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Growing up with domestic violence

Sheriff says he became a cop in response to bullies

By Fran Gonzalez | Nov 07, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, shown at his office Oct. 24, says he went into law enforcement "because of bullies."

Belfast — Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton said he became a police officer because of bullies. "Somebody who is a domestic violence abuser definitely fits my definition of a bully," he said.

In an Oct. 24 interview, Trafton said he grew up in Piscataquis County, in the small town of Wellington, which has 240 residents. There he witnessed domestic violence firsthand, at home with his father, who verbally, and sometimes physically, brutalized his mother.

Though his father's abuse was mostly verbal, he said, "the tea kettles always had my father's fist prints in them." He does not see himself as a survivor, he said, but being a police officer now has given him a unique perspective in dealing with domestic abuse.

Trafton recently took part in a panel discussion on domestic violence along with four survivors of abuse at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta.

The event was in conjunction with the "Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse" exhibit on display at the HHRC though Dec. 13, which was created by Patrisha McLean, a survivor and photojournalist based in Camden.

Trafton wondered if there were more cases of domestic abuse now, or perhaps more are being reported.

Growing up, he remembers his mother never calling the police. Part of it, he admits, is they did not have a telephone, but also, people back then did not talk about domestic violence, he said. "I don't remember her ever saying she was going to call the police."

In his career, domestic violence has always been a high priority, but especially since leading his own agencies, he has kept a close eye on reported cases.

Between the Sheriff's Office, State Police, Belfast Police, and Stockton Springs and Searsport Police, in 2017 there were 348 domestic violence calls reported in Waldo County, he said. For 2018, it was around 330 and he anticipates 2019 will be in that same range.

"Just here in Waldo County we're covering more than 300 calls for service," Trafton said. "It's almost one a day. It's a real problem."

Consistently, he noted, half of the homicides are domestic violence-related.

"Those things alone show me, I don't know if it's increasing, but I do believe it is reported more than when I was a kid," he said.

"When I became a law enforcement officer and going to domestics — I saw situations a lot like I had seen as a kid growing up," Trafton said. "Not all become physically violent. There's a lot of domestic violence that is not physical — there's a lot of verbal abuse, there's a lot of manipulation."

He referred to training he received in which traits of the abuser are illustrated on a wheel. "New Hope for Women does a great job of presenting the power and control wheel and how it relates to what we, as law enforcement officers, see in domestic violence situations," he said.

"That's exactly what I saw as a kid growing up," Trafton said. "It was about power and control."

According to The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, abuse is reported to law enforcement every two hours and five minutes in Maine. In 2017, domestic violence assaults comprised 40.2% of the total assaults reported to law enforcement in the state. Maine is number six in the nation for the rate of domestic violence murders.

Trafton said a task force aimed at finding ways to deal with the large issue of domestic violence in Waldo County meets quarterly and has been around for several years.

The Waldo County Domestic Violence Community Response Team is composed of several law enforcement agencies. New Hope for Women, the District Attorney's Office and Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine are also partners, along with Waldo County General Hospital and probation and parole officers.

There is also a High Risk Response Team poised to jump into action when a victim is in a particularly dangerous situation. To ensure the safety of the victim and her family, the response team provides intensive planning.

The request to activate the high risk team might come from patrol deputies, from the victim witness advocate at the DA’s office, or it can also come from New Hope for Women.  "Any avenue that allows for us to be notified and activate the high risk team is a good thing," Trafton said.

In one case a few years ago, Trafton recalled moving the victim two counties away. "We hid her away and put her up in a hotel in a very remote area of Maine to keep her and her children safe."

Using a grant from the Maine Community Foundation, the task force was able to help relocate the victim, buy food and diapers, and provide the service at no cost to her.

There is a domestic violence detective at the Sheriff's Office who deals exclusively with cases of abuse and handles the electronic monitoring program for domestic violence offenders.

Trafton said the majority of times, they discover a domestic-type incident when someone calls 911 to report it. The Sheriff's Office might also hear about an incident through a school guidance counselor who has talked with a child living in the home or from a New Hope advocate who has met with a victim. Concerned family members also bring forward cases, he said.

Having the advocacy agency New Hope for Women physically attached to the Sheriff's Office has also been helpful, Trafton said. "We consult daily and I think that makes a huge difference in the level of service that we're providing to victims and their families."

In terms of numbers, Trafton said, it is hard to measure success. He said his office has not seen a significant reduction in reported cases, though "that doesn't mean the cases we're working on, that we've failed.

"We hear back from victims leading happy, successful lives," Trafton said. "There are others we never hear from again. There are too many victims out there — we can't let up. My hope is we are moving in the right direction."

Ellie Hutchinson, the Waldo County community advocate for New Hope For Women, said her agency provides court support, emergency and transitional housing, educational community programs, and school-based advocacy and support groups.

Located within the Sheriff's Office, New Hope provides services to Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo County residents affected by domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

"We try to provide community resources, working closely with law enforcement," she said. New Hope also partners with the Belfast Public Health Nurse, Waldo Community Action Partners and Adult Protective Services.

Hutchinson said one in three women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, and one in eight men.

"We see our results one at a time," she said. "When we help them stay safe, we feel we've done our job and accomplished something."

Anyone who is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate may call New Hope for Women's toll-free, 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-522-3304.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Allison C Morrill | Nov 09, 2019 11:29

This is uplifting!  Great leadership from Trafton and Huthinson. They exemplify what public service should be all about.

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