County to reinvent domestic violence task force'The whole idea is to keep her safe'
Belfast — Art Jette believes in keeping it simple when it comes to combating domestic violence, and as part of the Piscataquis County Domestic Violence High Risk Response Team, he and his teammates fight that battle one victim at a time.
Jette is the community education coordinator at Womancare, a domestic violence resource center that serves Piscataquis County, and he also helped spearhead the launch of the response team in his home county, a group that includes members of law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, Womancare and a probation officer.
Jette said the problem with some well-meaning domestic-violence task forces is their tendency to lean too heavily on poring over research and in the process, losing sight of the actual victims.
For example, Jette said a group could spend days researching different ways to help a person carry their groceries from their car to their home.
"We're not doing this for research. Here's somebody over here who needs real help," said Jette. " ... Isn't it easier to just help them carry their groceries up the stairs?"
Those who work in the Waldo County justice system are interested in taking a similar approach here.
Monday morning, Sept. 30, Jette was the guest speaker at a meeting at the Waldo County Sheriff's Office involving several members of the local law enforcement community, New Hope for Women, a representative from Waldo County Probation and Parole, as well as the Waldo County District Attorney's Office.
The meeting came a day before businesses and community organizations decorate Maine towns in purple lights throughout the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Waldo County Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton said the group has been meeting in an effort to reinvent the former domestic-violence task force that served the region from 2000 until 2004, at which time the group disbanded for a number of reasons. The grant money that funded a full-time domestic-violence investigator dried up, explained Trafton, and the group itself was holding a fair amount of meetings, but accomplishing little more than ways to increase public awareness about the issue.
"Domestic violence hasn't gone away since 2003 or 2004," said Trafton. "We're still getting just as many cases today, if not more."
A face-to-face approach
"We took the old-style domestic-violence task force and kind of changed the model so it's now an active task force," said Jette, who wears bracelets on both wrists commemorating domestic-violence victims.
The team Jette works with was formed about two years ago in direct response to the triple domestic-violence homicide that took the lives of Amy Lake and her two children, 13-year-old Coty and 12-year-old Monica Lake in Dexter in June 2011. The children's father, Steven Lake, shot and killed all three in their Dexter home before he turned the gun on himself, according to statewide media reports. Steven Lake was reportedly upset that he was not allowed to attend his son's eighth-grade graduation.
Jette reviewed the minutes of the former task force that once served his county and found that group had a similar role to the one that formerly served Waldo County. With a desire to talk less and act more, Jette helped pull together the group that has served 16 victims of domestic violence since its inception.
And, Jette said, not all of those victims came to the group as the result of their partner committing an offense for which they could be arrested, against them. Some have been referred by police officers who were concerned for their safety and attended the initial safety-planning meeting after the officer encouraged them to do so.
"If you've answered a complaint at a home six times and you have a gut feeling someone's in a bad situation, call the team," said Jette.
When a victim agrees to meet with the team, Jette said the focus is on finding a way to keep that person safe while also making sure they'll be as comfortable as possible with telling their story. The victim signs a form authorizing members of the small group to share information about her story, and Jette said they may remove anyone from the attendance list they may feel uncomfortable with having at the meeting.
In addition to allowing the victim the freedom to choose who attends their meeting, Jette said the signed form from the victim also removes the confidentiality requirement so members of the team can speak with police officers about specifics of the case.
At that initial meeting, a police officer will go through a list of questions with the victim in an effort to determine the degree of risk they face from their abuser. The list covers a wide range of topics, including drug or alcohol use, criminal history and sexual behaviors.
"If you stop and think about it, this person is bearing their soul," said Jette. " ... We don't want to hurt them any more than they've already been hurt."
And even as the meetings are ongoing, Jette said there is a lot going on behind the scenes.
"We've had situations where we're in the process of interviewing a victim and [Piscataquis County Chief Deputy] Bob Young is on the phone with a deputy," said Jette, adding that the deputy is looking over the victim's residence to identify any security issues the building may have.
When the meeting ends, Jette said the victim has ideas on what they can do to keep themselves and their children safe — whether they immediately leave the abusive situation or not — and the group may have decided to provide safety measures ranging from changing the locks at the victim's home or adding more patrol to the neighborhood where the victim lives.
"The whole idea is to keep her safe, wherever she's living," said Jette.
Of the 16 women the response team has served, Jette said one of the women went back to her abuser.
There are many more women and men out there who live with domestic violence each day, and Jette said he hopes continuing to work with victims in a face-to-face way will slowly encourage others to seek help.
"This way here we can knock down some barriers and help someone in a real way," said Jette.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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