Judge Kevin Burke

Judge Kevin Burke

Courtesy, (AP)

Judge Kevin Burke: Stop domestic violence -- it's imperative

  • Article by: KEVIN S. BURKE
  • February 27, 2011 - 4:58 PM


Nearly 100 years ago, a woman was beaten by her husband on the evening of her wedding.

She lived at a time when there was shame at being a victim of domestic abuse and no resources for help. Domestic abuse was a private family matter. The young woman soon became pregnant.

The abuse continued. With the help of her family, she left her husband and moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., with her young son.

The child, Gerald Ford, became president of the United States.

Recently, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women issued a report detailing the number of women and children killed statewide from domestic violence.

In 2010, there were at least 15 women, seven children, four friends or family members, and two men. At least 10 children lost their mothers.

The week the report came out, Nicole Meier of Blaine was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend. She had confided in friends of her fears about him. After the murder, he committed suicide. He had a history of domestic violence.

In Zumbrota, a woman was shot by her estranged husband when she returned to retrieve property. Fortunately, she had a police escort, and she lived.

Domestic abuse is not a crime that just affects the poor or communities of color. Suburban Hennepin County reports more incidents than Minneapolis.

Last year in Minnesota, 11,502 people applied for civil orders for protection, and 16,654 people were charged criminally. In the past 10 years, 234 women and 110 children died from domestic violence.

To put the violence in perspective, less than 200 Minnesota soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. For too many Minnesotans, the real terror threat lives in their homes.

The continued stream of victims and violence can desensitize even the most caring police officers, lawyers and judges.

Battered-women's shelters and advocacy groups have suffered drastic cuts as the economy stresses families.

Financial struggles stress everyone -- including abusers. At the same time, victims who are short on money feel short on options, so they stay.

Even after a victim leaves, the damage, the pattern of abuse becomes a tragic legacy to the children who have seen it at home. Children learn from their parents.

A child in an abusive home has a significant chance of both abusing others and of being abused. We need moral and legal leadership to stop the pernicious cycle of domestic violence.

First, we need to reinforce the safety net for victims. Shelter for those who need it must be accessible along with help finding a permanent home.

Sometimes supervised visitation is required for the safety of children, and there are far too few places to do that if you do not have any money.

Second, the legal system needs to be fair and effective. A steady stream of domestic-abuse cases is among a judge's most difficult assignments.

Not all abuse allegations are true, and it isn't always easy for a judge to determine which are. Bail needs to be set in some cases, but judges do not help the victim if she is the one posting the bail.

Both victims and perpetrators have the right to be heard. But there are far too many mornings when two judges are scheduled to hear 20 civil domestic-abuse trials.

The sad hope is not everyone shows up. To be fair and effective, judges need to have time to hear cases and a willingness to evaluate the effectiveness of what we do.

Finally, domestic violence is a challenge for the entire community. Religious leaders need to see addressing domestic abuse as a moral imperative.

Congregations have the capability to either provide shelter and support -- or pressure to stay in a relationship that is unsafe. The moral imperative is safety and support.

Medical leaders need to see domestic violence as a crisis in medical care. Business leaders need to see it as an anchor on the ability of the state to grow economically.

Luckily for Gerald Ford and his mother, her family had the means, understanding and connections to get them to safety.

But those caught in the generational cycle of violence rarely have such fortune and face a rock-riddled path away from their abusers.

Violence in one home breeds violence in the community. We won't eradicate domestic violence, but we can't stop trying to ease the journey out for victims.

Kevin S. Burke is a Hennepin County district judge.

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