State creates domestic violence reform task force

Two Columbians are members of the group.
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

Attorney General Chris Koster announced this month the creation of task force to reform Missouri’s domestic violence laws, which have not had a comprehensive review in 30 years.

The task force will propose amendments to current laws in order to create legislation that will provide better service to domestic violence victims and accountability to perpetrators.

While there are statutes in the law that work, the task force will have a report for the next legislative session containing recommendations for legislation and best practices communities could adopt, Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said.

“One of the issues already raised was that different definitions are used throughout the statutes for domestic violence,” she said. “We want to see if it’s possible to have one standard definition.”

Colleen Coble, Executive Director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, first introduced the idea of the task force.

MCADSV Public Policy Specialist Emily van Schenkhof said more community services would cut down on barriers for domestic violence victims, such as the inability to find employment and safety.

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is also on the task force. He said investigating funding sources for domestic violence shelters is the most important issue at hand.

“Women need a safe, clean and decent place right now because right now is when they need the safety,” he said. “Police need a place where they could go.”

Kelly said a tax credit on income tax grants funding for shelters, but state funding is always needed.

Schenkhof also said the services were important.

“(These) services are lifechanging and I’m not exaggerating,” Schenkhof said. “Building resumes and applying for jobs are skills that the services can provide.”

Schenkhof said many batters first use isolation to keep victims from the outside world and from having employment. Victims are able to gain enough independence once they find jobs and make an income for themselves.

“Not all (batterers) isolate, but it’s one of the most common tactics,” she said. “When victims gained financial help, they were able to get out of the relationship.”

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jessie Haden said in an e-mail that although she is unsure about the number of cases involving college students, victims can apply for an ex-parte order of protection, a type of temporary restraining order.

“In Columbia, people go to the county courthouse to apply,” she said in an e-mail. “After hours, people can apply for emergency ex-partes [sic] through the women's shelter.”

Although domestic violence shelters encourage many women to report their cases, there are victims who are hesitant to go to police.

Haden said law enforcement works with women’s shelters to help women in different situations.

“We assign specially-trained investigators to every domestic violence case,” she said. “They work with a specially-appointed prosecutor, as well as victim advocates.”

Because 95 percent of domestic violence victims are women, there are no residential services or shelters for men, Schenkhof said. But there are organizations that provide hotel service and counseling to victims who are men.

She said many services offer batterer intervention programs, but they are not guaranteed to change the perpetrator’s behavior.

“The science on the effectiveness of these programs is mixed,” Schenkhof said. “This behavior isn’t easy to change and it tends to repeat itself.”

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