CADILLAC — Jason Elmore hears these kinds of statements a lot: “I don’t want to press charges ... I fell down the stairs ... you’re ruining our family.‘
As Wexford County Prosecutor, Elmore said he regularly comes into contact with victims of domestic violence who either change their mind about testifying against their abusers or who never cooperate with prosecution in the first place.
That is the power that abusers have over their victims, which is the reason Elmore said they usually go ahead with prosecution anyway.
“Domestic violence is a priority one case in our office,‘ Elmore said. “The more effective we are in prosecuting domestic violence cases, the more confident victims are reporting abuse because they know the law enforcement team is there to support them to end the cycle.‘
In Wexford County, cases of domestic abuse have been on the rise: in 2015, there were 126 cases processed by the prosecutor’s office; in 2016, there were 140; in 2017, there were 167; in 2018, there were 159; and from January to August of 2019, there were 110.
In 28 of those cases, the victims were beaten up so badly they had to seek medical treatment for their injuries. The above-listed data doesn’t include charges of strangulation, which usually are connected to domestic violence, Elmore said; there were 44 of those charges since 2015.
So it’s clear, domestic violence is a problem in this area and with October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, local organizations such as the Cadillac Oasis Family Resource Center are eager to shine a light on the issue.
Amber Herlein, executive director of Cadillac Oasis, said in the last 12 months, they’ve taken 501 crisis calls, provided 3,207 bed nights in their temporary emergency shelter, and placed 155 survivors into their various assistance programs.
Over the years, Herlein said one of the things she’s noticed vis-à-vis the cases they handle is increasing complexity.
For instance, in so many cases, there are multiple complicating factors other than the abuse — including addiction and poverty — that create additional barriers for the victims seeking help.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Corey Wiggins handles most of the domestic violence cases in Wexford County and he confirmed they can be incredibly complex.
“There is no doubt that substance use plays a part in domestic violence cases,‘ Wiggins said. “The majority of our cases usually have some sort of substance involved, which is usually alcohol ... In many ways, domestic violence cases are the most difficult type of cases to prosecute because of the emotional roller coaster that everybody is on. Spouses still love each other and rely on each other for support, including financial. Then there is the added component of the children.‘
Herlein said domestic abuse can take many forms, and not all of them involve physical violence (see the wheel of power and control on page A1).
The majority of cases they see involve men abusing women but Herlein said they also see women abusing men, men abusing men and women abusing women.
There often are common traits among abusers, such as narcissistic tendencies, limited coping skills, a compulsion for power and control, and deep-seated psychological harm caused by an unresolved trauma from the past. Abusers come from every walk of life, from the most impoverished to people in positions of authority and wealth.
For victims, adversity during childhood and limited support outside the family are pretty common denominators, although Herlein was careful not to generalize, given the complexity of each individual circumstance.
In Herlein’s experience, domestic abuse among intimate partners usually doesn’t result in physical abuse to children — that’s a much different type of dynamic.
That isn’t to say domestic violence is an isolated problem.
“Domestic violence is not just a couple’s problem, it’s a community problem,‘ Wiggins said. “The effects of domestic violence reach far beyond the abused and the abuser. It affects their children and their children’s relationships with others. It affects the victim’s ability to interact with their friends and family, and their employment.‘
Elmore said he thinks the rising number of cases in Wexford County is attributable in part to victims becoming more comfortable reporting instances of violence against them, although this remains a challenge.
“In many cases the victim will not report, let alone leave, a relationship until after multiple instances,‘ Wiggins said. “While this may seem strange to those in nonviolent relationships, it’s important that the victim is not judged for their non-action, but that they be supported in the steps that they do take to retake their lives.‘
Herlein agreed that supporting survivors in their efforts to escape from abusive relationships is hugely important.
To that end, all this month, Oasis will be hosting events to spread awareness and information about domestic violence.
On Thursday, Oct. 17, Oasis and the Michigan State Police will team up to collect non-perishable food items to fill the Oasis pantry. The Stuff the Blue Goose! collection will take place from 4-6 p.m. outside the Cadillac Walmart.
On Monday, Oct. 21, Roots will be providing hair cuts in exchange for care kits for domestic violence survivors. Care kits can be full-sized shampoo, conditioner and body wash; or laundry soap, fabric softener and dryer sheets. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at 272 Bell Avenue.
On Thursday, Oct. 24, there will be a candlelight vigil at the Oasis office in Cadillac to remember those who lost the battle, celebrate those who have survived and connect those that work to end domestic violence. The vigil will be held at 118 South Mitchell St. at 5:30 p.m.
And that’s just the start.
Every Thursday, the public is invited to wear something purple, whether that be clothing or even a painted fingernail, to spread awareness about domestic violence.
For more information on other things going on related to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, call Oasis at (231) 775-7299 or go to www.cadillacoasis-frc.org.