An uplifting yet realistic account of a victim and his loved ones struggling to recover after random violence. Originally published in the Cheboygan Daily Tribune from April 20, 1993, to April 23, 1993.
Debbie met her husband, Glen, after her brother “saved” him in a 7-Eleven convenience store by showing him “the way of the lord.”
“I was just a Christian girl looking for a husband,” the Cheboygan resident said.
Even though Glen was headed for jail at the time for credit card fraud, Debbie believed he could change and was willing to do what it took to stay by his side. She visited him in jail until he was released after serving four months of a two-year sentence. They married a month later.
Debbie, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her children’s identities, became pregnant immediately. But it wasn’t until she was seven months pregnant that the problems began. After a night of drinking, Glen came in and started to hit Debbie.
Terrified and confused, Debbie ran barefoot to her mother’s nearby apartment.
The abuse multiplied from that night onward. Glen sold all of Debbie’s belongings, threw food at her, pulled a gun on his parents and held a knife to her throat after she refused him sexual favors.
But after years of abuse, Debbie found what more and more women in violent households are discovering – the courage to leave.
In 1992, there were 93 reported cases of domestic violence disputes in Cheboygan County, not including an additional 118 civil disputes that may have included domestic violence reported by the Cheboygan County Sheriff Department.
Last year, assault and battery complaints in the Cheboygan County District Court accounted for 20 percent of the overall caseload. And statistics indicate a startling increase over the past few years.
In 1990, 50 cases of assault and battery were filed in the 89 th Cheboygan District Court. In 1991, 63 cases were filed, followed by 85 cases in 1992. January and February of 1993 already show 16 cases filed.
Figures provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicate that a woman is physically assaulted within her home every 15 seconds in the United States.
Battery is the single major cause of injury to women, exceeding street rape, muggings or auto accidents.
It is estimated that 4,000 women are beaten to death annually; six million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends.
This indicates that women are more likely to be physically assaulted, beaten or killed in their own home by someone they love than any place else in society.
No community, race or economic group is free of domestic violence; several factors that contribute to it exist throughout the nation, including Cheboygan County.
High rates of unemployment and alcoholism are not direct causes of family disputes, just grim excuses for a violence that can’t distinguish between socio-economic or educational barriers.
“Domestic violence in a relationship is not a one-time incident; it’s a lifetime, a lifestyle of fear and control,” said Chris Krajewski, director of the Women’s Resource Center Safehouse – a battered women’s shelter that services five counties in Northern Michigan.
I think we all want an excuse. We all want an easy out for why domestic violence happens,” Krajewski said. “We want this crime, this horrible injustice, to stop. But there is not easy answer because domestic violence is a complicated societal problem.”
There are several reasons why victims of domestic abuse stay in a violent situation, Krajewski said.
Some women would rather stay in a bad relationship than lose financial security. Leaving often means starting from ground zero, which includes giving up a home, car or steady income in return for safety.
In the first year after a divorce, a woman’s standard of living drops by 73 percent, while a man’s improves by an average of 42 percent, according to information compiled by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project.
Other victims of abuse falsely believe they can change their batterer, that they can rehabilitate him into a healthy relationship.
“The sad thing about the alcohol myth is that many women think that when their partners beat them, that it’s not him, it’s the alcohol,” Krajewski said. “Alcohol does not cause abuse. Sober people beat their partners. Recovering alcoholics beat their partners.”
Many victims attempt to minimize the abuse they endure or learn to tolerate it, she said. Others blame themselves for the abuse and feel they deserve it or think they did something to incite the violence.
Women leave their abusive husbands an average of seven times before they leave for good, Krajewski said.
“We see so much violence today that women are trained to keep the relationship or marriage together,” she said. “Society tells women to go back and try again.”
Marie, who lives in Indian River with her son, understands this too well. She left her abusive husband three times before she filed for divorce.
She started dating Bob when they were both in sixth grade and after graduating from high school they married.
“The problems started right away,” said Marie, who asked that her real name not be used. “The night we got married, he went out golfing and never came home.”
In the next three years of their marriage, Marie started to blame herself for the explosive mood swings Bob directed her way. He kept making promises to stop hitting her and to give up drugs, but those promises were too hard for him to keep.
“The hitting would stop for about a week, but the drugs never did,” she said. “After a while I thought maybe it was my fault for harping on him for coming home so late all the time.
But the promises of change haunted Marie, preventing her from taking steps to escape the turbulent relationship.
“I was worried that I would leave him and he’d finally change and start a great family with someone else,” she remembered. “I thought I would miss out.”
Marie tried to press assault and battery charges on Bob once, but he talked her out of it two months later. Later he beat her so severely – by bashing her head into a wall and the floor – that Marie was convinced that she was going to die.
