Domestic violence present in Nobles County communities
WORTHINGTON -- October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which brings awareness to a crime that area experts say can occur at any time and anywhere.
WORTHINGTON - October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which brings awareness to a crime that area experts say can occur at any time and anywhere.
According to public annual Minnesota district court case filing statistics, there were 29 misdemeanor domestic assault charges filed in Nobles County in 2017, which remained steady with the year prior represents a decrease from years 2014 and 2015.
There were 16 felony or gross misdemeanor domestic assault cases filed in 2017, which is relatively consistent within a five-year timespan.
The numbers in 2018 don’t seem far off. As of Wednesday, the county attorney’s office had 28 misdemeanor domestic cases referred to them by either the Worthington Police Department or Nobles County Sheriff’s Office. At the same time, 13 felony or gross misdemeanor cases had been referred.
While the available statistics provide a glimpse at the prevalence and issue of domestic violence, there are far more domestic violence situations that go unreported than do and make it through the court system.
According to Southwest Crisis Center Executive Director Sara Wahl, only 25 percent of domestic violence instances get reported to law enforcement. That statistic is estimated from the number of domestic violence survivors that seek out other resources - such as the Southwest Crisis Center, mental health services or other area providers - that don’t automatically result in law enforcement action.
In line with the discrepancy between the number of reported domestic violence crimes and instances that are actually occuring, 47 Nobles County individuals had sought Southwest Crisis Center services for domestic violence from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2018.
From Wahl’s experience, some of the common reasons domestic violence survivors are reluctant to report abuse include dependence (whether financial or with children), safety concerns or independence.
“People think they can handle things on their own,” she said. “That’s true for all people.”
Wahl said survivors also often find it difficult to ask for help because they want their relationship to work.
Wahl said the Southwest Crisis Center is a resource for survivors of domestic violence, one that empowers survivors to make a decision that’s right for them.
If a domestic case gets taken to court, that process usually begins when law enforcement responds to a domestic call or a report that initiates an investigation.
If a domestic situation is reported to police as it’s happening, responding law enforcement have 72 hours from the time its reported to find the suspect - which, in misdemeanor cases, is unique, said Worthington Police Department Capt. Kevin Flynn.
Whether a domestic situation is reported in real time or if a victim wishes to file a report at any time, law enforcement will want to document all available evidence so it can be referred to the county attorney’s office, which then makes a charging decision.
Potential impediments to being able to successfully prosecute a domestic violence case begin during law enforcement’s initial response. Some impediments may include language barriers, possible intoxication, whether or not the suspect is still at the scene and if the victim is cooperative with the investigation, said Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz.
“Many of those (impediments) carry over to (the county attorney’s) office as well,” she said.
Kusz explained that to charge a person with a crime, probable cause must exist. On the other hand, to get a successful conviction, a prosecutor must make the case that the defendant committed the act beyond a reasonable doubt - and available evidence plays a large factor in accomplishing that.
According to Wahl, domestic violence is patterned behavior beyond an one assault act. That violence is not limited to physical violence, but could be much more difficult to prosecute.
“There’s that pattern of power and control,” she said, adding that domestic violence can be just as emotional as it can be physical.
Examples of power and control include intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, using male privilege, using economic abuse, coercion and threats, and minimizing, denying and blaming.
Flynn said focus needs to be directed toward future preventative measures. He spoke highly of the Southwest Crisis Center, which aims to do just that.
However, state funding earmarked for prevention is minimal, Wahl said. She added there are local funding opportunities, as well, like grants recently received for the crisis center’s work in Jackson and Cottonwood counties.