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Breaking the Cycle 

Local programs aim to prevent domestic violence

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Last Sunday, an estimated 114 million viewers tuned in to watch the Seahawks and the Patriots battle it out on the Super Bowl field. And many of those folks, on couches and barstools across the country, saw something they'd never seen before—a Super Bowl ad about domestic violence.

While the ad has rightly received some accolades for shining a light on the fact that an estimated 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will experience abuse in an intimate relationship, others are calling attention to a missed opportunity for prevention. A recent analysis of domestic violence funding in California found that just one-third of funding went to prevention, with the majority going to shelters and crisis intervention.

And while this trend is not unique to California, two programs in Central Oregon are currently working to prevent domestic violence while also providing services to those impacted by abuse.

Saving Grace, a local organization that provides domestic violence and sexual assault services, has been offering workshops on teen dating violence and healthy relationships, in Central Oregon schools since 1984. Though the curriculum has changed some in the past 30 years—the current program, Safe Dates, addresses modern teen dating dynamics such as sexting and cyber stalking—Saving Grace Executive Director Janet Huerta says the nonprofit recognized the importance of prevention early on.

"Knowing that prevention was going to be important, we decided to get ahead of it," Huerta recalls. Though they were acting on a gut impulse at the time, she says studies soon showed that the best way to prevent domestic violence is to encourage healthy relationships when youth first start dating.

According to an analysis of the Safe Dates program published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 72 percent of eighth and ninth graders are "dating." By high school, 1 in 10 students will have been physically assaulted by a boyfriend or girlfriend. For girls, rates of physical and emotional abuse jump to 1 in 3. Sexual assault: 1 in 4.

"Part of the curriculum," Huerta explains, "is to focus on warning signs, but also give the opposite side—'This is what a healthy relationship looks like.' Some people learn better by comparing and contrasting."

Saving Grace currently extends its reach by using AmeriCorps volunteers to provide the trainings in schools in all three Central Oregon counties, work bolstered by 2012 Oregon House Bill 4077, the Teen Healthy Relationship Act, which directs public schools to provide some type of dating violence prevention material for students in grades 7-12.

Still, despite the legislative boost and the assist from AmeriCorps, Huerta says they aren't able to spend the optimal amount of time with students.

"Like taking a pill, there's an ideal dosage and a frequency," Huerta explains. "Do schools have the capacity to give us the amount of time that would be ideal? No. That's just a fact of life we have to deal with."

Like Saving Grace, another local nonprofit is also taking steps to prevent family violence despite limited resources. In late 2013, Kids Center teamed up with the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office, the Bend Police Department, the Department of Human Services and Saving Grace to launch the Domestic Violence Child Safety Pilot—a program inspired by a successful effort in Lane County.

"The goal is to help resource and support the family so the family doesn't continue in the cycle of violence," explains Kids Center Executive Director Shelly Smith. "And to give children an opportunity to speak about what's happening."

How it works is when police make a domestic violence arrest and a child is present, officers provide the non-offending parent with the opportunity to have their child interviewed at Kids Center. State law mandates an interview with Child Protective Services within five days of the incident, but offering an interview at Kids Center gives access to additional resources.

"If we can get to those families that this is their first incident, we have a much better chance of getting recourses in quickly and getting families into therapy," Smith says. "Research shows that 50 percent of the time, when there's [domestic violence] there's also child sexual abuse, [and] children who are growing up in family violence are much more likely to become a future perpetrator or a victim of violence in their own family."

Though the Deschutes County program is still young—Redmond police just received training at the end of last year—this approach is showing success in Lane County.

According to Deschutes County Assitant District Attorney Drew Moore, a summary of relevant Lane County cases from 2002-2011 shows that from 672 interviews conducted at KIDS FIRST (a similar organization to Kids Center), 550 perpetrators took a plea deal (avoiding a traumatic trial) and 39 were found guilty at trial. Moore says that is an exceptionally high rate of conviction in domestic violence cases, which tend to be tricky.

"Long term, we're hoping we're going to have an impact on how much domestic violence there is in our communities," Moore says.


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