But still she didn’t prosecute, or even go to the hospital, because she was afraid her parents would find out.
The next time Bob attacked Marie, she changed her mind about everything. She was alone watching television when Bob arrived intoxicated. After she asked him to leave, he started to choke her.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” she said. “I thought to myself, I’ve got to do something because it’s never going to get better.”
So she filed for divorce and pressed assault and battery charges against him. Marie and Bob have been divorced for two years now and he is currently awaiting a court date on separate assault charges against her.
Picking up the pieces after leaving a violent relationship involves a slow healing process for many women.
Almost 10 years after Debbie divorced Glen, she finally feels safe. Glen can’t harm her anymore, as he is serving time in a Carson City prison for armed robbery.
“I left him 12 times in a year, “ the Cheboygan woman remembers, adding she finally left him for good after “he promised me a bullet” if she didn’t obey his orders.
Debbie now avidly attends church – always thanking God for giving her the will to survive.
“Prayer is the only thing that kept my sanity,” Debbie said. “Glen didn’t let me go to church down state, but he did when we moved up here. That was his biggest mistake because that’s how I got all my strength.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a four part series on domestic violence in Cheboygan County. Due to the seriousness of the topic names have been changed to protect the innocent.
A Window of Hope
The town and country décor gives a calming early American feel, in contrast with bunches of modern toys scattered on the floor.
Women gather in the kitchen quietly talking to each other or their children. Some are laughing, others sit quietly and listen. One woman says nothing but methodically wipes down the counter with a washcloth.
These women and children do not know each other but have all come together for the same reason – to seek refuge from a violent partner.
For the past 15 years, the Women’s Resource Center has provided shelter to abused women and children for five Northern Michigan counties. The two-story farmhouse has two full bathrooms, 24 beds and cribs and laundry facilities.
From 1991 through 1992, the Safe Home has provided a safe haven to more than 225 women and children and offered counseling to more than 200 people.
The average stay is 14 days, but women can stay up to 30 days if necessary, said Chris Krajewski, director of the Safe Home. The house is staffed by 12 people and operates a 24-hour crisis line.
The soft décor in the Safe Home is deliberate, Krajewski said.
“We’re dealing with victims, not criminals,” she said. “So it is different here. There isn’t a lot of structure. We’re trying to keep it a lot like ‘home,’ real safe, offering security and confidentiality.
“But no matter how safe we make this place, it’s never a vacation for these women.”
Most women are introduced to the Safe Home through police agencies, women’s advocacy organizations or by calling the Safe Home hotline.
“The hardest step is walking through the front door, because they don’t know what is on the other side,” Krajewski said.
When a woman arrives, she is given access to legal help, support groups and tools to learn how to start over again on her own, she said. Women share their stories with each other and often discover the strength to leave their abusive relationships.
“There’s a lot of pressure on women to make a marriage work from society and also from power and control issues,” she said. “Women believe that they are the bad person by leaving. But the batterer is the one doing the damage. He’s the one that needs to go away and get help.”
A special playroom is set up for children who come to the Safe Home. This usually provides an outlet for emotions the children have held in throughout their ordeals.
“With kids, there’s just a look of relief on their faces,” Krajewski said. “They can sing, dance, and be happy. Kids realize soon that the tension is gone and that’s beautiful.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘Chris, isn’t it tough going to work every day?’ Well, it’s tough, but there’s a beauty in seeing this tension relieved.”
The 24-hour Crisis and Information line is (231) 347-0082 or (800) 275-1995. Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan, Inc. (formerly named The Cheboygan Women’s Resource Center) is at 520 N. Main Street, (231) 627-2380. The Petoskey office is at 423 Porter Street, (231) 347-0067. www.wrcnm.org
I Need Help!
The dynamics of domestic violence are extremely complicated. But several area organizations are available to offer assistance in escaping an abusive situation.
When a child is abused or neglected the state agency that most often gets involved in the situation is the Department of Social Services.
The state mandated agency investigates allegations of child abuse or neglect within a home. Approximately 70 percent of social service referrals are outside interventions, said John Waisanen, volunteer coordinator for DSS.
The majority of claims, almost 75 percent, are for parental neglect and abuse of children. This includes the failure to feed a child or provide education, medical care and clothing.
When investigating a complaint, parents are often angry or confused about who alerted the agency to possible abuse.
“Most folks, probably 95 percent, want to be good parents,” Waisanen said. “Once they get past the initial denial, most of them will sit down and cooperate.”
Any children involved in an investigation are questioned separately from their parents to prevent intimidation. The level of risk is also evaluated to protect the civil liberties of everyone involved.
If credible evidence is found to support allegations of abuse, DSS will take steps to remove the child from a detrimental situation, Waisanen said.
