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Striking back at domestic abuse

Domestic violence foes are striking back with a new policy to protect abuse victims, automatically placing a “no-contact” order on perpetrators at the time of arrest.

The change closes a window of opportunity for abusers, who until now have been able to post bail, get out of jail and go straight back to victims’ households.

About 10 percent of domestic violence suspects who “made bail” were returning to the scene of the abuse before a no-contact order could be issued from the bench, Bainbridge Municipal Court Judge Steve Holman said.

“We were hearing complaints from the shelters and DV treatment programs,” Holman said. “These people who are expert in this field have told us ‘this is no good.’”

The new domestic violence tool was created by the three-year-old Kitsap County Trial Court Coordination Council – comprised of presiding judges and administrators of the Superior, District and Municipal Courts and chaired by Holman – together with county prosecutors and clerks, and the sheriff’s office.

Police now will be able to issue, at the time of arrest, a no-contact order pre-signed by a judge.

Unlike a restraining order that may be issued without a crime having taken place – during a divorce, for instance – no-contact orders are associated with an arrest, and the order “has teeth.”

Under state law, such an order stipulates no contact of any kind – not even a post card. Violation means jail time, rather than the contempt of court citation a less-stringent protection order brings.

They make a difference, DV experts say, because perpetrators know that if they violate the order, a judge will show no leniency.

Because Holman has routinely been paged to sign them as needed, the policy of instant no-contact orders has already been unofficially in place on Bainbridge Island.

“I’ve appeared in court in Bermuda shorts,” Holman said. “I’ve even shown up in the middle of the night in bedroom slippers.”

Holman is known in judicial and law-enforcement circles statewide for tackling domestic violence issues.

“We’re very lucky to have Judge Holman here,” Bainbridge Police Detective Scott Anderson said. “Our local court deals with (DV) definitively, and so our incidence with repeat offenders is low.”

Mandatory arrest also discourages repeat abuse, Anderson said.

“They do learn that ‘if I hit or if I push, I go to jail,’” Anderson said. “We rarely are seeing continuing calls back to the home.”

Bainbridge Police respond to domestic dispute calls several times a week; about three calls each month result in an arrest.

While the numbers – which Anderson says reflect the national average for communities this size – don’t change much year to year, there are seasonal shifts.

Police are called more in summer, as the temperature goes up, tempers fray and tolerance erodes.

Open windows, which give neighbors a front-row seat to domestic disputes, may also be a factor in increased reports.

But the numbers have held steady over the last decade, with about 15 protection orders issued by Municipal Court each year.

When a call comes in reporting an incident of verbal or physical abuse, an officer will go and document the incident.

“A lot of women don’t want him to go to jail,” Anderson said, “So they call before it gets physical.”

Domestic violence encompasses a spectrum of behavior calculated to control another individual, ranging from verbal abuse and economic control to overt physical and sexual attacks.

Abuse escalates over time, while eroding self-esteem makes seeking help difficult for victims.

“DV is a crime of control,” Holman said. “In the vast majority of cases, it’s a guy who is doing it.”

Holman calls domestic violence “a tough nut to crack” because intervention comes at the tail end of a destructive relationship.

“We’re being reactive,” Holman said, “not preventive.”

Victims will find an array of services on the island to deal with domestic abuse.

Kitsap County’s Alternatives to Living In a Violent Environment is one of 15 YWCA-sponsored programs statewide targeting domestic violence.

ALIVE’s local office for the Bainbridge/North Kitsap Domestic Violence Program is housed in Bainbridge’s Municipal Court at Rolling Bay.

The program serves 10-15 Bainbridge residents each month, with one-third of those new clients, according to client advocate and island resident Barbara Saur.

The program offers free services that include emergency shelter; counseling and support groups; referrals to community resources; and a 24-hour hotline.

Saur and colleague Lynn Bruns serve the Bainbridge/North Kitsap area. A “safe house,” its location a closely guarded secret, opened in 1978 accommodates and up to 17 women and children.

Staff members help victims negotiate the legal system, as well.

“We go into court as advocate,” said Charlotte Garrido, executive director of the Bainbridge/North Kitsap branch of ALIVE. “We help the client understand what’s going on. Most of our clients tend to be in shock at that point.”

The bottom line is support for victims who may have been isolated and whose self-esteem is often eroded.

ALIVE, the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority and North Kitsap Rotary have purchased two duplexes in an undisclosed North Kitsap location that will serve as transitional one-year housing for families.

ALIVE may also open a new office in Poulsbo, and Garrido says the off-island location may also serve Bainbridge residents.

“We think there are island people who would like to access the service, just not in their neighborhood,” she said.

Holman is encouraged by the progress in tackling domestic violence.

“All these little responses that are made, every one helps in the big picture,” he said. “The problem is being more seriously addressed. There are laws with teeth in them.”

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