. Last is the knowledge that their batterer isn't going to change without professional intervention.

Aragon said that although more needs to be done in terms of victim's assistance, the key is prevention.

"Violence is a choice. It's about power and control," she said. "We would really like to focus on prevention as opposed to response."

Aragon leads a teen group that works with youths in violence-prevention education. The school district, too, she said, is focusing on violence with its bully-prevention programs.

The teen group makes presentations about violence to younger students and, at the high school level, targets sexual assault.

"Statistics show that the highest percentage of sexual assault comes from someone you know, and that's the way it is here," Aragon said.

There has been only one case of sexual assault by a stranger this year. The rest of the cases include a current or former spouse or partner, an acquaintance or a relative.

Aragon said more than half of Moffat County's sexual assault victims are younger than 18.

Craig Police Department Sgt. Bill Leonard said more people are becoming aware of the level of domestic violence in Moffat County, but he doesn't think they understand the laws officers have to follow when responding to each incident. "People don't realize what goes into the handling of domestic violence cases," he said. "There's a lot put on officers' shoulders. We're asking them to do a lot in a short time. It's complicated because that's the way the law is."

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