Community officials, responders train in averting deadly domestic violence; STGnews Videocast

CEDAR CITY — Community leaders and first responders from Cedar City and Iron County gathered early Friday morning at Festival Hall to spend the day talking about domestic violence in connection with the launching of a training and intervention program called the “Lethality Assessment Program.”

City and county officials along with community first respenders and those who provide domestic violence resources came together to discuss a proactive approach to dangerous situations, Festival Hall, Cedar City, Utah, July 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
City and county officials, along with community first responders and those who provide domestic violence resources, came together to discuss a proactive approach to dangerous situations, Festival Hall, Cedar City, Utah, July 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

LAP is a field instrument designed to aid responders in preventing homicides during their interactions with residents who are in domestic violence situations.

“We know that victims of intimate-partner homicide, in the year prior to their murder, only 4 percent of them reached out for domestic violence specific resources,” national LAP Project Coordinator Abby Hannifan said.

On the other side of that coin, she said, first responders, including community law enforcement, have much more contact with either the victims or the perpetrator in the year leading up to a domestic homicide.

“… we know that victims of intimate-partner homicide — again, in the year prior to their murder — about a third of them were reaching out to the police for help,” Hannifan said. “Also, 44 percent of those abusers who killed their partners were arrested for some crime in the year prior to killing their partners.”

This tells experts that victims who are not reaching out for services in other ways are somehow reaching out to law enforcement, Hannifan said, which places them in a position to potentially save lives by asking 11 questions known as the lethality screen for first responders.

The questions identify key indicators of how dangeroDus a situation may be, according to the website of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence — where LAP began.

The website states:

If the victim’s response to the questions indicates an increased risk for homicide, the officer or community professional states he/she is going to place a phone call to the local 24-hour domestic violence hotline to seek advice and encourages the victim to speak with the specially-trained hotline advocate. Talking on the phone is always the victim’s decision.

LAP started by looking at the data used by intimate-partner homicide expert Jacquelyn Campbell to create her 20-question danger assessment, which has been used by medical professionals, and adapting it for first responders who have a smaller window of time with a potential victim, Hannifan said.

Stock photo | St.George News
Stock photo | St.George News

A lot of times, abuse isn’t obvious or even physical, Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Associate Director Liz Watson said. Bringing LAP in allows for a larger net of prevention to be cast out into the community.

There is no stronger indicator of both the severity and urgency of the situation of domestic abuse homicide in Utah than the current numbers, Watson said.

“Across the nation, it’s anticipated that 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime,” she said. “And in Utah, it’s a higher figure; it’s 1 in 3.”

While Utah is a safe state to live in in comparison with the homicide rates in other states, Watson said, a closer look at the numbers show that of the homicides that do occur in Utah, over a 10-year period, over 42 percent of all adult homicides turn out to be related to domestic violence.

Many of these deaths are preventable, Hannifan said, if first responders are given the skills to help recognize the signs and get immediate connection with services for whoever is at risk because of abuse.

It is important to remember that domestic abuse does not only happen to women and children, Watson said, but also to men who are in both traditional relationships and same-sex relationships. Often times, these events go unreported because of the perceived implication of emasculation associated with stereotypes and societal roles.

Stock photo | St. George News
Stock photo | St. George News

“For any victim of domestic violence, it can be very difficult to reach out,” Watson said. “But there are some additional barriers for male victims — there may be an added sense of shame, there may be risk of feeling emasculated, worrying about what their peers will think. …”

Fear of losing a relationship with their children can also be a motivating factor in a man’s abuse going unreported, she said, if he believes the children’s mother would keep them from him as retribution.

Regardless of who the victim is or what type of abuse they are experiencing, Watson said, LAP will allow for red flag responses to empower first responders with a tool to help.

Implementing LAP into Cedar City Police Department protocol was a “no brainer,” Police Chief Bob Allinson said.

“Domestic violence is a community problem,” he said. “It’s not just Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center’s problem, it’s not the police department’s problem, it’s a whole community problem because it impacts a whole community.”

In his 40 years of law enforcement experience, Allinson said he has seen a real evolution in the way intimate-partner abuse situations are handled.

Stock photo | St. George News
Stock photo | St. George News

Years ago, if the officer on the scene didn’t witness a violent act, the Police Chief said, his hands were tied and there was nothing he could do about it. It was a frustrating cycle that repeated over and over with little end in sight and no way to follow through.

Eventually, laws changed that allowed for arrests to be made and action to be taken. LAP takes it a step further by taking things from a reactive stage to a proactive stage of prevention, Allinson said.

“I’ve got mixed feelings with this,” he said, “because as I look at it, I think, ‘how many victims over the years that I’ve been involved with, maybe would still be alive today if we had something like this (then).’”

The small town of Cedar City is not exempt from domestic abuse situations, Allinson said. Speaking from memory, he said, he believes there were somewhere near 264 domestic violence cases in 2014 in Cedar City.

“We have four homicides going through the court system,” he said. “At least three of those four are directly tied to domestic violence.”

Crisis intervention

The time to act is now, Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center Executive Director Cindy Baldwin said. The crisis center is expanding to accommodate the possible needs in the community and, through grants, will have four more rooms than they do now and be able to hire additional staff.

The crisis center is dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence access needed services at no cost to them. They provide a room, legal assistance with filing restraining and protective orders, job and housing placements, as well as much needed emotional support and counseling options to aid in recovery.

Stock photo | St. George News
Stock photo | St. George News

“We just wrap our arms around them and provide emotional support and advocacy,” Baldwin said. “Through protective orders and court and providing a safe place and helping them find a job … it’s all there, and I think they don’t realize that those resources are available.”

Often times, people who are caught in a cycle of abuse are unaware of how dangerous their situation is, Maren Hirschi, licensed clinical social worker and therapist, said.

Speaking from both personal and professional experience, she said, the mental trauma that takes place when an abuser is inflicting their will on their victim tends to keep the victim from leaving through a process of rationalization.

“In order to stay in a violent relationship,” Hirschi said. “Whether it’s emotional, sexual or physical violence, we have to be in some kind of denial. If we weren’t in some level of denial, then we would get out; nobody would stay if they were fully aware of the danger of the situation.”

For her, it came down to a discussion with her father when she expressed how much she loved her abuser, Hirschi said; his response was that her love didn’t matter, her safety mattered.

The fact is, like with any other thing, it takes each person in an abusive relationship hitting their own personal rock-bottom before action is taken, Hirschi said, and sometimes, it’s too late.

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