NEW ULM - The co-founder of the Gender Violence Institute and Minnesota Men's Action Network talked about coordinated community response to domestic violence Thursday to the Brown County DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) at Turner Hall.
Faribault native Chuck Derry of Clearwater, who also co-founded the Minnesota Men's Action Network: Alliance to Prevent Sexual and Domestic Violence, said he began working with battered women in Minnesota in 1982 "because you can't put a shelter on each corner."
Derry said coordinated community response for domestic violence, law enforcement investigations, and rehabilitative programs for men who batter are needed to change the environment from one that endangers victims to supporting them and making offenders accountable.
"It's kind of like smoking," Derry said. "There used to be ashtrays everywhere."
He said without coordinated community response by law enforcement, criminal justice, social service and other community-based agencies, the criminal justice system has all kinds of gaps that offenders dodge around and use manipulation and coercion to their advantage to evade justice.
"The criminal justice system is incident-focused, not designed to deal with pattern crimes that happen again and again," Derry said. "When victims are afraid of death threats, they won't testify in a system that doesn't handle anything that isn't on paper. It gets messy, but we have to work in this mess. A battered woman is the best witness for her children's safety, but women must be protected and realize before they feel it's safe to testify."
Derry said agencies must share information and create policy to increase victim safety and offender accountability with an evidence-based system that is not victim dependent and will change a climate of tolerance to violence..
"Once offenders realize there is a coordinated effort in the justice system, they'll either move away or stay and change," Derry said. "We know it's tough to get women to testify but model policies are available. Once you have coordinated efforts for victims in the justice system, you can carry tough (domestic violence) cases forward."
Derry said one of the most dangerous times for women is when and how they are interviewed about domestic violence crimes repeatedly by different agencies instead of once.
He promoted Blueprint For Safety, a prototype that can be used by any community that wants to link criminal justice agencies in a coherent, philosophically-sound, domestic violence intervention model. It's available for download at www.praxisinternational.org
In 2007, the Minnesota Legislature awarded a grant to the City of St. Paul to write a comprehensive plan using knowledge gained from 30 years of research, demonstration projects and practice into a "blueprint" for city and county agencies responding to misdemeanor and felony assaults.
Six principles of the blueprint are to:
1. Use an interagency approach and collective intervention goals.
2. Build attention to the context and severity of abuse into each intervention.
3. Recognize that most domestic violence is a patterned crime needing continued victim and offender engagement.
4. Establishing sure and swift consequences for continued abuse.
5. Using the criminal justice system to send messages of help and accountability.
6. Acting in ways that reduce unintended consequences and the disparity of the impact on victims and offenders.
Last October, the Brown County Probation Department created a domestic violence program for enhanced victim safety, to hold offenders accountable, and change the criminal justice system climate with agencies working together by sharing resources.
Since then, Probation Agent Randy Baker created the DART team as part of the domestic violence program.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).