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Legal Learning: County responds to violence against women (and men)

James H. Manahan, J.D.

Most people haven’t heard of the Coordinated Community Response Team (CCRT) here in Lake County – it’s only two years old. Every month, representatives of numerous agencies in the county get together to coordinate their response to sexual assault and domestic violence.

When a rape or sexual assault occurs, the hospital Emergency Department is often the first place where the victim seeks help. So Lake View Hospital has developed a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. This is coordinated with law enforcement officers – the sheriff, Two Harbors police, and Silver Bay police – on the CCRT.

Then the victim may seek help from the Lake County Health and Human Services office. The county attorney will be involved if criminal charges are filed against the perpetrator, as will the victim witness advocate, the judge, and the probation officer (if the perpetrator is convicted). All of these people are also members of the Coordinated Community Response Team.

Rachel Johnson, a sexual assault advocate at North Shore Horizons in Two Harbors, facilitates the meetings of the CCRT. Two years ago North Shore Horizons got a grant from the Woman’s Foundation of Minnesota, which helped get CCRT up and running. Laura Comrie from Lake View Hospital has worked on the idea from the nurse’s standpoint for some time, and has received specialized training. Now the group is developing a protocol that spells out exactly what should be done (best practices) when a sexual assault occurs.

According to the protocol, “sexual assault victims have the right to immediate, compassionate and comprehensive medical-legal evaluations and treatment by a specially trained professional.” The goals of SANE are to protect the victim from further harm, to provide forensic evidence collection (when the victim chooses to pursue a medical exam), to evaluate and treat any sexually transmitted infections, to evaluate pregnancy risk and offer prevention, to refer victims for medical care and counseling, and to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to successfully prosecute sexual assault cases.

A similar but unrelated effort called “the Duluth Model” has been operating in Duluth since 1980. They coordinate all types of services when violence occurs against women, including orders for protection and batterer intervention programs. The Duluth Model has been copied all over the world and has won many awards for coordinated community response to domestic assault.

Last year in Minnesota, 37 people died in domestic violence homicides – 24 women and seven men were murdered by a current or former intimate partner. Also, six friends and family members were murdered, and 12 minor children were left without parents. A wonderful book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn describes the abuse of women all over the world in moving terms and offers solutions that make me hopeful that the terrible crimes against women can be reduced.

Four years ago Kay Marie Sisto was murdered by her husband in Duluth. In order to remember her and all the others who die each year from domestic violence, there is an annual 5K walk/run/roll on the Western Waterfront Trail and the Willard Munger Trail. The registration fee of $25 is used to support Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. This year it will be Saturday, May 31, at 11 a.m. You can register on-line at www.theduluth

And right here in Lake County on Thursday, April 24, there will be a fund raiser for North Shore Horizons, whose goal is to help survivors of violence (domestic and sexual abuse). It will be held at Superior Shores from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and will feature gourmet food from many North Shore restaurants. You can listen to live music, bid on silent auction items, and visit with friends—all while helping stop violence in our community. All proceeds of this event benefit survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Lake County. Send a check for $25 to North Shore Horizons, P.O. Box 206, Two Harbors, Minn., 55616, and they will hold your ticket for you at the door. Tickets can also be purchased at North Shore Horizons, 127 Seventh St., Two Harbors, Monday – Thursdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota’s Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills, and probate in and around Lake County, and does mediation everywhere. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author.