The Wallowa County Sheriff's Office recently applied for a continuation grant for a federally-funded project targeted at domestic violence. It is currently in the second year of a two-year $430,000 grant awarded by the Office of Justice Programs under the Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Discretionary Grants Program.
The grant has been used to fund four new positions: domestic violence intervention project coordinator Melinda Artz; deputy district attorney Alyssa Slater; police investigator Deputy Neil Rogers; and a probation officer out of Union County. It has also been used for professional training and public education.
INFO.BOXWallowa County Sheriff's Office
January - December 2004
Domestic violence / Child victimization
Incidents investigated: 80 / 22
Charges filed: 34 / 2
Adult victims affected: 57
Children involved: 13
Percent of altercations:*
witnessed by children: 35%
involving drug or alcohol abuse: 94%
involving weapons: 20%
with offenders having ready access to weapons: 63%
Relationship of offenders to victims:*
1/3 estranged partners
1/3 current partners
1/6 family members
*Statistics only reflect January through June, 2004
If approved, the continuation grant would begin Oct. 1 and run for two more years.
The application calls for a continuation of training and education, and a switch from Union County to local provision of probation services.
The biggest change with this grant would be the addition of private sector legal counsel in place of Slater's position, so that victims can seek redress through civil courts with an attorney that is accountable to them, rather than to the county.
"Prosecution is the last attempt by society to address the problem (of domestic violence)," Artz said. "It shouldn't be the first." She said that especially in a small community, criminal attention haunts a family for many generations, making people less likely to come forward for help.
Artz wants a private legal remedies advocate available to help victims with civil remedies, such as restraining orders; separation and divorce proceedings; child custody; civil monetary damages; housing, employment and immigration protection. The attorney would also represent victims in criminal proceedings.
"If we can keep a family together, if we can get counseling, training and intervention before it gets to a criminal aspect, that's the best thing we can do," Rogers said. He added that he hoped Slater's departure would not leave the district attorney's office too busy to prosecute cases that called for it.
More going to Safe Harbors for helpInterestingly, he and Artz said the number of domestic violence cases they've seen has remained the same in recent years, while the nonprofit Safe Harbors has seen an increase in clients.
Safe Harbors director Wendy McDaniel said she thinks individuals may be seeking help earlier, before the situation escalates to a point where law enforcement is brought in.
Safe Harbors has been in existence for over a decade. It provides a variety of services, including a 24-hour crisis line, emergency shelter, resource referral, women's empowerment classes and some legal support. It also does educational work, speaking by invitation at schools and for local organizations.
It works closely with For Mankind, the county's intervention program for abusers. Participants are typically remanded by the court to attend the program, which consists of two-hour classes once a week for a year. Three facilitators jointly teach the classes.
No excuse for abuseFacilitator Dave Weaver explained that For Mankind is explicitly an intervention program; it is not therapy. The program doesn't focus on why someone abuses. It tries to get participants to give up excuses.
"It's not an anger management problem, not a stress problem, not a drug and alcohol problem. It's a mindset," Weaver said. "It's a choice."
He said that everyone gets angry, but only a tiny percent of the population has an inability to control its anger through some mental health defect. Everyone has stress, and many people get drunk, but only a few choose to abuse, he said.
Contact box:Help is available through the Safe Harbors crisis line: 426-6565. Those interested in volunteer work with Safe Harbors should call 426-4004. To reach For Mankind call 426-0206. Melinda Artz may be reached at 426-4543 ext. 29.Economic hardship isn't an excuse either. "I think it's really important for people to understand that we serve people of all income brackets," McDaniel said.
Ultimately, abuse isn't really about any of the rationales abusers give. "It all revolves around control," Weaver said.
The issue of control, coupled with our rural landscape, makes domestic violence a serious concern for Wallowa County. Abusers may isolate their victims, making them less able to access help from a friend and allowing abuse to go unchecked, out of view of any neighbors.