Justice: Fight against domestic abuse continues
WILLMAR -- Minnesota is making important strides against domestic violence, but there remains a longer way to go than many might realize. "We're involved in a marathon, and not a sprint,'' Justice Paul Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court told...
WILLMAR -- Minnesota is making important strides against domestic violence, but there remains a longer way to go than many might realize.
"We're involved in a marathon, and not a sprint,'' Justice Paul Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court told an audience of well over 100 Friday in Willmar.
His audience included district judges, law officers, social workers and others who help the victims of domestic abuse in the 8th Judicial District. They joined as part of the 8th Judicial District Family Violence Council's "recommitment" to ending domestic violence. Originally launched in 1993, the council is working to coordinate the responses of all those who deal with domestic violence in the district, said Connie Crowell, assistant prosecutor for Kandiyohi County.
Justice Anderson offered his encouragement to the effort, pointing out that former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz promoted the same concept with the Children's Justice Initiative. "We can't deal with this just by ourselves in the court system,'' he said.
Even working together, Anderson made it clear that those battling domestic violence face major challenges. The justice said that domestic violence is a problem that is passed from generation to generation. It will take three generations -- or nearly 100 years -- to break that cycle in society, he said.
Stating that the courts were once a part of the problem, Justice Anderson said they are now working to break the cycle.
The courts today are imposing sentences for domestic violence crimes that "send the message" that these acts are no longer tolerated, Anderson said. Offenders are facing multiple-year prison terms for acts of domestic violence that they saw their fathers commit without fear of penalty.
Yet Anderson said it is evident to him that many offenders still do not understand the change that has occurred. He said the message that can be read between the lines in their appeals is this: "I can't figure out why this is happening to me.''
Along with the prospect of greater penalties for their offenses, more offenders are coming to justice. Anderson said prosecutors today are more often pursuing domestic abuse cases even when the victims recant or refuse to cooperate.
It wasn't always this way: "We used to be quite relieved in some cases when the wife recanted,'' he said.
Anderson credited a changed attitude on the part of society and professionals toward domestic violence for making these changes. He noted that as late as 1993, he watched an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which the subtext of the program made humor of a case of domestic violence.
"We've gone beyond that folks,'' he said.
Yet, according to Anderson, we still have a long way to go.
There are problems with how placement of children is decided in domestic abuse cases. Children are still left in situations that cause problems, he said.
Anderson also characterized care for mental illness as among the "spectacular failures'' he saw. Far too often, mental health issues are only addressed as part of the criminal justice system. In effect, we are making county prosecutors our "mental health care deliverer(s),'' he said.
Mental illness is a concern in domestic violence cases, he said, and not just because of the perpetrators. He said that victims of domestic violence suffer depression and self-esteem issues. There may also be mental illness problems that cause some victims to tolerate the abuse they suffer, he added.