Breaking the cycle: Domestic violence focus of academy

ROSSFORD — Advances in domestic violence prevention — from breaking the generational cycle of abuse to strangulation research — were the focus of the third week of the Rossford Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy on Wednesday.

“It happens from generation to generation to generation to generation, unless you make it stop,” guest speaker Perrysburg Municipal Court Judge Aram Ohanian said. “If you can help in any way, that’s the best you can do, to make it stop for the next generation.”

Other speakers were victim advocate Linda Schwartz, prosecuting attorney for the city of Rossford Gina Wasserman, the Cocoon executive director Kathy Mull, domestic violence advocate Mandy Mathias and Wood County Prosecutor’s Office investigator Todd Curtis.

Ohanian outlined the order of operations for how things happen in a modern court. He laid out the legal process from the moment the police get a call that could indicate a domestic violence situation in process and the requirements that have evolved in recent years.

He noted the focus on protection of the family and the survivors of the situation.

“You should be safest in your home, and that is where this happens,” Ohanian said. “Victims in these cases are truly victims, because there is so much against them.”

Ohanian stressed that domestic violence is not just physical, but also mental.

“The emotional can be just as damaging as the physical,” Wasserman said.

“Offenders will use anything, kids, pets — anything — to keep the defendant in the house,” Schwartz said.

Each of the speakers stressed that there is a no-contact order placed with every case.

“The days of not prosecuting domestic violence cases, because of victims not cooperating, are over,” Wasserman said.

Ohanian said there is a 20-week counseling program available for some cases.

“It has actually been very successful,” Ohanian said.

The recidivism rate, after completion of the course, is low, he said. Part of that success is due to early use, before there have been multiple domestic violence incidents, in conjunction with legal system requirements, Ohanian said.

Mull and Mathias, from the Cocoon, have recently started working with Rossford. The organization provides comprehensive help for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Mull noted that 90% of the survivors they work with never enter their 24-bed facility.

“Leaving a domestic violence situation is the most dangerous time,” Mull said.

Many of their programs are accessed remotely and all the services are free. They are not just for women and children.

Funding for the organization is from federal, state and local public sources, as well as from private funds. Mull noted that there has been a decreasing level of public funding and that their need continues to grow. Last year they worked with 818 survivors and this year they have already worked with 625.

About a third of domestic violence survivors are men, which may not be new, but is more often recognized today.

The last speaker was Curtis, who is a retired Perrysburg Township detective. His specialty is the study of strangulation, especially in relation to domestic violence.

“Strangulation is the ultimate act of control,” Curtis said.

He has been researching the actions that take place prior to the strangulation incident, as well as training officers to recognize the physical evidence of strangulation. The goal is for evidence-based investigations that don’t require the survivor to testify.

Curtis also suggested that members of the academy and the public, call state senators in support of legislation that would make strangulation a felony. It is currently stalled out, after passing 94-0 in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“Ohio is the last state in the U.S. to have laws against strangulation,” Curtis said.

Currently, Ohio strangulation fits under felonious assault, which is considered a harder category for successful prosecution.