|By Sue Tone and Cheryl Hartz|
Big Bug News
Crowded parking lots, dwindling income, and the failure to provide the "perfect" Christmas for the kids can set the stage for family fights this time of year. Add alcohol or drug use and the danger of aggressive behavior increases.
Countywide, responses to "family fight" calls to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office generally rise in November and December. For 2011, 106 of 832 total domestic violence incidents occurred between Nov. 1 and Dec. 11. This year the same period shows 124 calls. That compares to 717 incidents so far in 2012.
Financial stress is a major contributor to meltdowns, said Kathryn Chapman, director of Yavapai Family Advocacy in Prescott Valley.
"The economic downturn hits rural communities a lot later and lasts a lot longer, so we are still feeling the effects of that," Chapman said.
Unemployment, underemployment and lack of job opportunities in this area places financial stress on families, and that, in turn, can cause a decrease in feelings of self worth. When husbands and wives aren't able to live up to traditional roles or provide a heap of pretty presents under a perfectly decorated tree, they can feel embarrassed, ashamed, and like a failure, no matter where they live.
"These incidents do not know boundaries," YCSO media/crime prevention coordinator Dwight D'Evelyn said.
The Prescott Valley Police Department tracks domestic violence calls through its Family Violence Unit. About 90 percent of the domestic violence calls involve drug and/or alcohol use and abuse, the unit's Cprl. Mike Williams said.
"The core of domestic violence is power and control," Williams said. "When you peel all the layers away, the perpetrator feels like he doesn't have power and control over other aspects of his life."
That's when he comes home and takes it out on pets and/or the family. Animal abuse is a key indicator that "things are heading in the wrong direction" Williams said.
"That's his way of saying that could happen to you," added Traci Shelburg, Family Violence Unit Community Service Officer.
Police officers working family disturbance calls say about 85 percent of subjects are male, but it's important not to dismiss the 15 percent of cases where the female is the predominant aggressor.
Cycle of violence, escape
Aggressive law enforcement action sometimes can break the cycle of domestic violence. Officers with the Family Violence Unit will check for prior convictions, for instance. A third incident within 84 months can result in a felony assault charge rather than a misdemeanor, Williams said.
"It takes something to break the cycle. If you don't, the children continue the cycle as adults, either as a perpetrator or as a victim," he said. "When they are caught in the middle, they will repeat the pattern."
D'Evelyn also noted that some of the calls for help are the result of years of conflict, which a single contact with law enforcement cannot resolve. That's why officers always arrest the person who assaults another in a domestic violence situation.
"This gives the victim some breathing room to handle his/her needs while the court process begins and can prevent further violence, at least in the short term," D'Evelyn said.
If both parents are arrested, a trusted relative or Child Protective Services takes custody of the children, he added.
D'Evelyn offers this advice for people who find themselves headed toward potential domestic violence: "Know your limitations. Take the opportunity to walk away and de-escalate the situation. For those with children, put yourselves in their shoes as they attempt to deal with the conflict and potential physical abuse they might witness."
He acknowledges that this is not workable in all circumstances, and potential victims need alternatives.
Tools for leaving
The PVPD has a brochure that talks about domestic violence and how to create a safety plan prior to leaving. This includes keeping accessible such items as driver's license, birth certificates, social security and health insurance cards, keys, money, credit cards and checkbook. Keeping a copy of an order of protection with them at all times, and giving copies to the boss, schools, or babysitter is another suggestion.
"There are lots of reasons why domestic violence victims don't leave an abuser," Chapman said. "No money, no support, no place to go, or a shelter is full. Leaving also may not fit religious or cultural views."
Shelburg said she takes the victim aside on police calls and asks them to consider how much abuse they will take before they know it's time to leave.
"I ask them, 'Where is your line in the sand?' I tell them, 'Don't answer me now. Just think about it,'" she said.
The Family Advocacy Center takes referrals from law enforcement agencies for victims of interpersonal crime - sexual assaults, child abuse and domestic violence. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to collect evidence, and conduct interviews used in prosecution. They also provide counseling, support groups, and community resource information in a comfortable, homey setting with people who care.
Some suggestions for decreasing tension in the home during the holidays are to give up the expectation for a "perfect" Norman Rockwell-type family setting by decreasing the "big production" and cutting back on the number of gifts.
"Expect meltdowns from children. They are full of excitement and anxiety. They get kind of crazy and don't really know how to contain all that emotion," Chapman said.
She recommends finding activities for the children to keep them busy, take breaks from large groups or from family members that you may not get along with, and cut down on alcohol consumption.
"You can control only what you can control, and that is yourself," she said.
Resources for anyone experiencing or thinking they may be in an abusive relationship:
928-445-4673 Domestic violence advocacy, emergency shelter., crisis line.
Yavapai Family Advocacy Center
Family violence advocacy, domestic violence survivor support group.
Yavapai County Victim Services
Case status, Court process.