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Published November 21 2011

Campaign shines spotlight on rising domestic violence in Fargo

FARGO – Police and two partners here hope to curb domestic violence by shining a spotlight on it.

Television commercials will begin airing today as part of a public awareness campaign titled “Domestic violence: It’s everyone’s business.”

But Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said raising awareness alone won’t solve the problem: He’s also dedicating a detective to deal exclusively with domestic violence cases and develop “much more permanent solutions” to break the cycle of violence.

Ternes said he knows that some perceive domestic violence as a private family issue and will accuse police of being too intrusive.

“And I couldn’t disagree any more with that perspective,” Ternes said, adding, “Simply being reactive is not the solution.”

Domestic violence is on the rise in Fargo, he said, pointing to a substantial increase in aggravated assaults, from 96 incidents in 2006 to 159 last year to 170 so far this year. Domestic violence incidents account for a majority of that increase, he said.

Greg Diehl, executive director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, which along with Prairie St. John’s has partnered with police on the campaign, said the center has seen record caseloads the past two years. The caseload is up 15 percent since 2008, and the number of people seeking domestic violence services is up 27 percent during that time, he said.

One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, Diehl said, saying it’s “not just a women’s issue,” but a community issue.

It’s also a kids’ issue, officials said. Last year, 220 children received services from the crisis center for domestic violence, and 374 children received services for sexual abuse.

Research shows that being a victim of, or witness to, domestic violence can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal behavior, said Dawn Hoffner, director of business development at Prairie St. John’s.

Ternes said the police department has dedicated $8,000 from its crime prevention budget to fund the campaign, which also will feature radio ads and billboards. The two partners are committing funds to offset the costs, he said.

Ternes said the detective, Chris Nichtern, should be fully dedicated to domestic violence cases by the end of the year. One of his duties will be to follow up with victims to ensure that restraining orders are being followed, he said.

A greater emphasis on domestic violence has also been in the works in Clay County, where officials are using a grant awarded last year to design a specialized court for cases involving domestic violence. Grant requirements call for the diversionary court to be in place by Jan. 1.

Ternes said Nichtern has overseen the department’s sex offender registration and review process for the past several years, and that duty will now fall to another detective.

Purple ribbons like those worn by officials at Monday’s press conference will be available at various locations in Fargo to show support for the campaign.

About domestic violence

Source: Federal statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528