October is Domestic Volence Awareness Month

The following remarks were made before the Fargo City Commission at its meeting on October 3, 2022.

October is Domestic Volence Awareness Month. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I am called a “survivor” because of the simple fact I am still alive. The survivor community in Fargo is a diverse one. We come from all manner of backgrounds, but we share one thing in common. We were victims for a moment and have become survivors for a lifetime.

But tonight, I want to tell you about a member of our community who did not survive. Her name is Denise Anderson. In August 2019, her life was tragically cut short as a result of domestic violence. The man convicted of murdering her started with smaller crimes of stalking and harassment – which Denise dutifully reported to police. The police did their part and filed reports. However, not one of these reports resulted in any charges filed against Denise’s murderer.

Knowing the law would do nothing to stop him, he continued to harass Denise. She was left on her own to try and deal with an aggressive man without the support she should have had from our legal system.

Denise’s surviving loved ones have strived to make changes in public policy that would have been helpful to her. The North Dakota Century Code on Domestic Violence has now been amended and the city needs to make an amendment as well. It may be too late to save Denise, but countless more women and children in our community are currently in the grips of domestic violence without the supports they need to get out. One support we need is an update to city ordinance 10-0322. I am asking you to make a change of just one word – “intent.”

As the law currently reads, a person is guilty of harassment only if there is provable “intent” to frighten or harass another. I have spoken with several attorneys on this subject including attorneys with the city of Fargo. It has been explained to me that the matter of “intent” is nearly impossible to prove in court. Hence, many cases of harassment are not prosecuted – even when they are reported to police.

Countless more cases are not reported at all and if this is how victims are treated, why would we bother? Victims who go through the process of reporting are often told that their matter will not be pursued in court – and the violence usually escalates. A predator who is emboldened to stalk and harass because they never go to court for their crimes is essentially issued an invitation to continue. Our current system not only fails to deter bad behavior of predators, but makes the situation even more dangerous for domestic violence survivors.

My ask of you today is simple. Please, remove the word “intent” from city ordinance 10-0322. Please, stop empowering predators to escalate their violence. Please, give our city attorneys the verbiage they need to properly prosecute the criminals who conduct these intrusive acts. Please, consider what sort of a difference this might have made to Denise Anderson and the many people who knew and loved her.

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