Domestic violence has been a problem that has long plagued Nevada.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Nevada consistently ranks 1st in the nation for domestic violence fatalities.
Last week, a 4-year-old boy was killed and his mother critically injured in a murder-suicide that stunned the community. The week before that, a man, woman and infant were shot dead in another murder-suicide.
Lieutenant Roger Price with Las Vegas Metro Police's abuse and neglect division told KNPR's State of Nevada that a new one-stop shop for domestic violence victims will be one way to help the community tackle the problem.
"They will have basically anything they need or resources to anything that they need to get the assistance they need," Price said.
The Family Justice Center will be staffed with full-time detectives specializing in domestic violence. It will also have staff from the district attorney's office, the city attorneys office and domestic violence shelters to help victims navigate a way out of their situation.
"It will really hopefully help to make the process easier and get people to use it more often," he said.
Liz Ortenburger is the CEO of the domestic violence shelter Safe Nest. She is also hopeful that the new Family Justice Center will make it easier for victims to get help. But beyond that, she hopes it will help people working to stop violence in the home find out why Nevada has such a problem.
"I think the Family Justice Center is a very exciting new project," she said, "If we can get Safe Nest, Metro and all those that are serving this in the room together and start dissecting these cases, do some real research around why this is so bad here so that it is not anecdotal. I think we can start to nip away at making Las Vegas and Nevada a much safer place for women and families."
While Ortenburger and others don't have the solid research right now into why Nevada does so poorly when it comes to cases of domestic violence, she does have some educated guesses. One reason is the transient nature of the city and the people. One of the biggest control measures used by abusers is isolating their victims from family and friends.
"I may move from the Midwest, I might move from the East Coast, I might move from California and all of the sudden my abuser has me in a place where I'm isolated from family," she said.
In addition to Nevada being a transient place where victims can be isolated from a strong support system, Ortenburger also believes not enough is being done in Nevada's schools to teach young men and women about healthy relationships.
"We do not do as a community a whole lot of prevention work around healthy relationship and domestic violence," she said, "The school district is incredibly rigid in what it will allow providers like Safe Nest to come in to talk to students about. So, we're not equipping our future generations with the right amount of skills."
She said the school district wants the material too watered down that it doesn't amount to a real conversation.
Ortenburger also believes there are still stumbling blocks for victims, advocates, and police officers in Nevada's justice system.
Kristy Oriol, policy coordinator with the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, pointed to those systematic problems as one of the reasons why some pieces of legislation designed to address domestic violence didn't make it through the Legislature this year. One of the bills would have strengthened penalties for people who violate protective orders.
"The concern with violating protection orders is sometimes theses violations can be very difficult to prove," she said, "A very common violation that we'll see from abusers is doing something like sending a victim an email saying, 'I love you,' which to everyone else may not seem very threatening but to a victim that is very threatening."
She said it is difficult to argue that a violation like that email should be prosecuted as a felony, which is what that part of the bill would have done. While that bill needed some changes, the Legislature did pass several laws aimed at helping women in abusive situation get out.
"I will say that the 2017 legislation was very good for victims," Oriol said.
One Senate bill allows victims to ask for time off from work to attend court hearings and receive medical treatment. Another bill opens up a victims' fund that helps victims pay for everything from court costs to child care to everyone regardless of their citizenship status, and yet another bill tightened protection orders.
"It is a common situation that adverse parties or abusers will dodge service and leave victims in a situation where they're not able to effectuate service and therefore their protection order is not effective," Oriol said.
Ortenburger believes another piece of addressing Nevada's high domestic violence numbers is addressing the root of the problem - the abusers.
"I think we as a society have to start asking the question: why does a batterer think this is okay?" she said.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233
Liz Ortenburger, CEO, SafeNest; Lt. Roger Price, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Kristy Oriol, policy coordinator, Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence
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