October is domestic violence awareness month, and as a prosecutor for the City of Alexandria, I am confronted with the realities of domestic violence on a daily basis. What I have come to learn is that, despite what many people think, domestic violence is not just punches, black eyes, bruises and stitches. Domestic violence is yelling, humiliation, stalking, manipulation, coercion, threats and isolation. It’s stealing a paycheck, keeping tabs online, non-stop texting, constant use of the silent treatment, or calling someone stupid or dumb so many times that the victim comes to actually believe it. It involves behavior that is used to establish power and control over another person, often through fear and intimidation over a period of time, using threats and verbal and emotional abuse.
More often than not, I read a police report where the victim called 911 because a spouse had just pushed them and as a result of that pushing they have scrapes and bruises. The spouse is arrested and charged with domestic abuse. The next day, the victim calls me and tells me they want all the charges dropped because what happened has been blown out of proportion, or they deny it ever happening in the first place. This is called victim recantation. For some, this may seem silly. I mean, why would a person who has been physically injured by another deny that it happened or minimize it? Well, many reasons, actually.
There’s no universal reason why victims of domestic violence later recant, and I am by no means an expert, but the close relationship between the victim and attacker usually plays a big role. In some situations, it’s the fear of more violence in the future, in others, the victim is financially dependent on the abuser, there are children involved and the victim “sucks it up” as not to separate the family, or the victim is faced with the possibility of being homeless if they don’t stay in the household with the abuser. In many cases, the victim even thinks it is their fault because they provoked the other person. Often times, the physical abuse doesn’t happen until there has been so much emotional abuse that the abuser knows they can get away with it. And they do. They get away with it over and over again because they have so much power and control over the victim that the victim recants. As a prosecutor this is so so frustrating.
Why should I continue to prosecute a case when the victim doesn’t even seem to care? Because it matters, that’s why.
Under Minn. Stat. § 2242, subd. 1, whoever commits an assault against a family or household member is guilty of a misdemeanor. While a misdemeanor is sometimes referred to as a “low level offense”, it matters, because under Minn. Stat. § 2242, subd. 2, whoever violates subdivision 1 within ten years of a previous domestic violence-related offense conviction is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Subsequently, whoever has 2 violations within ten years is guilty of a felony.
Even though the victim might not care, and although it is considered a “low level offense”, I continue to prosecute these cases to hold those accountable for their actions, and to ensure that if it happens again, it will no longer be considered a “low level offense”.
Here in Alexandria and the surrounding areas, there are resources that victims of domestic violence can turn to for support. For example, Someplace Safe works to create safer communities in West Central Minnesota by providing crime victim services. It works to assist victims of domestic violence as they navigate the social, emotional and economic impacts they face on the path to freeing themselves from an abusive relationship.
I would encourage you to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and support our community in taking steps against domestic violence by attending the following eventsavailable to the public:
1. What: 13 th Annual Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence Walk
When: Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Douglas County Courthouse
Guest speaker, Mary Nortman who is a survivor of domestic violence.
Free t-shirts and food also available.
2. What: 19 th Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Luncheon
When: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Where: Arrowood Resort Center
How much: Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Glenwood State Bank Speaker: Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig will be speaking on the impact of domestic violence on children
3. What: Community Driven Innovation: Creating a Responsive Family Court – Guest Speaker: Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig
When: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Where: Douglas County Public Works
How much: This is a free event, however, you have to register in advance at https://ucan-justicemckeig.eventbrite.com
Extras for Lawyers! Application has been made for one CLE credit
Domestic violence can happen to anyone, any gender, race, religion or status. It’s not just physical abuse. Physical abuse is often the tip of the iceberg of long-term emotional abuse, and our community is not immune to it. The more aware we are of the realities of domestic abuse in our own community, the better equipped we are to end the silence.