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Domestic violence declining on Plateau

By Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald

"Her boyfriend stabbed her more than seven times with a large hunting knife in front of her 3-year-old son. The police had been to their home before on domestic violence calls but charges were never pressed. She was 35 when she died on the way to the hospital. He was charged with first degree murder."

€ Nearly 25 percent of domestic violence homicides are witnessed by children.

"The two brothers were nine and 12 when their mother's boyfriend killed them. She had filed domestic violence charges against him and they were moving out of state. He killed them with a hammer and knife and attempted to kill their mother. He is in jail and charged with two counts aggravated first degree murder and one count of attempted murder."

€ Women who leave abusive relationships are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed than those who stay.

Leaders of the Enumclaw Domestic Violence Task Force say such situations can happen on the Plateau - in fact, one did. The task force has placed these two stories and several others on wood, cut out silhouettes of women and children and placed them at locations around Enumclaw. Each "silent witness" is meant to draw awareness to the crime of domestic violence during the month of October. The group on the lawn at City Hall are backlit by a tree of purple lights to honor victims of domestic violence.

It is one of many activities the group has planned for October - Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Domestic violence by definition is a pattern of behavior used by an individual to establish and maintain coercive control over an intimate partner. It consists of physical, sexual, psychological and/or emotional abuse.

Enumclaw Police Department Det. Heidi Hoffman released statistics that show since Oct. 1, 2002, there have been 46 domestic violence assaults reported in Enumclaw - two were felony assaults - a 17 percent decrease.

"It speaks loudly for our community and the difference it's making," said Sarah Frerichs, an advocate with Enumclaw's Domestic Violence Task Force. She said she is touched by the community's support - business, citizens and Trinity Lutheran Church - especially since domestic violence is such a "grim" topic.

"It's not the task force's effort, but the community's effort," she said.

The Enumclaw Domestic Violence Task Force has made great strides in its first year. Since its candlelight vigil last October, the group has collected cell phones and information packets for Enumclaw police officers to distribute to victims of domestic violence. It is the only task force in the state that has "Court Watch," where a resource person is available to give victims information.

"The concern with statistics though, is statistics often go up because more people start to report," said Rena Jansen, an Enumclaw Domestic Violence Task Force advocate.

Hoffman said just because reports are down doesn't mean domestic violence isn't occurring in Enumclaw. She and others on the task force would like to think awareness and education has played a role, but they also know there could be other factors.

Of Enumclaw's domestic violence reports, 20 were "verbal only" domestic disturbances; 10 were for violation of no-contact orders; six harassment; five malicious mischief; four reckless endangerment; four interfering with reporting of domestic violence; and two threats.

Hoffman reports domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. Ninety-five percent of domestic violence victims are women. There were at least 15 domestic violence homicides in King County from January 2002 to June 2003 and at least 10 in Pierce County during the same period.

The Enumclaw Domestic Violence Task Force is a local organization the community can rally around, Hoffman said.

"It (domestic violence) affects people and their neighbors here. It's such a taboo subject that it could be someone they know who needs help," Hoffman said.

"In my 10 years this is the first real city with a dedicated on-going project to domestic violence. I think that's wonderful," Hoffman said.

Students at Enumclaw High School are lending their assistance this year.

The task force, in conjunction with Enumclaw High School, will also sponsor a "shelter shower" for DAWN's House as part of National Make a Difference Day Oct. 25. DAWN's House (Domestic Abuse Women's Network) is the only local confidential shelter for victims of domestic violence in South King County. Donations will be collected at boxes around town through Oct. 24.

When a woman, and her children, comes to the shelter, Frerichs said she is usually fleeing a lethal situation and has left everything behind. With funding resources minimal, the shelters are asking groups like Enumclaw's task force and EHS to help restock.

"It isn't a used clothing drive," Jansen said. "It's to replenish the shelter."

"It's stuff to take with them to transitional housing," Frerichs said. "Because they can't go home."

Some items on the "wish list" are extravagant, like a washer and dryer, but some like nail polish are simply items young girls who can't leave the shelter use to make themselves feel better, Jansen pointed out.

Shelter users come in all ages.

Statistics from Hoffman show one in five high school girls reports being abused by a partner. With that statistic in mind, the task force also is teaming up with Enumclaw High School's School of Discovery and Human Services to educate teens and to empower them to make a difference.

"With awareness comes healing and help," said Jansen, whose daughter Saree started Enumclaw's task force as part of a senior project at EHS after a brief classroom discussion. "So much of domestic violence is quiet, no one wants to talk about it."

"It's been cool to see the progress they've made," Saree said on a visit home from Washington State University this weekend. "I was impressed. I think they've done so much."

This month the high school has hosted speakers on the topic and placed displays around campus.

"Kids are starting to date (in high school)," Jansen said. "And don't know what is normal."

Hoffman said the group could use more men in its ranks as mentors for teenage boys who have, for example, grown up in homes where domestic violence is the norm. Anyone interested in joining the domestic violence task force or making cash donations to the cause can call Hoffman at the Enumclaw Police Department 360-825-3505.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierhearld.com

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