Las Vegas Sun

October 13, 2019

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Program addresses the root of domestic violence

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is defined as “a crime involving the use of power, coercion and violence to control another,” according to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. Forms of domestic abuse include: physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse and stalking.

Contact Safe Nest

• Office: 702-877-0133

• Hotline: 702-646-4981

• Rural Hotline: 800-486-7282

Did you know?

Compared with a man, a woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance or a family member than by a stranger. Thirteen times as many females were murdered by a male they knew, and of victims who knew their offenders, 63 percent were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives or girlfriends to their perpetrator, according to a 2016 Violence Policy Center report.

By the numbers

• 7,671: Victims who sought temporary protection orders at family court in fiscal year 2017 with the help of Safe Nest

• 342: Domestic violence victims who received supportive services from Safe Nest in FY2017

Abuse is about power and control

Batterers believe their needs are more important than those around them and are willing to use methods of power and control to have their needs met.

“Anytime a batterer is generally put in a position where they don’t feel like they have power and control, or their needs aren’t being met, the violence will escalate,” Ortenburger said.

Why is abuse prevalent in Nevada?

Ortenburger said Nevada and Las Vegas rank high for domestic violence incidents because of the combination of transiency and the isolation of the population in rural areas.

Women are more likely than men to be the victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners, and they’re more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place. In addition, Nevada consistently has one of the highest homicide rates of female victims murdered by males­ — the state ranked third in the nation, according to 2016 Violence Policy Center report.

Enter Safe Nest’s Battery Rehab Program, which aims to address the root causes of domestic violence by targeting batterer behavior. Group treatment educates abusers and teaches them to take responsibility for their actions.

Safe Nest offers the roughly 90-minute group sessions in Las Vegas, Mesquite and Boulder City.

“Treatment is generally men, but we do also run women’s groups,” said Liz Ortenburger, CEO of Safe Nest. “They’re groups that get together either 26 times or 52 times to go through a curriculum that really dives into battery and domestic violence at its roots and works to help batterers try and understand their behavior, take ownership of their actions and create meaningful change in their lives, so the cycle of domestic violence can end.”

Las Vegas has had treatment programs for more than 20 years after domestic violence became a point of emphasis for law enforcement in the 1990s.

“Judges recognized that they needed an outlet beyond incarceration to be able to deal with the onslaught of domestic violence cases,” Ortenburger said. “So, battery treatment was formed, and we [Safe Nest] have been a part of it from the very beginning.”

There are three main pathways into Safe Nest’s program: court referral, a batterer entering the program by his or her own volition, and a victim referring his or her partner.

“For a part of the domestic violence population we serve, they’re deeply in love with the person who is causing them harm,” Ortenburger said. “They’re looking for resources and solutions to help that person not be their batterer. For a lot of victims who use this method to try to help, this is the last straw. It’s like: ‘You’re going to take this class and we’re going to either heal this relationship or it’s going to be over.’ That’s the spectrum that we see.”

It takes a victim approximately seven times to leave an abusive relationship—often violence escalates each time the victim leaves, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Safe Nest serves about 1,000 batterers a year. Ortenburger estimates that in the past 20 years, the nonprofit served 20,000-30,000 batterers who came through the program.

“Our mission is to be a leading advocate in ending domestic violence. Domestic violence doesn’t start with the victim; it starts with the batterer,” she said. “What we were seeing in the trends 20-plus years ago when we started the program was not serial victims, but serial batterers. We would see multiple victims from the same batterer. We realized if we were truly committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence, we needed to focus on prevention, which we do, but we need to focus on the batterers because they are the ones causing the violence.”

The success rate of the program is unknown for several reasons, including the transiency of the Las Vegas community, but Ortenburger’s counselors tell her they see a change in behavior about halfway through the program.

“Their estimation is that we get through to 50-60 percent of the people in the program,” she said. “But I’ll be honest with you, for another 40 percent it’s unclear whether or not they’re taking it seriously. It’s a very difficult population to serve.”

The biggest indicator of success is whether the batterer takes responsibility for his or her actions.

“Nobody made you hit them, nobody made you act that way. Nobody made you be financially abusive, emotionally abusive, spiritually abusive,” Ortenburger said. “You’re choosing that, and taking responsibility for your triggers that get you to that place ... only then we can see some success.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.