If the child is not safe in his or her own home, DSS will place the child in a foster family, he said. This only happens in about 10 percent of abuse/neglect cases. Most children can stay with relatives, the perpetrator may leave or the mother might choose to leave to a women’s shelter.
With rehabilitation as the main goal of these crimes, many families are enrolled in parenting classes, support groups and/or counseling.
“Very often, we find that these are downtrodden folk who have been down for a long time,” Waisanen said. “They need to find self-esteem.
“Getting folks to support groups is difficult though. Most often the people who don’t go are the ones who need it the most.”
The Department of Social Services is located in the Cheboygan County Building, (616) 627-8500.
The Women’s Resource Center is a non-profit, community base organization that serves women and families in Northern Michigan.
Established in 1977, it services Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Otsego and Antrim counties.
The center has two offices, in Cheboygan and Petoskey, and offer several services including counseling, a domestic violence program, career, job and training services, day care and preschool and information regarding support groups on parenting, careers, sexual assault and divorce.
- Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan, Inc. www.wrcnm.org (formerly Women’s Resource Center) Cheboygan Office, 520 N. Main Street, Cheboygan, MI 49721 (231) 627-2380
Other organizations providing support and assistance to victims of domestic violence include:
- Crime Victim Assistant Program, offered through the Cheboygan County Prosecuting Attorney. www.cheboygancounty.net This service offers information, support, emergency services and informs victims of their legal rights. Call (231) 627-8879
- Legal Services of Northern Michigan www.lsnm.org provides free legal assistance to eligible applicants for problems with spouse abuse, public benefits, utility payments or bill collectors. Those receiving AFDC, GA, SSI or whose income is at or below federal poverty guidelines may be eligible.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 www.ndvh.org
It wasn’t unusual for the little boy to throw chairs or desks in his kindergarten classroom. Sometimes the six-year-old would just run away.
That’s what happened one day when Kay Tebo, principal of West Side Elementary, was called in her office.
Even though the boy was so young, he already had a history of trouble and seemed to be on a “suicide mission,” Tebo remembers. When he would become agitated, teachers would have to physically restrain him, sometimes taking hours of soothing talk before he would calm down.
So when the boy walked off the school grounds one day, Tebo wasn’t exactly surprised. She followed the boy to his house, where she found him and his father engaging in a heated argument.
When Tebo asked the boy to leave with her, he threw a plastic cup of pop against the wall in his home and stormed out the front door.
As they made the walk back to West, the boy looked up at Tebo and made a remark that is still etched in her mind.
“I don’t know what he meant, but he stopped and said, ‘I could get into the mood with you.”’ Tebo says, still remembering the eerie look the boy had on his face.
Alarmed, Tebo asked the boy where he had learned such language. He replied, “My dad.”
Worry-free smiles and innocent giggles are replaced by sordid secrets and hidden tales of violence behind closed doors for thousands of today’s youths. It is estimated that at least 3.3 million children witness domestic violence each year, leaving the “traditional” Beaver Cleaver childhood slowly edging toward extinction.
In 1991, Cheboygan County accounted for 116 cases of child abuse or neglect, averaging 20.7 per 1,000 children, according to information provided by the Children’s Trust Fund in Lansing.
During the past 10 years, abuse and neglect cases within the county have risen by 37.7 percent.
Statewide there were 26,366 cases of child abuse and neglect, averaging a rate of 9.8 per 1,000 children.
According to information compiled by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project (NWAPP), children in homes where domestic violence occurs may experience cognitive or language problems, developmental delays, stress-related physical ailments (such as headaches, ulcers and rashes) and hearing and speech problems.
Within the classrooms at West Elementary “we see a lot of learning problems and we’re seeing them earlier on because of the students not coming to school ready to learn,” Tebo said.
“We know there’s an awful lot of abuse going on and we have that to deal with. As different traumas go on, children are not able to focus and have a lot of inattention problems.”
Many students are several years behind their grade level. Kindergarten students are not performing well.
“It’s not unusual, out of a class of 26, to send out 16 into Chapter One (a developmental reading and math program),” Tebo said. “And our numbers for our learning disabled program topped out at 15 students. I think we have half a dozen to eight referrals made for students who academically are not thriving and need some extra help.”
These kids have too many problems, she said. “We can’t sit 30 of them together and expect them to learn. Not with what they’ve been through and are going through.”
Children of violent households are coming to school without the social skills required to get along with others, Tebo said.
“And on the playground, the issue of violence is real evident out there. Everything is real reactionary. Everything is “I’m going to get you.” ’Tebo said of the behavior she witnesses during recess activities. “There’s so many threats going on. There’s only way they know how to resolve their anger and that’s through violence.”
