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Published October 06, 2012, 11:40 PM

InDepth: Domestic violence | Abuse is abuse ... and it’s a problem for F-M

FARGO - Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes says his department responds to an average of five to seven calls a day related to domestic violence. “Not a day goes by or a shift goes by that we’re not responding to at least one or two domestic violence calls,” says police Detective Chris Nichtern.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes says his department responds to an average of five to seven calls a day related to domestic violence.

“Not a day goes by or a shift goes by that we’re not responding to at least one or two domestic violence calls,” says police Detective Chris Nichtern.

Ternes says his officers quickly become familiar with the names of repeat abusers and repeat victims.

“I think police officers in the field will tell you that it’s not uncommon to be sent back to the same household for the same issue of domestic violence,” he says.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the most common cause of injury to American women between the ages of 15 and 44 is domestic violence.

“Domestic violence is one of those situations that can quickly result in something very, very tragic,” Ternes says.

Last year, 1,025 court hearings related to domestic violence and sexual assault were held in Cass County, 1,330 in Clay, according to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.

“You can’t go to the courthouse and not hear cases of domestic violence,” says Glen Hase, Cass County legal advocate for the Fargo-based nonprofit.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in 13 men in the U.S. will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetimes.

“Oftentimes it’s the person next door, it’s the person in the pew next to you at church on Sunday,” says Erin Prochnow, executive director of the YWCA Cass Clay.

Domestic violence is the primary reason women and children seek shelter at the RACC and the YWCA Cass Clay’s Emergency Shelter.

Prochnow and RACC Education Coordinator Daria Odegaard say their numbers represent only a fraction of those affected by domestic violence in the F-M area.

“If you take your local agency numbers and double them, then you have a better understanding of how many people in your community have truly been victimized,” Odegaard says.

In recent years, local police and agency staff have seen an increase in domestic violence-related incidents and the number of women and children seeking services because of domestic violence.

Fargo police saw a 9 percent increase in calls for service and a 5 percent increase in reports generated related to domestic violence from 2009 to 2011, peaking at 1,934 calls and 809 reports in 2011. Through July 31 this year, police have responded to 1,175 calls and written 512 reports.

Between 2007 and 2011, Prochnow says the YWCA saw a 30 percent increase in women and children seeking services due to domestic violence, and RACC Executive Director Greg Diehl says his organization’s seen record years the past three years.

Prochnow and Diehl say population growth, increased awareness, education and reporting, the economic downturn, and other factors could explain the increase.

“I would like to think that there’s more reporting as we educate the community more,” Diehl says. “But as our community grows, I think that’s going to be one of the byproducts of growth, too, is those statistics.”

Defining the problem

“When we talk about domestic violence, we usually talk about various forms of abuse that happen underneath that umbrella of domestic violence,” Odegaard says.

Those include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse.

Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men,” defines domestic violence as “a pattern of coercive control that may be primarily made up of psychological abuse, sexual coercion, or economic abuse that is punctuated by one or more acts of frightening physical violence, credible threat of physical harm, or sexual assault.”

Though Odegaard says people are probably most familiar with physical abuse, she says verbal abuse “leaves the very same scars and the very same bruises – they’re just internal, you can’t see them.”

According to the RACC, verbal abuse includes verbal abuse disguised as jokes, withholding, countering, discounting, blocking, diverting, accusing, blaming, judging, criticizing and trivializing.

“People, I think, are a little more reluctant to identify verbal abuse as truly being abuse,” Odegaard says. “I think that’s such a dangerous mindset for people to have because no form of abuse is better or worse than any other form.”

The late Ellen Pence, founder of Praxis International, a nonprofit training and research organization with offices in St. Paul and Duluth, Minn., identified five categories of violence used against intimate partners.

RACC staff use her definitions of battering, resistive/reactive violence, situational violence, pathological violence and antisocial violence.

They are:

  • Battering: an ongoing, patterned use of intimidation, coercion and violence to establish and maintain dominance over an intimate partner.

  • Resistive/reactive violence: violence used by victims to resist domination, end battering, retaliate against abuse, and establish some parity in relationships.

  • Situational violence: violence used to achieve goals without any pattern of control, intimidation and domination.

    Intimate partners often use violence against each other to express anger, disapproval or reach an objective.

  • Pathological violence: violence arising from mental illness, neurological damage, physical disorders or substance abuse.

  • Antisocial violence: violence arising out of a personality disorder.

    A person may have been abused as a child or lack moral maturity, experiences that have led to the development of antisocial personality.

“Overwhelmingly, in our work, we use the first three categories most often,” Odegaard says. “We are certainly aware of and need to know what pathological and antisocial violence are, but for our purposes, battering, resistive and situational violence are the types we most often encounter.”

No matter the method, type or category, “The bottom line is abuse is abuse,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590