Domestic violence in our communities

It takes a community to prevent, recognize and end violence in the home.

“Domestic violence is something that places like the school, churches and family resource centers all see too – it’s not just DVSAS and the sheriff’s office,” said Kim Bryan, director for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of the San Juan Islands.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, DVSAS is presenting events and raising awareness through outreach.

Domestic violence is defined as “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. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and emotional abuse,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord says domestic violence is present in many of the cases he prosecutes.

“Sometimes serious crimes don’t get recognized as domestic violence when in fact they are,” he said. “Domestic violence is something that repeats itself over and over again. It must be treated the first time it happens with zero tolerance.”

On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. The occurrence of domestic violence is so widespread because there isn’t a “typical” victim. They come from all walks of life, varying age groups, all backgrounds, all communities, all education levels, all economic levels, all cultures, all ethnicities, all religions, all abilities, and all lifestyles.

“We see domestic violence across the socio-economic spectrum,” Gaylord said. “For households that have other stressors going on – like the loss of a job or family difficulties – it can be a factor in the incidence of domestic violence. It’s also a pattern that people learn from a young age.”

The mission of DVSAS is the prevention and elimination of domestic violence and sexual assault through victim services, education, community awareness and social change. All services are free and confidential. Since January of this year, DVSAS has provided 768 in person advocacy services to 82 clients and provided assistance through 263 crisis calls on their 24/7 crisis lines. Those numbers are Orcas: 376-1234, San Juan: 378-2345 and Lopez: 468-4567.

“We are a victim services agency, so if we weren’t here, then where would victims go?” Bryan said. “Where would they get the advocacy they need? We want to empower victims and survivors of domestic violence to re-establish their lives.”

The court system

Gaylord says many of his office’s domestic violence cases stem from police calls.

“We have a new case almost weekly,” he said. “Domestic violence covers a lot of different things like striking someone, sexual misconduct between people in a relationship, damage to property and stalking.”

Gaylord said the most common crimes he sees originate from frustration over broken relationships, and end in “assault in the fourth degree,” which is the lowest charge.

“Many of the cases we see are excessive pushing or breaking of phones or items around the house,” Gaylord said.

When 911 is called and a report is made, it is referred to the prosecutor’s office. But those who seek help from DVSAS are not required to report it to authorities unless they want to pursue charges. Gaylord is clear that the prosecutor’s office is completely separate from the community-based work of DVSAS.

Stand up Men

Last May, DVSAS asked island men to take a stand in opposition to violence against women by donating $100. The list of names was published in the local newspapers, and it helped get the conversation started about how men are a big part of the solution.

After the success of that campaign, Stand Up Men action groups have started on San Juan and Orcas. There are plans in progress for a Lopez chapter to open soon. The men meet monthly to learn, organize and plan ways to engage their communities. For more information, contact DVSAS Advocate Richard Low at richard@DVSASsanjuans.org.

Community members can see the men weekly on the San Juan County Courthouse lawn at noon on Fridays spreading the word with signs and open discussions. This month, they will also be pounding stakes to help set up the installation of the “Remember My Name” silhouettes on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan. The silhouettes represent Washington men and women who have died as a result of domestic violence.