October 14, 2014

A crime that affects not only the victim, but the community

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Domestic violence happens everywhere. While some may think it doesn’t happen in places like McKenzie County, they would be wrong. Domestic Violence is an omnipresent and life-threatening crime affecting millions of individuals across the nation regardless of age, gender, economic status, race, religion or education.
Nationally, an average of three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner every day, nationwide, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics - Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. And approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, according to the Journal of Family Psychology.
These are disheartening facts. And the trend of increasing domestic violence is an area of concern for law enforcement officers.
According to McKenzie County State’s Attorney Jake Rodenbiker, within the span of approximately seven months, from March 20 through Oct. 9, 2014, there were 62 cases where a new charge was brought before the court involving domestic violence. And this number continues to rise as the population grows.
“Domestic violence is a problem,” said Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren. “It is really different from a lot of other crimes where it involves several different dynamics. It involves control of the other person. There is usually an element of fear and intimidation through violence. And there is a lot of reciprocal effects on the family as a whole.”
Due to the rising numbers of domestic violence within the oil-impacted areas, a three-year grant was recently approved with the assistance of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services (NDCAWS), which was established in 1978 to provide shelter and advocacy to battered women. Their mission is to provide leadership and support in the identification, intervention and prevention of sexual and domestic violence.
This grant has allowed for a brand-new position, Direct Service Provider, specific to McKenzie County. Carley Axdahl relocated to Watford City toward the end of April 2014, after being hired in February and training through April. She has been here since, assisting and advocating for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on a 24/7 basis.
She works in conjunction with the Family Crisis Shelter, Inc., based out of Williston. Williston is currently the only relatively close shelter for victims to utilize out of McKenzie County. The Family Crisis Shelter serves victims including children from Divide, Williams, and McKenzie counties. There is not a physical shelter located within McKenzie County, and no plans have been made to construct one, at least not yet.
The grant currently funds Axdahl’s position, has purchased a computer and printer for her remote office, allows for mileage reimbursement, funds training, and provides resources needed to assist with her role.
According to Axdahl, from May through September of this year, there have been 13 Protection Orders sought in McKenzie County for domestic violence-related incidents. If  Protection Order qualifications are not met, usually a referral is made to possibly obtain a Disorderly Conduct Restraining Order (DCRO).
“We’ll refer a victim to get a DCRO if they are unable to file for a Protection Order,” said Axdahl. “Advocates can’t do DCROs but we can give paperwork to victims to file, if they want.”
Protection Orders in McKenzie County can be extended, with the judge’s signature, for up to two years. Five of the 13 Protection Orders filed since May have been extended for two years.
According to the National Network To End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), personal safety and economic security are inextricably linked for victims of domestic violence. For many victims, concerns over their ability to provide for themselves and their children are a significant reason for staying in or returning to an abusive relationship. Access to resources that increase economic stability are essential in rebuilding a life after abuse.
“A lot of the victims are scared of the unknown,” said Axdahl. “They don’t have a lot. They are typically being supported by their abusers and so a lot of them go back to their abusers.”
Walgren agrees. He thinks there is definitely a disconnect in the community and that there is a ‘fear of the unknown.’
“They don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Walgren. “They don’t know where they’re going to go.”
Limited access, little to no money, lack of a physical shelter, little to no support system, and false assumptions around the legal and justice systems are all factors that are affecting the victims of domestic violence within McKenzie County.
“In addition to all of these other factors, the abuser is controlling the situation,” said Walgren. “And typically the person being abused is emotionally-attached, so it’s hard to break the ties and detach from that person.”  
According to Michael Curtis, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems chief operating officer, not having a shelter in McKenzie County could be a major contributing factor for victims staying, not reporting the abuse, or going back to their abuser.
“A lot of what we are doing is re-locating victims to other counties or back home because there is nowhere else for them to go here and/or no family to help,” said Axdahl. “And costs are sky-rocketing! The churches are supportive in helping to fund nights in hotels, but there are no discounted hotel rooms, so those costs are going up very quickly.”
Hopefully, with more community awareness and education on domestic violence, these staggering numbers will start to decrease over time, and more resources will be available to victims and their children.
Speaking on behalf of law enforcement for McKenzie County, Walgren says the community has been extremely supportive and is great about providing law enforcement with what they need.
“We have a lot of people here that really care,” said Walgren. “As a department, I think we are blessed with a lot of great things - a great city that tries to provide us with what we need, a great coordinator with CAWS who provides a vast amount of training, and  we now have a victim’s advocate!”
While there are definitely areas for growth in domestic violence awareness, education, and resources, there is certainly progress that has been made and continues to be made. Congress’ commitment to improving the response to domestic violence has made a substantial difference in the lives of victims.
According to the NNEDV, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), enacted in 1984, has been the foundation of the response to domestic violence victims, supporting shelters and outreach programs across the country. And the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first authorized in 1994, has changed the way federal, tribal, state and local entities respond to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.