Nothing shocks Debra Turnbull anymore. The prevention specialist for Chip Counseling Center has been stabbed by a six-year-old in the hip with a pen and often hears terrifying stories of abuse from emotionless, young faces.
Turnbull dedicates her time to working with children from abusive households, teaching them coping skills and self-esteem building exercises.
“These kids are told they are not a good person on a daily basis and they begin to believe it,” Turnbull said. “They think they are not worthy.”
The lack of positive, realistic role models leaves vulnerable, powerless children looking up to violent super heroes.
“These children are acting out what they are living,” she said, “and, of course, that’s what they see on television. On television, there is no consequences to violence. Children under seven cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy.”
Turnbull discovered the power television heroes had upon young children while she facilitated a self-esteem program for a kindergarten class.
There was an especially violent five-year-old who would terrorize children on the playground while he took on the personae of a violent television character. When Turnbull told the boy that the character was fictional and not a real person, the angered student lunged at her and stabbed her in the hip with a pen.
“He couldn’t separate the reality from the fantasy,” Turnbull said. “If you didn’t see it yourself, you wouldn’t believe it.”
Many children act out violently because they don’t have the coping skills.
“A lot of violence comes from not knowing how to communicate what they are feeling,” Turnbull said “Thoughts trigger feelings, which trigger actions.”
There is an overwhelming sense of frustration in children today, the West Side Elementary principal said, adding that absentee parents and dysfunctional families seem to be on a disturbing increase.
“It’s not always the unemployed, not always the lower socio-economic groups. We’re starting to see (domestic violence) infiltrate into all the groups in society, “Tebo said. “That’s scary as well because you wonder where those frustrations are coming from. These are people who are supposed to have the resources as far as employment and money.” But sometimes a full-time job and paid bills don’t stop an abusive situation.
“It’s not just the needy or the criminal who batter,” says Chris Krajewski, project director for the Women’s Resource Center in Petoskey. “Many batterers are employees of the month. They are in every type of profession and every kind of the job.
“Domestic violence is a complicated societal problem,” Krajewski continued. “It has been happening in both good times and bad times. Many of those who say it happens because of unemployment, or because the person was having a bad day or because they were drunk – those are just excuses. They’re excuses we’ve allowed to happen over and over again.”
Regardless of financial stability or status within community, children who act out in school are often indicating a much deeper problem within the family.
“We just have a lot of kids who are hurting,” Tebo said. “So many times when they are referred to the office for a behavioral problem, it’s not just simply disciplinary when you get to the bottom of it. It’s because things are not going well at home.
“I have had a couple students tell me that they had already been raped or that they had been abused, “Tebo continued. “One year I had a girl tell me that she had been raped twice and she was only in fifth grade.”
Most of the stories of abuse Tebo hears involve a father, stepfather or live-in boyfriend.
She remembers one second grade boy with troubles on the playground. Tebo took him into the office and asked how things were going at home.
”He said, ‘Well dad came over and he was hitting mom and my aunt and uncle were there, and they started to help my dad,’”Tebo recounts. “I’m not sure what he saw.”
When she asked him what he did when this occurred, the boy replied – “I just watched.”
Immediately Tebo discussed what he could do if it happened again, how he could stay safe.
“Here we are with these kids trying to make these life and death decisions on their own during the day, then coming to school and trying to learn. It’s incredible, “Tebo said.
“It’s hard to imaging these little people growing up and this is normal to them. And I think this is the biggest part of our problem in school with education because if there isn’t family intervention, how do you change what’s normal for their home life?"
No Time to Lose
The day starts early, 8:05 a.m. to be exact, for Kim Pantak. Sometimes, even before the first bell rings, the Cheboygan Junior High counselor hears knocking at her office door.
The problems vary from name calling and gossiping to pregnancy and battering – but Pantak matches her soothing words and open ears to the upset and often tear-stained faces.
Some days are easier than others, but all are exhausting for Pantak. With an average of 20 students visiting her office each day, Pantak has forgotten what spare time is.
In her second year as a counselor in the Cheboygan Area School system, Pantak’s caseload has decreased considerably from last year, when she was seeing up to 40 kids a day.
The counselor says she is supposed to spend a half-day at West Side and East Side elementary schools, but the overwhelming number of students needing help at the junior high has often gotten in the way.
In the short time Pantak has worked at the junior high, she sometimes feels as if there isn’t a problem she hasn’t had to confront. She has explained menstruation to girls who are already sexually active and attempted to explain to young boys that hitting is not a form of affection.
“There’s such a need for counseling that it’s easy to get burned out if I don’t take care of myself,” she said. “There’s no time to take a break. I usually just make quick notes about what just happened and another kid is at my door.”
Sometimes the problems aren’t as severe as others, but all are important – and often all consuming – to the children involved.
