Not just a 'big city problem'
The emergency hotline at the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson rings relentlessly, the faint knocks at the door come at all hours of the day and night, and the financial and emotional strain endured by the employees and interns is so great that many practically live at the shelter to meet the growing needs of the community.
The center has routinely seen their facilities reach maximum occupancy — and it's getting worse.
In 2017, the Dickinson Police Department reported that the dispatch center received 386 calls for service related to domestic violence, a number paling in comparison to the nearly 1,000 calls received by the 24-hour crisis intervention hotline at the center. State officials report that statewide domestic violence shelters and hotlines received just shy of 36,000 crisis calls.
"We cover an eight-county area encompassing 10,000 square miles," said Darianne Johnson, executive director of the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson. "Stark County is always our largest numbers, and a large percentage of those people do not want to go through the police department, so when people only hear about the declining numbers of domestic violence cases being reported to police, they assume that it's indicative of all domestic violence, which isn't the case."
As demand for services increases, a new shelter in Dickinson is being built to house the influx of men, women and children who seek refuge from abuse — both physical and sexual.
Currently, there are 22 organizations in North Dakota providing domestic violence services. The center in Dickinson is one of the better equipped, providing emergency, legal and financial services.
Every year statistics are compiled across the state for sexual and domestic abuse in North Dakota. Those statistics show that 67 percent of victims served were violently abused and required medical care, a quarter of the victims were under the age of 25, 73 percent of the adult assaults involved rape, nearly 90 percent involved alcohol or drugs and less than 50 percent were reported to authorities.
"Unfortunately we are a little behind the times here in Dickinson," Johnson said.
Regarding the increase in incidences, Johnson said many victims have extenuating circumstances that discourage contacting law enforcement.
"We've seen a 100 percent increase in domestic violence and sexual assaults in Stark County, and many of those people are reaching out to us instead of law enforcement," Johnson said. "Some are being told by their abusers that they'll tell the police about their drug habits or call immigration and have them deported without their children. These are the victims who feel like they can't reach out to police because of their unique circumstances, and these are the victims we see."
Shelter employees have taken on higher workloads without seeing an increase in funding or assistance.
Victims need more than just a safe place to sleep, Johnson said—they need legal assistance, therapy, drug addiction treatment, job training, English language learning services and more.
"On April 1 we had 26 people in a shelter designed to help 18, while our new shelter holds only 28 spots, granting us an additional two spots. " Johnson said. "That's what we try to get across to people that domestic violence hasn't declined in Dickinson. The drugs and trauma associated with the domestic violence cases we see are getting worse and we need people to stop saying 'this is a big city problem' and realize it's a serious and growing problem here in Dickinson."
Established in 2011, the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission reviews domestic violence deaths that have occurred in the state and recommends policies and protocols to help prevent future incidents of domestic violence and resulting fatalities.
The North Dakota attorney general's report cited that 48 percent of deaths related to homicide in the state involved domestic violence.
According to the report, significant research by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell of The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing over a 25-year span noted only 4 percent of domestic violence murder victims nationwide had ever availed themselves of domestic violence program services and in 50 percent of domestic violence-related homicides, officers had responded to a previous complaint.
"Since our beginning in 1979, we have attempted to meet four goals," Johnson said. "To manage the region's services to victims of domestic and sexual assault, secure physical safety for victims and their families, make available to victims the resources they need to break the cycle of abuse and to educate the community about abusive relationships. That's hard to do when people don't know there's a problem in our community."
For more information about the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center visit their website at www.dvrcrisiscenter.org or by calling 701-225-4506 or 1-888-225-4506.