Domestic violence isn’t diminishing
It’s the elephant in the Truckee-Tahoe community and in countless others: Domestic violence, a plague of sorts that enters homes of every demographic and, without help, can spiral out of control.
In 2005, the Truckee Police Department responded to more than 200 domestic service calls, according to Chief of Police Scott Berry, a number that repeated the year prior, and the year before that. It is one of the police department’s top concerns, but also an issue that Berry said is often swept under the rug by the greater community.
Meanwhile, over at Tahoe Women’s Services, the Truckee and North Shore nonprofit dedicated to reducing domestic violence and sexual assault, nearly 1,000 women are walking through their doors each year in search of refuge and assistance.
“The severity of the cases we are getting is increasing,” said Karen Edwards, executive director of Tahoe Women’s Services. “It frequently starts with just yelling and screaming and escalates to actually threatening people with knives or a gun; breaking bones.
“We have victims whose lives are threatened. And unless the batterer gets help, the incidents get closer and closer in time and the abuse gets more and more severe.”
Julie Lacke was a tragic example the abuse cycle. Law enforcement officials believe the Tahoe City woman was beaten and strangled to death by her long-term live-in boyfriend on March 11. He then killed himself by setting fire to Lacke’s vehicle while he was sitting inside, say investigators.
Friends and family of Lacke, who were interviewed after the incident, relayed stories of prior abuse by the boyfriend, and said that over the past years contact with Lacke had diminished.
The cycle of violence and forgiveness that is all-too-frequent in abusive relationships makes it difficult for law enforcement and others to intervene.
“The handling of these calls is very difficult,” Berry said. “You get people who don’t want to embarrass themselves or family members, so they don’t do anything. Over 80 percent of the involved parties decline to press charges or drop charges the next day.”
Berry and Edwards agreed that a combination of fear and short-sighted optimism is what keeps women from fleeing abusive relationships. It takes women an average of seven or eight beatings before they take action, Edwards said.
“The batterer has controlled that person slowly but surely for a long time and has said things to them that her feel stupid and incompetent,” Edwards said. “Women don’t reach out for help for many reasons ” being afraid, being embarrassed, some don’t know where to get help. How would they live? What would they do with their children?”
It’s those concerns and many others that Edwards and her staff manage at the three Tahoe Women’s Services locations in Truckee, Kings Beach and Incline Village.
“Victims call us crying and upset. Sometimes they just want to vent to someone who is not going to judge them. They want to know where they can get help and where those options are,” Edwards said. “We give them access to our safety plan and shelter.”
Tahoe Forest Women’s services offers a 24-hour crisis intervention help line, counseling services in both English and Spanish to women and children, an emergency safe shelter, legal advocacy and community prevention services.
In an effort to stop the problem at the source, Wellspring Counseling Center in Truckee is developing a fresh 52-week program called New Directions that aims to stop batterers’ violent behavior.
“The first part is preparing for change, and that involves understanding what’s going on, what the behaviors are, and how they affect other people,” said Chris Old, a marriage and family therapy intern at Wellspring who has a background in mental health counseling and will be leading the New Directions classes. “The next part would be making change. We try to come to an understanding of why they choose to be violent, and understand that violence is a choice.”
Up to 12 participants in each two-hour weekly class focus on such lessons as anger management, relaxation, hateful language, and appropriate parent-child discipline.
“Control is a big issue ” control of their wife, control of their kids,” Old said. “There is a lot of concurrence between substance abuse and violence. They seem to often go hand-in-hand.”
New Directions, which will launch after receiving approval from Nevada County, will replace a similar batterers’ program that was based on feminist theories of control and power, and which fizzled at Wellspring when its leader Roy Eriksen left the center. Eriksen is continuing to provide the course at his private practice, Analyze This Counseling Services.
Already in place at Wellspring is a Spanish-language domestic violence prevention class that is open to non-native speakers.
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