“To adults, they may look at these problems and think they’re nothing,” Pantak said. “But to these kids, their problems are everything.”
To help Pantak with the number of children she sees, Cheboygan Schools Superintendent William Schewe is looking at the possibility of using social workers in the elementary schools. This would allow the workers to deal with children in school and go into homes where abuse is suspected.
The need for two full-time counselors in the elementary schools is a big problem for Schewe – but it is one that leaves his hands tied.
Citing an already stretched budget, Schewe is looking to local agencies and the state to help fund the much needed counselors.
“It’s going to be very difficult to hire someone unless the state changes the way they fund schools,” he said.
Kay Tebo, principal of West Side Elementary School, said the lack of counseling time for her students has left several students without the help they need.
“We don’t see a big difference with our school counselor because we haven’t had the opportunity to have her establish a long term relationship with the kids,” Tebo said. “But the kids who have been in (private) counseling for a year already, there’s a difference.
“And usually by that time, it forces mom and dad to take a look and to get involved in that student’s life,” Tebo continued. “That’s such a big part of it.”
In the four-and-a-half years Schewe has worked as superintendent for Cheboygan schools, he has witnessed a startling increase of children with fetal alcohol syndrome, emotional/behavioral problems and “crack” babies.
More and more students are using violence as a tool to solve problems, Schewe said. The children are not ready for school and many are coming from homes where parents place a low value on education.
“The gap is widening between students with normal backgrounds – who had parents read to them when they were little – and students who come to school without nothing,” Schewe said. “Students who have watched television for five years; students who have been abused.”
Most parents are supportive of teachers and schools and consider education important to their children, Schewe said.
“Parents need to treat children well, be kind and love them,” he said. “Parents need to encourage their kids to ask questions and read books to them.
“Some parents don’t have the energy to answer questions our kids are asking. But they need to.”
Children who are living in violent home environments are often reluctant to talk about abuse, Pantak said.
“Kids who are being abused won’t turn their parents in because they are scared of going to a foster home,” she said. “For some kids, it’s worse to move to another family than to be abused.”
A lot of times families will blame a child, not the abuser, for breaking up the family by telling,” Pantak continued. “That’s what’s so sad.”
To help teach students conflict resolution skills, Pantak, along with a few volunteer teachers, facilitate an eight-week program focusing on self-esteem and how to deal with stress.
“These kids just feel so alone,” Pantak said. “It’s one thing for a counselor to say that they aren’t alone, but it’s different being in a group and hearing other kids with the same problems.”
Something as simple as listening to a child often makes a profound impact upon children in pain.
“The kids who survive in dysfunctional families do because they had one person who cared,” Pantak said. “The more people children have there for them, the more they survive. “It’s the one’s who have no one who don’t make it.”
Remorse is a word, an emotion that George Mikos rarely sees in his young clients. Most come in for their weekly visit stone-faced, rarely initiating conversation while Mikos pries for possible probation violations or how school is going.
“It’s kind of a last chance for these kids to remain in this community.” Mikos said. “Either they make it with me or the are removed from the home and placed in foster care.”
Mikos, an intensive probation officer in the Cheboygan County probate system, carries a small caseload of children – usually less than 10 kids at a time. But these children keep Mikos extremely busy; most are repeat offenders, multiple first-time offenders or need individual attention.
Not every child that Mikos works with has committed a serious crime.
“I’ve had kids on my caseload for incorrigibility charges,” he said. “They just will not submit to the supervision of their parents.”
These cases are often in conjunction with a school complaint or misdemeanor charge.
“The fact that they appear on my caseload does not mean they are a severe criminal type,” he said.
“There’s a definite overlap between neglect, abuse and delinquency,” Mikos said. “You can just let your imagination go wild with what we find when we go into some of these homes.”
His caseloads have ranged from breaking and entering and larcenies to criminal sexual conduct and retail fraud. Some kids are in the probate system because of car theft.
The Cheboygan Probate Court has revamped its system over the past 10 years to accommodate an increasing number of legal offenses committed by children.
The restructuring of the local court is part of statewide mandated changes. The changes reflect a lack of parental guidance and understanding of boundaries, along with an increase in household violence.
In 1992 alone, 218 delinquency petitions filed in the Cheboygan Probate Court resulted in 267 charges against juveniles. Of those charges, 57 were felony offenses, including two cases of felonious assault, 13 accounted for misdemeanor assaults and 37 were for retail fraud.
Most children are referred to Mikos’ intensive probation program for a year or less, but the probation officer says that he has had some children on his caseload for as long as three years or as short as 90 days.
They are questioned each week about meeting curfew, if they have been sick, attendance in school and family life.
“We don’s accept their responses necessarily,” Mikos said, “We have to monitor them and see if they are telling the truth.
