Wood County law enforcement helps expand fight against domestic violence
By Mike Warren
WOOD COUNTY – An effort started out East is now helping to shed some light on domestic and sexual assault incidents in central Wisconsin.
The Family Center in Wisconsin Rapids is the latest agency in Wood County to utilize a tool developed by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. And the assistance could not have come at a better time.
According to a recent Department of Justice report, Wood County had the highest rate of sexual assault per capita in Wisconsin. Why? More cases got reported. How? The methodology of reporting changed dramatically.
Based on her research, Campbell came up with an assessment called “LAP”, or the Lethality Assessment Program, highlighting 11 indicators that law enforcement can use when responding to the scene of a potential domestic or sexual abuse.
“And there’s kind of a scoring matrix,” according to Family Center Executive Director Sue Sipple.
“I think if any of the first three things on the list are happening, then it’s a high-risk situation,” she said. “If none of the first three are happening, but three of the remaining eight are, then it’s a high-risk situation. Or if the officer just feels like, ‘My gut is telling me this is high risk.’ it triggers a protocol where law enforcement calls us right away while the victim is there. They tell us how they scored, and then puts the victim on the phone with us.
“Our goal is to talk about how they can stay safe, just for the next 24 hours. Do they need to come in to the shelter? Do they have a safe place to go? What about work? What about travel? We can then safety plan unique to their situation 24 hours, with a goal of having them come in a little later when things settle down, to talk more about longer-term services.”
The protocol developed by Campbell was first utilized in Wisconsin within the past six years. Marshfield’s PDC Orenda Center was among the first to implement the strategy, which partners domestic violence programs directly with local law enforcement agencies.
The Family Center applied a year after that, and was partnered with the Wood County Sheriff’s Department. Surrounding law enforcement agencies were added a year later.
“And so now, every law enforcement jurisdiction in Wood County uses this protocol,” Sipple added. “We always had a way where (law enforcement) would send over a police report when it was done. But that was days later. That wasn’t right in the middle of it. So this is really an immediate response. And very little time on the officer’s part. It’s basically asking the eleven questions, and then hanging around while we talk to the victim. And so (law enforcement officers) like it. They have always felt bad leaving, knowing that this was really a dangerous situation, and what more could they do? They’ve arrested the person, but it now gives them something more they can do.
“And we have now seen victims we have not seen in the past. And, before it was just a gut feeling. Now they have an evidence-based tool that says, ‘Based on research, I can tell you you’re probably going to get killed by this person.’ That can be a big wake-up call, because part of victims’ survival is to minimize what’s going on. When an officer of the law says, ‘Hey, based on this research, there’s a very strong chance he is going to kill you’, it’s a big wake-up call.”
According to its website – www.mnadv.org – the Lethality Assessment Program is an evidence-based intimate partner homicide prevention model recognized as a “promising practice” by the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been studied and validated.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
According to its Facebook page, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin is “partnering with state coalitions across the country to start a national conversation about domestic violence. This year’s theme is #Every1KnowsSome1 to highlight the fact that domestic violence can happen to anyone and is more prevalent than people realize, with one in four women and one in seven men experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime.”
For local resources, visit the Family Center website at www.familyctr.org or the PDC/Orenda Center website at pdcmarshfield.org.
“We know that not every victim calls the police,” Sipple explained.
The Family Center hotline is also available 24/7 at 715- 421-1511. Sipple said it’s never too early to reach out, “You don’t have to be ready to leave before you call us. We’d rather have you call when you first start thinking about it.”
According to the latest figures, domestic violence claimed 68 lives in Wisconsin in 2020.