“He pushed me down and broke my glasses over my face”- Mixed response from La Plata County over domestic violence reports

Chloe Ragsdale and Grace Swanson, Reporters

Every nine seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten, according to Do Something, a volunteer program for social change. With 15 local cases of abuse a week, domestic violence has become a very prominent issue in Durango. Last year, 153 cases were reported to SASO, the Stability and Support Operations, of sexual assault. These victims have not only suffered through physical and emotional abuse, they have also been shut down and unheard in our community.

“Your wife is not your property – you can’t hit them or beat them,” said La Plata County Judge Sarah Law, the magistrate for all domestic violence cases in Durango. Domestic violence victims and advocates argue that they have a right to speak up and shouldn’t be shamed or experience victim blaming; we should empower these people to have a voice so that we can end this problem.

Defined by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence  “is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another”. One in three women are domestically abused in the U.S.

An anonymous source who reached out to El Diablo reporters stated that her husband was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive.

“When I was pregnant with my second child he pushed me down and broke my glasses over my face,” said the anonymous source. This abusive behavior continued for twelve years, which included stalking, breaking, and entering. She had been journaling everything to keep herself sane though this period of abuse, but her aggressor grabbed the box and said, “now you have no proof”.

She threatened to call the police: “I had a cell phone but he took the phone and snapped it in half and threw it against the fireplace”. Her tenant was not home, so she ran up and called the police.

“It’s up to the person who is being abused to call the police; it’s a hard thing to do. These people have beat you down, bullied you, scared you, and they threaten you, and you’re scared to call,” the anonymous source stated. Many women struggle with the fear of reporting their partners due to the terrifying actions of their aggressors, which is part of the reason domestic abuse goes unnoticed.

According to Maura Demko from SASO, an abused person’s brain normally goes into freeze mode, like a cat and mouse chase.

“The logical part of our brain shuts down so we go into survival mode. We may not access memories or information as easily as we would have normally. You can’t recall in a chronological form,”  Demko said. During domestic abuse, an overload of chemicals are being dumped into the victims bodies so that things don’t get processed through their prefrontal cortex, the place in the brain that holds our memories and details.

“Someone’s ability to recall times or length of time, or detail in that moment can sometimes not be there… It is important for them to understand the psychology behind it,” said Demko.

Some people have a hard time believing these victims of abuse, whether it’s because of simple disbelief or lack of evidence. However, the victims are fighting for their lives while being abused, and due to physical and psychological trauma, are not always going to remember every component.  

 

Durango Police Department Officers say that when they come to a scene of domestic violence, they approach the victim like talking to a friend.

You try to get to that level and build that rapport and trust with them,” said officer Dawn Marie.

“The court system is like speaking a different language – some people don’t always understand what is going on,” said Judge Sarah Law.

There are two main types of processes; the civil court process and the criminal court process. In a civil court process, the victim can testify alone without the aggressor, whereas in a criminal court process, the victim and aggressor must come together.

The anonymous victim got both a civil court process and a criminal court process, which means she won her court case and got a protection order for the rest of her aggressor’s life. These restraining orders prevent him from coming within a few feet of her, and if he gets pulled over by the police, his abusive records show up.

“He’s tried to bribe me and say ‘if you drop the protection order I’ll pay for everything, braces, skiing’. He thinks he’s still above me and that he doesn’t have to adhere to rules or regulations… these people don’t want their image out,” she said.

The first time the anonymous source called the police, a mandatory arrest was issued, a procedure when a domestic violence call is made.

If you’re at school and someone hits you, the police have the ability to decide whether or not to press charges by your request. In domestic violence, law enforcement must arrest where there could be probable cause – you don’t have that progression anymore,” Law stated.

“Sometimes the perpetrator is manipulative and skilled and they will intimidate the victim into behavior so that they are the ones who get arrested,” Demko said, elaborating on the mandatory arrest and how police deal with it.

You have to go off of the evidence and investigate,” Officer Dawn claimed.

In domestic violence disputes, police never interview the victim and aggressor together, or where they can see each other. Often, it comes down to the policeman’s investigation and interview skills to determine who the primary aggressor is.

Domestic violence aggressors are sometimes deceitful and clever, which makes it that much easier for them to find loopholes in restraining orders and the law.

Some restraining orders state that guns, alcohol, and drugs are relinquished from the aggressor.

“If there is a gun available, it is six times more likely that the woman will be killed,” Judge Law said.  

My ex is not supposed to have weapons, he’s a bird hunter and he hunts all the time. But he’s smart so if the cops go to his house he’s going to hide them. He could snap one day and come to my house with a gun, I don’t doubt that,” the anonymous source claimed. Domestic violence victims have to live with this overhanging fear for a long time, which impairs their decisions and lifestyles.

“I know so many people that have husbands here in the domestic violence classes – I bet you would know at least four,” said the anonymous source. Domestic violence is not only a prominent factor in our world, it happens right here in Durango with the people we know.

“It’s really a crapshoot – we have a large amount of domestic violence in Durango, it’s pretty big,” said Officer Marie.

“Everyday I see it; I work here Mondays and Tuesdays, my entire criminal cases are domestic violence,” stated Judge Law. Experts and average citizens can agree that domestic violence, wherever you are in the world, is underreported and many are uneducated on it.  

Domestic violence has become a recurring issue today, whether it’s because of our generation’s bravery in speaking out, or the frustrating gender gap between males and females, where males are often influenced by their fathers, pop culture, and the media to objectify women.

“[domestic abusers] get away with a lot and slip through the cracks of the system… We need to hold these people accountable… Give them consequences that are rock solid and not wishy washy…” claimed the anonymous victim.

“Because it is in a intimate relationship, there is another layer of secrecy. People don’t go around telling people. Yes, it is underreported just like any other violence against women. Under reported by men because they are not supposed to be hurt,” said Judge Law. Not only are women abused, but all genders and sexualities are, and all struggle with feeling trapped. Our culture has created a judgemental and unsafe atmosphere, which needs to be modified so that the victims of abuse can feel safe about sharing their stories.

Judge Law also talked about the “honeymoon phase”, where the victim feels that their relationship with the aggressor will get better after the period of abuse. But the relationship typically doesn’t get better, so the victims need to report it or else change will not be an option.

“Women have been treated as possessions throughout time and that’s why we see this objectification that permeates through our culture and society; women are still seen as objects,” said Demko. Women, and all victims of abuse, are not objects; they are powerful people with influential stories that need to be shared with the world so that we can raise awareness about the dominance of this issue in our communities.

The aggressors must be penalized and the victims and their stories need to be believed, and as the anonymous source said, “What can you give to them as a consequence that is going to make them change?”