“Kids will do an amazing job of covering up what’s going on in the home,” he continued. “If they’ve grown up with the belief that what their parents do and say is normal and not different, they have to reach the age of reason where they can look at their friends and other families and make an assessment of their own parent.”
The biggest bridge for both the kids and Mikos to cross is one of trust.
“Once you establish a trust relationship with these kids and they start dumping on you - then what’s really going on in a family starts coming out in a kid – it can become overwhelming” he said. “Even for me.”
Since Joanna Neale started her position as a probate judge for Cheboygan County in 1983, she has watched a startling change in aggression within young children.
For a long time, juvenile court was considered “paternalistic,” more of a social function than a law-abiding system, Neale explained.
“In the last 10 years there have been major, massive rule changes in the juvenile law, juvenile code, juvenile courtrooms, that reflect what’s happening in society,” she said. “It’s reflecting the violence in society, the abuse of children, the deterioration of families.”
Neale is now seeing more behavioral problems than ever before. More and more children with disorders resulting from pre-natal substance abuse are appearing in her courtroom. A disturbing surge of hopelessness also has emerged among young offenders.
But some children still manage to surprise Neale.
Sometimes a child in the most horrible environment or that has been treated so malevolently will just be like a sparkling flower and emerge somehow,” she said.
It’s just absolutely amazing.
“We have children who are rejected by their mother and father and are raised in foster homes. There’s a marvelous achievement in a child that can surmount that anguish of being rejected by family and still become a functional youth.”
Juvenile court, which is a division of the probate court, has its own separate rules. The court is divided into two phases: delinquency under 17-years-old and the neglect and abuse jurisdiction.
All proceedings in the juvenile court are open to the public, except in cases of sexual abuse,” to illuminate children’s right in the judicial system,” Neale said.
“The question of violence is not relegated only to the child protection proceeding, but you’ll also see it emanating and rearing its head in the juvenile delinquency hearings,” she added.
Michael Grulke has worked as a juvenile officer in Cheboygan for 13 years. The children he works “tend to be good kids” who happened to get caught doing something illegal.
“I tend to keep the kids who are what we call regular probation,” Grulke said. “These are pretty good kids who have community services to do, letters of apology, restitution … they have more objectives to complete as opposed to behavior or attitude changes.”
At any given time, there are about 65 delinquents in the probate court; sometimes Grulke adds as many as eight new cases to his workload in one day. He also facilitates the entire legal process for the children, including the initial questioning once a child is brought in, formal inquiries, the judges decision on the case and sentencing.
The large amount of violence in our society contributes to children acting out, Neale said.
“We’re quite a violent society in many respects. The television, the media, the movies – all of it reinforces a physical reaction to the solving of problems,” she said. “Also, television and the emphasis on physical violence have subtle ways of demeaning families and using power.”
Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse and juvenile delinquency, according to information compiled by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project. Approximately 90 percent of children are aware of the violence directed at their mother.
“The witnessing of violence is just as damaging to a child as being a participant in the violence,” Neale said. “If a child witnesses violence, sets them up possibly for generational violence themselves. Children look at that as the response to domestic problems when they are grown.
“Children who are intimidated and terrorized by the violence of a father against a mother, you can imagine the anguish and suffering they endure always making sure that the delicate balance of anger isn’t upset,” she said.
Not relegated to a particular socio- economic group, domestic violence affects all parts of society.
Although violence is often deeply hidden within a family structure, evidence is often found while the court is conducting a study in preparation of a disposition.
“We want the children to be accountable for what they’ve done, we want the community to be protected,” Neale said. “But beyond that, to change any behavior, we need to know why these things occur. What we find out often, what we become aware of, is the terrible inadequacies of their lives.”
Parental involvement is instrumental in the rehabilitation of children who appear in the juvenile court.
“We have parents who will not invest themselves,” Neale said. “And then sometimes the children themselves are remarkable, given a chance, in what they can accomplish. But very often they have not had much encouragement of nurturing or protection in their own lives.
Historically there were periods of time in Michigan when children would remain in foster care for years, but in the 1980s a movement toward permanency in families resulted in a new child placement process, Neale said.
“The thrust of the law in this state has been family reunification as the main goal,” she said. “Permanency is also a state goal for children so they do not languish in the foster care system.
“A child who is delinquent is often a child who should have been protected at one phase.”
Lack of boundaries within a child’s life is often reflective in destructive behavior. So in assessing the severity of a juvenile’s offence, Neale tries to make the child accountable.
“I would much rather live in a community that made the possibility of change available than one that only uses punishment when there is transgression,” Neale said. “Certainly in punishment, accountability has to be built into each juvenile case that we have. With juveniles, we try to have them give back to the community and it makes them feel much better.”
