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PARTICIPANTS IN TODAY'S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OFTEN ARE IDENTIFIED BY POLICE AS 'FRIENDS'

Domestic violence in Erie County once almost always involve a man beating or terrorizing a woman.

Today, more "friends" are subject of abuse.

Increasingly the violent perpetrator and the victim, although they live under the same roof, are not related.

"We refer to them as 'friends,' " said Christopher Clark, Erie County Probation director. "They're people who live together, sometimes a man and woman, or an ex-spouse who beats up a former wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend.

"We also see the situation of boyfriend-boyfriend, or girlfriend-girlfriend," said Clark. "Or it could be two young men who live together and who might be going to a local college."

One batters the other and the police are called. If there is evidence of crime, arrest is mandatory.

Because of inter-action among members of a household, 61 of the 108 persons on probation last year for domestic violence are categorized by probation as "friends."

The county agencies explained the latest aspects of domestic violence at a recent County Legislature summit on the subject that dealt with a expanding spectrum of distressed domestic relationships.

Brian Doyle, chief of administration in the sheriff's office, said that domestic violence sometimes involves brother against sister, parent against child or, in the case of the aged, child or a younger person against an older person.

"We've also had nasty child custody disputes, with parents using the child as a point of vengeance," said Doyle.

The situation is a far cry from the early 1980s when domestic violence was almost always a husband beating up a wife, often with no arrest.

The sheriff's office, in cooperation with Crisis Services and domestic violence shelter Haven House, operates two teams that quickly respond to domestic violence reports. Each unites a uniformed deputy and social worker.

Patricia A. Siracuse, head of the Sheriff's Family Violence Prevention Project, supervises the teams.

"When we go in, the victims have an immediate advocate," she said. "We provide immediate safety. We do not want the victims to be left in a situation where they would be subject to abuse."

The sheriff's deputy, if there is evidence of a crime, arrests the attacker.

The next morning, the accused is before a judge who may order him out of the home.

This year, District Attorney Frank Clark expects to prosecute 1,000 domestic violence felonies and 4,000 misdemeanors.

"We are very vigorous in taking these cases to trial," the district attorney said. "The people who are handling these cases now do nothing else."

Probation Director Clark gets the perpetrators before referral to Family Court, after sentence in criminal court or after they have served time.

"Many of these individuals are known to all of us," he said. "The police are at the front end of the system. They are loading the violent in. Depending on the situation, courts are sending them to facilities or placing them on probation or ordering treatment."

Clark said probation officers use social work skills and police power to get results.

"Part of the responsibility is to get them into treatment for problems, some times multiple problems -- drugs, alcohol, a need for job training, temper control," he said. "We're the enforcer to make sure they go to treatment."

Ms. Siracuse is credited with having a large impact on local police forces in eliminating the old attitude that domestic violence is a personal matter.

Probation Director Clark recalled the dramatic change that followed her meetings with police officers in the mid-1980s. "In some police areas it was a difficult change," he said. "People had seen domestic violence so long that it was just a kind of daily routine thing to see."

Things can improve, Clark said, and the handling of domestic and drunk driving cases shows it.

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