Domestic violence: Community seeks ways to change the dynamics

September 2014 Posted in Community, News
Three brutal cases over 30 days
focus the conversation

On Aug. 9, Mount Angel resident
Kathleen Marie Schwartz died from
homicidal violence. A note at the
crime scene confirmed she was
strangled and killed by her
daughter’s ex-boyfriend,
Daniel Cuanas. He was found
dead from a self-inflicted
gunshot wound to the chest,
according to the Mount Angel Police.

On Aug. 15, Toddi Bork, 45, of
Mount Angel was arrested for
Assault II and recklessly
endangering another person.
According to Mount Angel Police,
she told an officer she had
purposely set her husband,
Timothy Bork, 43, on fire.
The victim had burns to his
face and torso. “Mrs. Bork
stated there had been an
argument prior to the incident
that had upset her. Mrs. Bork
said she sprayed Mr. Bork with
gasoline from a gas can and set
him on fire to ‘get his attention,”
according to police reports.

On Aug. 30, Silverton resident
Cassandra Wagner, 50, was
“murdered by homicidal violence.”
Jason Clifford Down, 43, is accused
of killing Wagner, who had received
a restraining order against Down in
July. Down was an inmate in the Marion
County Jail Work Release Center.
A police log report shows Down
violated the restraining order
Aug. 4 and he was serving time for
contempt of court when he was admitted
into the work release center, which
allows inmates to hold jobs in the
community by day and remain in custody
at night. He left the work release
center at 8 a.m. Aug. 30 and was
scheduled to return at 6 p.m.
Silverton Police were called to
Wagner’s home at 3:44 p.m. Two
other women had filed protective
orders against Down since 1996.
The case is under investigation.

By Kristine Thomas

Jillian Kelly of Mount Angel and Kris Dahl Mitchell of Silverton are two of many community members who want to change the conversation about domestic violence.

From Facebook posts to discussions in coffee shops to a gathering at Silver Creek Fellowship, people are talking about how the discussion of domestic violence needs to quit being about what victims should have done and move on to a focus on what the community can do to end it.

“Unless the discussion changes, we know this is going to happen again,” Kelly said. “There needs to be accountability amongst all of us.”

Domestic violence is “too common of a story. A story that has repeated itself again and again,” Kelly said.

In August, there were three cases of domestic violence locally that made news and shook the community. Mount Angel resident Kathleen Marie Schwartz and Silverton resident Cassandra Wagner were murdered. Mount Angel resident Timothy Bork was set on fire, receiving serious burns. Those were the cases that received public attention. There are incidents of physical, emotional or verbal abuse that never make the headlines. According to a 2010 Center for Disease Control study, one in three Oregon women will be a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in her lifetime.

“The problem is too often hidden because we are not talking about it unless something happens,” Kelly said.

On Sept. 8, the conversation on domestic violence caught national attention when the Baltimore Ravens dismissed star running back Ray Rice. The public release of  a surveillance video from an Atlantic City hotel elevator showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancée prompted the team’s action. Rice was suspended indefinitely by the National Football League.

For many, the focus shifted to the victim: why did she marry Rice?

Silverton resident Celia Stapleton posed a different question.

“What if the NFL sponsored a men’s program for men to stop violence,” she wrote on Facebook. “Across the nation, show men there are no reasons that are OK to beat your wife, girlfriend, kids or family members. No acceptance of sexual abuse. Let’s see the Big Guys pull up their shorts and roll up their sleeves and pay for this kind of positivity for men.”

In her research, Kelly, a Portland State student, found 15 percent of men are perpetrators of domestic violence. What if, she asked, the remaining 85 percent stood up and told the 15 percent their behavior was unacceptable.

“It is beyond time to hold the aggressive male culture accountable for their actions. It is beyond time to hold other men who let aggressive males dominate accountable for their inactions,” Kelly said. “And it is beyond time to make the statement to non-aggressive males that they hold the key to changing this for females by standing up for themselves and proclaiming they are men who offer respect, kindness, thoughtfulness and compassion to others.”

Kelly worked with murder victim Cassandra Wagner at the Providence Benedictine Nursing Center.

“She was just the sweetest, kindest and most trustworthy person,” Kelly said. “She was level-headed and nurturing. No one deserves to be treated this way.

“In our communities, we pride ourselves in coming together to help one another,” Kelly said. “We need to come together to solve this. I believe the male leaders in our community need to get involved in the conversation.”

Mitchell has been reflecting on the murder of Wagner too. She had known her since high school. The report that someone heard the suspect say he was going to kill Wagner and then kill himself upsets Mitchell.

Too often, she said, we don’t take someone seriously when he or she makes a threatening remark. Instead, she said, we tend to brush it off as venting or a joke.

What if we took the comments seriously?  she asked. Or sought help?

“We need to be more concerned when we hear someone say they want to kill someone,” she said.