Measuring the success of children who go through the probate system is difficult for those who work in it every day. But sometimes, something as simple as a phone call can put everything into perspective.
“I don’t evaluate success on whether or not I see a kid go to jail when he turns 17,” said Mikos, the extensive probation officer. “It’s when I hear from him five, six, seven years later and he tells me for some reason he found it important to call me and tell me something about what’s going on in his life.
“Those times are few and far between, but they do happen. And, I guess, it’s one of the few ways that we might be serving a purpose.”
It Takes TLC
Increasing violence on school grounds inspired Cheboygan County Probate Judge Joanna Neale to initiate a program teaching children conflict resolution skills.
Together Learn Compromise (TLC), a seven-week class held in a group format, is a pilot program provided through the Probate Court, said Grayce Gusmano, the special services director for the Cheboygan County Probate Court.
Gusmano is affiliated with a Michigan State University extension program to do work with Judge Neale.
The social skills program, which targets several age groups within the Cheboygan and Wolverine school districts, promotes individual work with children aimed at helping youths to look at how they respond to peer pressure and decision making, Gusmano explained.
The TLC program also helps families with parenting skills while connecting youth and families with outside agencies for additional support or guidance.
Neale decided to start the program a year and a half ago when she noticed an increased amount of aggressive behavior by younger children in her courtroom. She then confirmed her impressions with school administrators.
A steering committee for the TLC program includes administrators from MSU and Cheboygan County schools, probate court employees, local family members and representatives from the Cheboygan Family Resource Center.
“As a result of these people coming together the probate court received a seed grant from the Institute for Children, Youth and Families, (located on the MSU campus) to look at the problem and establish the root of the aggressiveness, the extent of the problem and what can be done to address the problem,” Gusmano said.
The group determined the extent of the project needed in Cheboygan County and what solutions could be offered.
The steering committee’s research found an increased level of hostile behavior on the part of school children.
“We found that violent behavior within Cheboygan County isn’t as much of a problem as we see in urban areas downstate, but there was indeed an increase in aggressive behavior across the board,” Gusmano said. “Not just in dysfunctional families. Kids were exhibiting the use of hitting, biting and foul language to resolve conflict.”
Three areas came up in determining why the violent behavior occurred:
- The lack of understanding boundary issues. “They didn’t know where their rights and privileges began and stopped and where the rights and privileges of others began and stopped,” Gusmano said.
- Students were not accountable for their behavior. “They had no sense of taking responsibility for their own actions.”
- The children did not see any other way to resolve a conflict situation.
“This really made the steering committee realize there were some skills lacking,” Gusmano said. “The kids really need relationship building skills, skills to handle their internal conflicts and any conflicts generated by peer pressure or the external environment.”
The committee also recognized the need for skill building went beyond the at-risk students.
“Kids don’t grow up in a vacuum, they grow up in families, they grow up in communities and they are affected by schools,” she said. “We not only had to intervene in the life of the youth, but we had to do something for the lives of the families and the community at large.”
So the program included a component for families to teach them how to handle conflict at home, including discipline problems and learning how to fight fair.
Within West Side Elementary School, Principal Kay Tebo started a behavior reward program that recognizes students for good conduct. For instance, students who behave well may receive a token, such as a candy bar, as a reward.
While some students respond to the program positively, others find it difficult to stay in line.
“It’s almost because they haven’t had positive reinforcement before that they almost can’t deal with it,” said Tebo, who also serves on the TLC steering committee. “They’re not comfortable with the reward. They’re almost looking for someone to smack them up side of the head or do something in the way that they are used to people reacting to them.”
On April 26, 1991 two officers with the Bay City Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance. Upon arriving to the scene, both officers noticed a man with a rifle, drew their service weapons and ordered him to stop. Without warning a second man shot and killed both officers.
In September of this year, the State of Michigan will implement a new curriculum on domestic violence for police officers throughout the state to help prevent similar tragic situations.
The changes were inspired from inequities in treatment of domestic violence victims uncovered by the Civil Rights Task Force in 1990, said Hermina Kramp, chairperson of the Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Task Force.
“Prior to this there was no training of how to interact with victims or assailants of domestic violence or how to gather information,” Kramp said.
Many of the changes in the curriculum reflect safety measures to protect officers from increasing violence aimed at them.
Nationwide in 1992, 55 police officers were killed in the line of duty, with 11 deaths resulting from responding to a disturbance.
Michigan figures for 1991, provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), show that six law enforcement officers were feloniously killed – two resulting from a domestic violence situation.
A four-hour course, titled “Police Response to Domestic Violence,” will place emphasis on conducting an investigation to establish probable cause for arrest.
This new approach is vastly different from earlier teachings of mediation, said Sgt. Phil Schertzing, who works for the Michigan Department of State Police in Lansing.
