By Tom Scanlon
The Daily Courier
September 23, 2014

“A book is not going to fix it.”

It’s not just the NFL.

In the Prescott area, more than 1,000 reports of domestic violence have been made so far this year. And, experts say, many more never are reported, mainly because victims are fearful.

But there is support for victims – and abusers.

“We have people answering phones 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Robin Burke, CEO of Stepping Stones Agencies.

“(Callers) get a live, specially trained advocate, trained to know what to do – a lot of times they get a call from a person locked in a bathroom.”

In addition to hotline support, Stepping Stones, which serves all of West Yavapai County provides shelter for women in danger.

The team at Stepping Stonesand other agencies provide support for victims of domestic violence – and for those who have either abused their partners, or are fearful they are going in that direction.

But, Burke said, abusers or potential abusers need to commit to changes to find success.

“If they really want to change, they need to get into therapy. There’s no magic bullet,” Burke said. “It’s about changing behavior.

“They would have to go through the same process of a sex offender or another kind of offender.”

Burke added that, in most cases, a short-term anger management course will not cure an abusive personality.

“It’s a long-term, therapeutic process,” she said. “They didn’t just get that way over six weeks – they got that way over a lifetime. What an anger management class can do is at the end help them figure out what they can do to continue to recover.”

Police say that alcohol is often a factor in domestic violence. But Burke and other experts say the “alcohol made me do it” excuse is false.

“Drinking could make it that it’s just easier to lose control. But it’s not the cause of (abuse),” Burke said.

And, she noted, abuse is often not physical.

“The consequences for hitting somebody are a deterrent from hitting. But it doesn’t stop the abuse that’s going on in the relationship – it might be stalking, hostage taking, threatening suicide, drinking or alcohol abuse. It could look like a lot of things.”

What if someone calls the Stepping Stones hotline, saying he or she feels the potential for becoming abusive?

“We have them call West Yavapai Guidance Clinic helpline. Their services are based on ability to pay,” Burke said.

“It takes brave, courageous people to humble themselves and say they have a problem. A book is not going to fix it. We’re not talking a 12-week class.”

The website has various tools to help both victims and abuser get started on the road to recovery.

“We have three types of assessments if they aren’t sure if (the relationship is) bad or not – maybe he’s got a bad temper and broke a lamp, and the person thinks ‘this could be something.’

“The assessments are available online and are anonymous,” Burke said. “Or they can call one of our advocates, or come sit with an advocate face to face. It’s all anonymous.”

Police departments used to sneer at agencies like Stepping Stones – now they are reaching out to form partnerships, says Prescott Police Chief Jerald Monahan.

“Twenty years ago, they were the ‘huggy people,’ we were the enforcement,” Monahan said, of social service agencies and the police. Now, we work together.”

A greater understanding of the big picture of domestic violence – with its escalating cycles of abuse – has changed the way police look at the issue, Monahan said.

“The whole issue around violence against women is a priority to us,” said Monahan. “The impact of these crimes on victims affects the whole community. These victims of domestic violence may be changed forever. Heaven forbid that we don’t respond as we should.”

Detective James Tobin of the Prescott Valley Police Department said his force also works closely with the likes of Stepping Stones.

PV officers responding to domestic violence cases are armed not just with guns, but also with information. “We give out resources for local and state agencies, websites and phone numbers – including Stepping Stones and Yavapai County Family Advocacy.

“We also give (DV victims) instruction on how to obtain an order of protection; how to make a safety plan to leave (the relationship). That is the real danger zone.

“Domestic Violence is about power and control. When (abusers) feel that power and control being threatened, that’s when it can get very dangerous.”

Tobin has empathy for DV victims, who are often women. “The most common knee-jerk response is ‘Why don’t they just leave?’ People need to understand how complicated it is when you have jobs, and kids, and houses, and vehicle issues,” Tobin said. We try to help people in those situations to extract themselves if they can. We try to hold offenders accountable and try to direct victims to resources. Not every situation needs to end in divorce or someone leaving.”

Tobin, Monahan, Burke and others involved in domestic violence protection and prevention hope that NFL players’ DV cases will have a benefit to society as a whole.

Perhaps a few people heading down a road to violence will check themselves before they “go Ray Rice” – the football player who punched his then-fiancée in an elevator, knocking her out. The video of that action has been played on TV in endless loops.

“It does raise the issue in the community; people are talking about it,” Tobin said.

“Any time there is open communication and there’s greater public awareness and scrutiny,” Monahan said, “it does provide an incentive for people to correct their behavior.”