Judge: Men must be more active in fight against domestic violence
Madison County District Court Judge Dale Ramsey, speaking to the Eureka Springs Lions Club last Wednesday, said that although the courts are making progress in the state's fight to end domestic violence, men need to take a more of a "leadership role" when dealing with the issue.
"Typically, we have women advocating for this. It's simply not just a women's problem. We need more men in leadership positions that take this seriously to come up with changes and things that will help," Ramsey said in a phone interview with the Citizen. "It's something I haven't typically seen in domestic violence presentations but it's important for me to promote to see if we can get other men involved in this."
Ramsey, who serves on the Arkansas District Judges Domestic Violence Advisory Committee, credited Rebekah Tucci, the domestic violence program coordinator for the state's Administrative Office of the Courts, for "putting a bug" in his ear about the need for batterer intervention programs and for more men to lead the fight.
Ramsey said that in local courts, batterers are often ordered to attend anger management classes but those classes aren't designed to deal with domestic violence offenders because anger is often not the root cause. In the last decade, Arkansas has consistently ranked at or near the top 10 states with the highest incidence of domestic violence homicides, according to the Arkansas Judiciary website.
"We had a meeting with Ozark Guidance and Rebecca was there. We talked about different classes that are available for batterers. After the meeting, I realized it (anger management classes) wasn't what batterers should be sentenced to," he said. "The longer, more involved batterer intervention programs get participants to open up more and they really focus on domestic violence more than a simple anger management class."
Ramsey said he asked Ozark Guidance to give the presentation to local judges in June so they could learn "what works best."
"Domestic violence is not about anger. Anger is a small part. Some people interpret domestic violence to mean a man has an anger problem and he can't control it. Domestic violence is about men exerting control over significant others and exerting power over them," he said.
Ramsey acknowledged that women can be perpetuators as well and that understanding the power and control cycle is paramount for victims, judges and advocates.
"Power and control is domestic violence 101. Anger is not always necessary for a man exerting power and control. He can control people through finances, threatening kids, trying to know their whereabouts, who they talk to, where they go, how they wear their hair."
Ramsey said that he has heard a lot of people in Carroll County express interest in intervention programs that hold batterers accountable but currently, there is no facility where the programs can be held and lack of funding is the biggest obstacle.
Laura Ponce, whose daughter Laura Aceves was murdered on New Year's Eve 2012 in Carroll County by an ex-boyfriend after she repeatedly attempted to get help, was at the presentation and said that Carroll County desperately needs a shelter for battered women.
"They have to go to Harrison and it's full most of the time," she said. "I want people to know how hard Judge Ramsey is working to help domestic violence victims."
During the presentation, Ramsey also talked about Laura's Law, which was passed in honor of Aceves and domestic violence victim Laura Webb this summer. The law requires law enforcement officers to use a lethality assessment when responding to a report of domestic violence and for first responders to provide a victim or a victim's family with information on victim's assistance, rights, compensation, protection and access.
According to the state's Administrative Office of the Courts website, holding batterers accountable and responsible for their actions while supporting a victim's need for safety and security will help reduce the rate of homicides caused by domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the state.
"The evidence demonstrates when courts become more efficient in how they handle these kinds of cases through improved practices and procedures for orders of protection and no-contact orders, improved batterer intervention programs and stricter enforcement of laws and orders, incidents related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are reduced," the website said.
Ramsey said it is important that anyone who deals with domestic violence victims attend the Carroll County Coalition Against Domestic Violence's forum Oct. 22 in Berryville.
"I'll be there and people from Ozark Guidance will try to attend," he said.