Thursday, July 18, 2024

It's time for change in helping domestic violence victims

| April 4, 2021 12:00 AM

Most of us will never know the danger and paralyzing fear of being on the receiving end of domestic violence. The victims well know, however, about living day-in and day-out with not only the threats but also the actual physical and mental abuse of domestic violence that often festers for years.

It’s naive to think domestic violence is not a problem here. We need only remember one terrible day last summer when we learned about the tragic deaths of Emily Mohler, 42, her 3-year-old daughter and Mohler’s 41-year-old friend, all stabbed to death in rural Olney by Mohler’s estranged husband, Kameron Barge.

Those horrific deaths were the impetus for Kalispell lawmaker Frank Garner to sponsor a bill that could expand the use of electronic monitoring of people charged with certain domestic violence and stalking crimes. It’s a small but significant step, advocates say, toward protecting victims from further abuse and even death.

Garner alluded to the Olney tragedy as he told the Senate Judiciary Committee recently that his bill, House Bill 449, could help prevent domestic violence from turning deadly.

"There were a number of system failures in that [Olney] event that have brought about systematic changes in our local criminal justice system" Garner told the committee. "But one of the issues that was identified was the need, in similar cases, to use available technology to provide for victim safety."

The bill would enable judges to impose electronic monitoring of domestic violence suspects by default unless the defense successfully argues against it.

We should note that if Montana had such legislation on the books, it would not have helped Mohler, since her killer hadn’t been charged with a felony. But HB 449 is an important step in offering better protection to the victims of domestic abuse. Passing this legislation should be a no-brainer for our lawmakers.

Another important change afoot in helping domestic violence victims is the Abbie Shelter’s plan to hire both a community advocate and a court advocate who will help domestic violence victims better navigate the court system and connect with resources in the valley.

The hope is that these new advocates will fill in some missing gaps in the system and streamline communication among stakeholders, including the court, the county attorney, law enforcement and resources such as the Abbie Shelter.

It’s time to do better for domestic violence victims. HB 499 and the addition of victim advocates in the Flathead Valley are two steps in the right direction.