Editor’s Note: Ths is the third in a series of columns by the Mooresville Police Department during Domestic Violence Prevention Month.

Special to Iredell Free News

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is true and can also be life changing or lifesaving when it comes to your health, driving a car, and even domestic violence. It needs to be stated at the outset that to say domestic violence is preventable is not to say that victims are to blame for the attack or type of relationship they are experiencing with their intimate partner. However, when officers investigate reports of first-time assaults between intimate partners, they often discover that patterns of behavior, underlying problems, and red flags were present, but overlooked or ignored by victims, which eventually culminated in physical abuse. Studies show that domestic violence occurs at least five times before law enforcement is contacted for the first time.

While October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Mooresville Police Department and its partners conduct community outreach activities throughout the year to increase the public’s knowledge of the problem. MPD personnel also share ways to address it, including strengthening victim support systems and improving access to available resources. Some of the most effective ways to prevent domestic violence include:

Knowledge and Communication

MPD’s Special Victims Detectives (SVD) and Community Resource Coordinator (CRC) are among the leading representatives of a coordinated community response known as the Domestic Violence Task Force of Iredell (DVTF). The DVTF is a coalition of multi-disciplined organizations, which has been meeting in Statesville on the third Wednesday of every month since 2013 for the following purposes: (a) to increase awareness of domestic violence in our community; (b) to increase coordination and efficiency of domestic violence response between partnering agencies; (c) to increase the safety and resolve of victims and improve their access to needed resources and services; (d) to increase offender accountability and reduce recidivism; and (e) to reduce exposure of children to domestic violence.

Knowledge is power. One of the most common complaints from survivors when the DVTF was formed was the fact that they didn’t know where to turn, what steps were involved, or what to expect when they were in a crisis and feeling overwhelmed. One of the first and most effective things the DVTF did was assemble a resource guide, with current contact information of local and regional services to share with victims. In addition, the guide contains important information to consider when developing a personal safety plan, what to do when children are involved, or how to secure a protective order. The guide is published in English and Spanish versions and is available in hard copy at most local government buildings across the county, at DVTF member offices, and online. Search for “Domestic Violence Task Force of Iredell Resource Guide” to find a copy. Our goal is to get this information into the hands of those who need it most. MPD officers are trained to leave a guide with victims and their family members when responding to related calls for service. If you are a victim, or the friend or family member of a victim and need a copy, or if you’re a business owner willing to display and disseminate the resource guide, please contact CRC Lori Carlson at 704-799-8017 or LCarlson@MooresvilleNC.gov.

Recognizing the signs

There are dozens of different studies and theories focused on what causes a person to become an abuser, why some people are at greater risk of being a victim versus others, and the impact that domestic violence has on children or the workplace. However, it appears to be universally accepted that nearly all incidents of domestic abuse are the result of an escalation of frequency and severity over time. In other words, it is extremely rare that a person simply wakes up one day and decides to assault their intimate partner without warning signs.

Earlier in this series, we briefly discussed two evidence-based tools used by law enforcement to help facilitate this process. The Power and Control Wheel helps victims and survivors identify different characteristics, actions, and patterns of behaviors that individuals use to control or dominate their intimate partner. The wheel is also an effective way to illustrate to others (including law enforcement officers) some of the factors that often compel victims to stay with their abusers when everyone is urging them to leave. The Power and Control Wheel is featured in the DVTF Resource Guide. Common characteristics of domestic abusers include jealousy, narcissism, victim blaming, and the ability to pressure the victim into doing things they don’t want to do. Common tactics of domestic abusers include but are not limited to:

Using intimidation: Making the victim afraid via menacing looks, gestures, or actions; damaging property; hurting beloved pets; or displaying weapons.
Using isolation: Controlling what victim the does, where they go, limiting outside contacts and friendships; or moving victim away from family.
Using children: Relaying messages via the children; threatening to take the children away; and harassing victim via visitation.
Using economic abuse: Preventing the victim from getting a job; controlling their access to money; and making victim ask for money.

The Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) involves asking the victim/survivor questions that are focused on risk factors for homicide as well as connecting them with support and safety planning services. Collaboration, education, and self-determination are key aspects of this intervention. The LAP was developed by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell of John Hopkins University’s School of Nursing, whose research prior to LAP found that only 4 percent of domestic violence homicide victims in the US sought access to programs or services available to them; in more than 50 percent of domestic violence-related homicides, officers had previously responded to domestic violence-related call(s) for service at that location; and re-victimization of assault victims was reduced more than 60 percent when they received services such as emergency shelter.

Use of the LAP is now mandatory at MPD when investigating crime involving intimate partner violence. There are a total of 11 weighted questions asked of the victim, and yes responses to certain questions trigger further action by officers, including contacting the local victim advocate, immediately assisting the victim with developing and implementing a safety plan, and contacting the SVD or CRC for assistance. Among the questions to which yes responses indicate the highest risk include:

1. Have they ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
2. Have they threatened to kill you or your children?
3. Do you think they might try to kill you?

And finally, if you see something, say something.

Bystander intervention is one of the most effective ways to prevent domestic abuse, but often the least utilized. Research indicates that bystanders are unsure of themselves as responders, unclear about what type of intervention is warranted or needed, and what they can do to help. For example, a national survey found that 65 percent of respondents knew a friend, co-worker, or family member that was a victim of domestic violence but did not know what to do about it. Approximately 58 percent of those surveyed felt that they did not possess the knowledge or skills necessary to intervene. The truth is that very little skill is needed to make a phone call and doing so may just save a life. Callers may remain anonymous, if desired.

MPD’s policy on domestic violence response is based on current best practices and state laws and is updated accordingly. All MPD sworn personnel and telecommunicators receive training on proper response to and documentation of domestic violence incidents when hired, as well as advanced or remedial training bi-annually. In addition, the department hosts regional training opportunities for the public, community stakeholders, and other members of the law enforcement community across the state. If you would like to coordinate with MPD to bring domestic violence awareness and prevention training to your organization, civic group, or church, please contact Officer Harding at 704-664-3311 or DLHarding@MooresvilleNC.gov.

If you or someone you know need assistance with securing a protective order, developing a personal safety plan, or deciding what resources you made need as well as gaining prompt access to them, please contact Lori Carlson.

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