“Oftentimes we’re caught in the middle. We’re a referee,” said Lt. Tillman Crutchfield, of the Cheboygan Michigan State Police post. “The officer has to be on the defensive with both parties involved.”
Police officers from across the state, along with people working in domestic violence, came together as the Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Training Council to update the curriculum over the past couple years. A federal grant awarded two years ago provided funds to further the research needed for the program, Kramp said.
Although only the four-hour course is mandated, the training council is recommending 14 hours of training, including a two-hour course on domestic violence law and eight hours on response.
The proposed training objectives, response policy and mandated hours are expected to be approved in June, Kramp said. Instructors for the training will happen in July and August with teaching of the courses starting in the fall.
The beginning of the class will examine current domestic assault laws and the enforcement of court orders, according to information provided by the state police.
The training module is broken into three parts: the approach to the scene of domestic violence, conducting an investigation and securing the scene.
While approaching the scene of a domestic violence dispute, the course teaches to evaluate the available information to determine potential dangers in the existing situation, which includes information from dispatch, witnesses or other officers.
Officers are taught to approach the site cautiously and to use safety precautions. These include parking a short distance away, waiting for backup assistance before entering the site, exchanging information with assisting officers, having each officer use a separate approach, not standing in front of a door or window and looking for some means of escape.
“One of the things we always try to do is protect the officer,” Crutchfield said. “We don’t send one officer to a family dispute. We’ll send two cars and there will always be backup either there or en route.
“Tempers are raised and fuses are short and people don’t tend to act rationally when they are upset,” Crutchfield said. “Our goal is that no one gets hurt, that the dispute is solved without any physical injuries.”
After arriving to the scene, officers listen for unusual conditions, which include loud arguments, fresh damage to the residence, alcohol use, other people involved or weapons. If the situation warrants additional strength, officers are taught to call for assistance.
While conducting the investigation, officers will talk to both parties as much as possible if entry is denied. Officers are taught to enter the site cautiously, introducing themselves and looking for weapons, then will attempt to separate the parties.
Maintaining visual contact with the officers is important for safety measures. An officer is responsible for evaluating the legitimacy of any legal documents presented, such as a restraining order or custody order.
While securing the scene, the course instructs officers to arrest assailants for any felony criminal offense that has taken place with probable cause or under the domestic assault law, with probable cause to believe a misdemeanor assault took place.
Officers then advise the victim of the phone number for a shelter or other community services.
Bringing it all Together
In an effort to ensure Cheboygan County police agencies all follow the same procedures, the prosecutor’s office has developed a coordinated response to domestic violence.
With Cheboygan County Prosecutor Joe Kwiatkowski acting as the hub for the new program, several components involved with domestic violence complaints will fall together as a county-wide standard procedure.
Areas included in the coordinated response are the courts, hospitals, police, women’s resource shelters, victim advocates and the general public.
Kwiatkowski has spent the past few months studying other domestic violence policies across the state before developing this new approach.
“The bottom line is that front-line intervention by police is only effective with a coordinated backup response at the scene,” he said.
There are five police agencies affected by this policy: the Cheboygan County Sheriff Department, Michigan State Police, City of Cheboygan, Mackinaw City and Tuscarora Township police departments.
The new policy will ensure all police officers in Cheboygan County provide the required victim’s rights information at the scene of a domestic dispute and follow the same investigation procedures, Kwiatkowski said.
The county also is stressing a no-drop policy on domestic abuse cases. Instead of asking a woman if she would like her to press charges against the batterer, the prosecutor does it for her.
“We’re not going to give the victim an option,” Kwiatkowski said. “There’s no other crime that a victim is responsible for prosecution. Sometimes if it’s up to them, the batterer will put pressure on the victim to drop charges. This way she’ll be able to say, “It’s out of my hands.”
Once the prosecutor presses charges, the only way they can be dropped is if the alleged victim recants and says she lied or if there is a lack of evidence.
Kwiatkowski intends to implement the coordinated response procedure throughout this year. He has already held several in-services on the subject and parts of the program are currently in effect, such as the no-drop policy.
“The response to this crime has to be the same in every case,” Kwiatkowski said. “We want to tell the victims that they will be treated in the same fashion whether they are assaulted on the streets or in their home.”
The Dart Center would like to give special thanks to Joyce Krawczak, librarian at the Cheboygan Public Library, whose commitment to recovering this series of articles is second to none, and to Hrefna Milner for doing the impossible, retyping the entire series of articles from deteriorated micro-film copies of the original tearsheets.
1994 Dart Award Final Judges
News Editor, Ludington Daily News, Ludington, Michigan
President-elect, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)
Washington D.C. correspondent, Los Angeles Times
Director, Michigan Victim Alliance
Columnist, Detroit Free Press