Thursday, October 3, 2013

The War on Terror

It may be surprising to hear, but as a country judge, I am on the frontline of the War on Terror on a weekly basis.  No, I don’t have Al Quaida or the Taliban in my courtroom.  I have (usually) men who are alleged to have committed acts of domestic violence against the people they are supposed to love and protect the most in this world.

I attended a speech by a police officer who grew up in a home where his step-father routinely beat his mother.  He and his brother would cower in their rooms, praying that the horror would end.  He is the first person I heard describe living in a home where domestic violence occurred as living with a terrorist.

That is an apt description.  Studies on domestic violence show that the abuser will isolate the victim (usually his wife or his girlfriend) and exert control over their every act.  Jealousy can be a huge part of the domestic violence cycle.  Alcohol or other drugs can be a catalyst, though not a cause, to the violence.

Early in my judicial career, I was chosen to represent the First Judicial District at a statewide conference on domestic violence.  Later, the Chief Justice asked me to represent Minnesota at a national conference in New Mexico.  I had the privilege of being part of the rollout of the Domestic Abuse Order for Protection database, which allowed police officers to confirm the existence and particulars of outstanding orders.  Prior to this system, it was often difficult to know just what the Order provided if the courthouse was closed and the order unavailable.

Fairly often, the Petitioner (usually the wife or girlfriend) will come in within months, or even weeks (sometimes, hours), of the Order for Protection and ask that the Order be dismissed.  I will often require that the Petitioner appear in Court so that I can be sure that she understands that the Order was issued for her protection and safety.  I will often ask if she has made contact with the domestic abuse advocate and whether she has a safety plan in place.  And, I will ask for her promise that, if any time in the future she feels unsafe, she will take steps to insure her safety, which may mean asking for another Order for Protection.

This week, I’ve been invited to moderate a presentation on domestic abuse for court personnel, attorneys, judges and advocates for the First Judicial District.  It is an honor to be involved in a program to make our state a little safer for victims of domestic abuse.

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Next week:  Addressing Domestic Abuse Issues