In order for real change to take place regarding domestic violence, it begins with each and every one of us, Mitchell said.

“We are not going to fix the problem of domestic violence if we stay silent. We need to start listening to one another and we need to say out loud when behaviors are not acceptable. We all need to be on guard.”

A year ago, the Mount Angel City Council honored Autumn Brown and Leanne Zuccone for their actions in “a potentially deadly situation” in June of 2013. The two women witnessed a Mount Angel man grabbing a woman by her wrist and punching her at least three times. The two women diverted the attacker’s attention so the victim could escape.

Officer Charlie Hall wrote, “In an era where it is all too common to hear of capable bystanders that see another in need, but choose to remain uninvolved, Leanne Zuccone and Autumn Brown stepped up and put themselves in between the attacker and this young woman. If the suspect’s demeanor is any indication of what he may have been capable of, there is little doubt that further harm was prevented by the actions of these two women.”

Silverton Police Chief Jeff Fossholm said domestic violence cases are treated as a crime “against society and not just a crime against the victim.”

His officers receive yearly in-service training and updates by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office. The officers provide assistance to victims along with work to deter, prevent or reduce domestic violence. The department has a domestic violence advocate, whose identity remains anonymous for safety reasons.

“Our domestic violence advocate (DVA) is on-call and responds when called out by police to scenes of domestic violence in which an arrest is being made,” Fossholm said. “In cases where there is domestic violence, but not enough for an arrest, the victim’s information is routed to the DVA for discreet follow-up with the victim as to not exasperate the situation any further.”

Victims of domestic violence can contact the Silverton Police at 503-873-5326 if they wish to be put in contact with the advocate.

Fossholm said a restraining order gives law enforcement a tool or method to immediately deal with a “restraining order violation” by arresting and taking the violator directly to jail. “What a restraining order doesn’t do is to totally protect the victim. A restraining order is only a court order advising them to stay away from the victim or risk being arrested. It’s tough for someone to totally protect themselves, short of picking up and moving to unknown location.”

In most cases, people follow the conditions of restraining order, but not always.

“When a suspect no longer cares or wants to follow established laws, there is little else one can do, except to have an effective safety plan in place,” Fossholm said.

On Sept. 7,  more than 30 people – including five men – gathered at Silver Creek Fellowship for a presentation by Esther Craig of the Facebook group County Line Safety Compass and Kirstin Heydel of the Center for Hope and Safety. Craig lit a pink candle in remembrance of Wagner and Schwartz.

“In order for a community to heal, it takes men and women working together,” she said, adding she has worked as a victim’s advocate in both urban and rural communities. She emphasized each domestic violence case is unique and there isn’t just one answer.

Craig and Heydel stressed a key to preventing domestic violence is education, including how to recognize red flags and what to do if a victim seeks assistance. If a victim shares with you, Craig said, it’s important to validate what he or she is saying.  “They need to know you believe them,” Craig said.

Craig said a one hour meeting isn’t going to solve the problem. “We walk away tonight knowing we have work to do,” she said.

Silverton resident Joy Crook said for decades  women have been given lists of things they should do and freedoms they should forfeit  to keep themselves safe.

“If this was actually a realistic solution, it seems violence against women would be way down by now.  Maybe, we, all of us, need to think about this differently,” she said. “When people stop assaulting, hurting and killing others, then we will have prevented domestic violence. Victims of violence can try to protect themselves, but it is the people who commit domestic violence who are responsible for it. Not the victims.”

Actions to consider to change a culture
Domestic violence is a complicated issue with many contributing factors, said Ma’at Crook, who has spent years working for domestic violence prevention agencies. Here are a few key points she shared.

Help the individual
• Learn how to help victims by listening, asking what would help, asking before giving options and respecting autonomy.
• “It’s also important to believe them, believe they did nothing to cause the abuse, learn about resources and not attack their partner,” Crook said.

Foster positive relationships
• Teach children about respect, kind communication, and consent by practicing and modeling these skills.
• Offer help when we witness abuse or someone discloses having experiences with abuse.
• Hold each other accountable for abusive and oppressive behaviors.  
“That doesn’t mean we attack or respond to their abuse with more abuse,” Crook said. “When we attack, we create obstacles preventing change and growth.  Focus on the abusive actions rather than asking, ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ or ‘What did she do to make him hurt her?’”

Prevent abuse in the community
• Support community members who are or have been affected by the abusive behaviors of a partner.
• Support members of the community interested in learning about respectful behaviors.
• Support the Center for Hope and Safety, formerly Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Center. Invite the center to speak to a group. Center for Hope and Safety has a 24-hour crisis line – 503-339-7722 or toll free – 866-399-7722. Visit: www.hopeandsafety.org
• Organize a community meeting to discuss ways to make respect a norm
• Strengthen relationships between law enforcement, crisis services, domestic violence offender programs and more.

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