TWIN FALLS — The crux of the problem in treating domestic violence, according to Donna Graybill, is that the abuser is rarely rehabilitated.
Once a woman successfully leaves an abusive relationship, the abuser often moves on to another woman, and the cycle starts again.
“You are endlessly treating the problem,” said Graybill, the executive director of Voices Against Violence Magic Valley.
More focus needs to be placed on education and prevention in schools and in the community to stop the cycle of abuse, Cassia County Prosecutor Doug Abenroth said.
Once domestic violence occurs, people too often ignore it. For community members, speaking up is the best resource for helping to prevent violence.
“A lot of people have blinders on,” Abenroth said. “Don’t be silent.”
Also, he said, the judicial system is reactionary instead of preventative.
Abenroth’s office handles about 24 misdemeanor and felony domestic battery cases a year, though many other cases contain elements of domestic violence, like stalking, kidnapping and sexual crimes.
The cases are difficult because the complaining witness is emotionally, financially and physically intertwined with the abuser. And unless there is criminal evidence independent of the victim’s testimony, the victim will be required to testify against the abuser, which they often refuse to do.
“Domestic violence cases are the toughest to prosecute,” said Cassia County Chief Deputy Prosecutor McCord Larsen.
Sometimes the prosecutor refuses to file charges. A case is rarely dismissed once it’s filed, but the charges are often amended during the judicial process. The standard of proof for a criminal charge of domestic battery is lower than for a battery charge, so abusers will often be charged with the former.
Larsen said the prosecutor’s office has an ethical duty to protect everyone, and in some cases, “even protect you from yourself.”
If a person is convicted of a felony where the underlying behavior involved is deemed as domestic violence, even if the charge is amended, the prosecutor’s office reports that conviction to the Idaho State Police. The information is then turned over to the federal government. The person will not be able to purchase a gun because a red flag will show up on the background check.
Fifth District Domestic Violence Court began in Minidoka and Cassia County in 2010 with a goal of improving the justice system’s response to domestic violence. It hoped to do that by enhancing victim safety and offender accountability, plus providing case management and coordination of information to families. The court operated independently for three years until it received grant funding.
Since then, 287 offenders have gone through the program. Nearly all of them were ordered into domestic violence court as a component of probation due to a violent criminal act committed against another person, according to Court Director Kristy Rasmusson.
They have to perform community service, get treatment, undergo counseling, show up on time and test clean for drugs and alcohol. They also visit with the judge several times during the year-long program. Abenroth said the state’s retained jurisdiction program also offers treatment for offenders in jail.
Whether any of those treatments actually work, he said, is the big question.
“But if it works for one person, it is worth it,” Abenroth said.
In September, a domestic violence court was established in Jerome County.
Graybill said treatment for offenders in the Magic Valley is lacking and not based in evidence, sometimes doing more harm than good.
Couples counseling, she said, can be outright dangerous for an abused person, because they are not in a protected environment. Her dream is to someday provide evidence-based treatment for offenders and finally put a halt to violence.
But those types of changes take money, and funds for domestic violence are scarce.
Kimberly Burkhalter, victim services coordinator for the Twin Falls Police Department, said more education for law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, and both probation and patrol officers is needed. State and federal laws also must keep up with changing technology to ensure victims receive the best care.
“I believe there is always more that can be done for victims of domestic violence,” Burkhalter said.