Towards Thriving Cover

March 23, 2017

Over the last few weeks, a campaign to implement what is known as Marsy’s Law was launched through a California-based organization. The campaign focused on amending Idaho’s Constitutional Crime Victim’s Rights Amendment. The legislation was proposed a few weeks ago, and redrafted three times. After a careful review and research of the unintended impact of similar legislation in other states on individuals who were victims of crime as well as the potential for negatively impacting community based programs, the Idaho Coalition respectfully opposed SRJ 103 and asked the Idaho House State Affairs Committee to recommend that an interim committee be established comprised of all key stakeholders, including individuals who are survivors of crime and statewide and community advocacy programs and service providers. It was complicated to oppose legislation that had both good and problematic elements for individuals who are victims of crime. On Tuesday, March 21st, the House Committee voted no on the bill 10 to 5.

Here were the primary reasons we requested the legislature to pause and establish a committee with all the key stakeholders to craft a bill to address the programs that were being raised:

Individuals Who Have Experienced Crime and Community-based Advocacy Organizations are Key Stakeholders – The Idaho Coalition deeply believes that the voices and lived experiences of individuals who have been victims of crime as well as the community and statewide organizations that advocate for survivors in the criminal justice system, need to be part of developing solutions to address failures or gaps in the criminal justice system. Without meaningful participation of key stakeholders, this legislation may have an unintended negative impact on “direct” victims of crime by an expansive definition of victim that could unintentionally diminish the rights of direct victims.

Idaho Crime Victims Needs Assessment – This well-funded campaign to amend Idaho’s Constitution to expand the coverage of the Victim Rights Amendment to individuals or organizations beyond direct victims was initiated by an organization and funded by a single individual, whose family experienced an unspeakable tragedy, from outside the state of Idaho. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and agree that families and other related individuals need to continue to be informed of actions in the criminal justice system. We also believe that if this is a problem that warrants an amendment to Idaho’s Constitution, we can work together to find a solution that does not jeopardize the rights of direct victims of crime.

Most importantly, the 2016 Crime Victims in Idaho: An Assessment of Needs and Services report published by Boise State University, reports that individuals who are crime victims in Idaho already experience significant difficulty in accessing their constitutional rights. Specifically, the Needs Assessment states: “there were even more services that were indicated as needed but were not received, several of which are directly related to the rights afforded to crime victims in Idaho”. The Needs Assessment goes on to say: “legal rights, whether afforded through statute or constitution, are only as good as the mechanism that exists to rectify violations of those rights. When no mechanism exists, rights become courtesies.” Despite the efforts of Idaho’s criminal justice system, there are unfortunately individuals who are victims that are not currently able to access their constitutional rights. The significant expansion of the definition of victim to “include any person or entity directly and proximately harmed” may unintentionally negatively impact individuals who are direct victims of crime while affording those collaterally impacted by crime additional rights.

Interim Committee – As Marsy’s Law organizational campaigns are being fully funded and launched across the country, states such as Georgia, have avoided the confusion in implementation or any unintended consequences, by creating an interim committee to study and make the best recommendations. Additionally, an interim committee would have the benefit of the Idaho Crime Victim Needs Assessment to determine the best path forward.

We are hopeful that the Marsy’s Law campaign will convene a committee of all the key stakeholders to identify solutions that will work for individuals who are victims of crime and support community-based programs and services. If you have any questions about this legislation or next steps, please do not hesitate to contact me.

We Choose All of Us,



Intimate Partner Homicide in Northern Idaho

Two weeks ago in Coeur d’Alene, 61-year-old Steven Denson shot and killed his former fiancé 37-year-old Kelly Pease at the Kooetnai Health Center. Pease was the mother of five children and a nursing student. Denson later killed himself. Any intimate partner homicide is an alarming and sobering event that has significant implications for our communities and our work.

It can be an important time to revisit the Idaho Risk Assessment of Dangerousness in Domestic Violence Initiative, created eight years ago, with the purpose of informing the individuals experiencing abuse, advocates, the criminal justice system as well as a broad range of community providers – health care systems, faith-based community, social services – of the level of risk of future harm and/or lethality in a domestic violence situation.

According to the newspaper reports, Pease was experiencing at least five of risk factors for future harm and as well as two of the indicators for lethality:

  1. History of Domestic Violence – Attempted Strangulation
  2. Threat to Kill Victims and/or Children or Others (parents, friends)
  3. Threats of Suicide
  4. Recent Separation
  5. Obsessive, Coercive, or Controlling Behavior – Extreme Possessiveness
  6. Prior Police Contact
  7. Alcohol or Drug Use and Abuse by Suspect

Here are the circumstances that indicate high risk of harm and/or lethality: Court documents show that Denson was arrested on January 23rd and charged with attempted strangulation, domestic violence battery and petit theft and malicious injury to property. (history of domestic violence; attempted strangulation, recent separation, obsessive, coercive or controlling behavior, prior police contact) A no-contact order was filed prohibiting Denson from contacting her. The prosecutors suggested $50,000 for bail. The judge set the bail at $10,000 and Denson posted bond.

In February, Denson was arrested for violating that order by texting Pease from his landlord’s cellphone. Denson posted $2,500 and was again released.

We are all struggling with many questions – what else could have been done to alert Pease and the criminal justice system as to her risks of harm and lethality? Why was the bond set for Denson so low? Katie Coker, Executive Director of Safe Passage, shared her thoughts in a news story on the complexities in assessing lethality and bonds. “Domestic violence-related charges and the bonds set for offenders are sometimes lower than we would expect based on the perpetrators’ actions. There are times when offenders may be able to post bail by paying a small percentage of the total bond amount,” Coker said. “There can be a large degree of disparity between different judges and how high bail is set and that may be due to different levels of understanding of domestic violence related offenses. Sometimes the chances of lethality occurring are underestimated. All that being said, judges have an incredibly difficult job, they don’t always have all the relevant information, and they ultimately have to make tough decisions in the moment. It is always important to evaluate our responses and improve where we can, yet still remember it is the offender who is responsible for these crimes.”

So now what? We can continue to educate anyone who is an abusive relationship, advocates, the criminal justice system, and any organization working with survivors about the risk factors for harm and lethality, especially the lethality factors of attempted strangulation, recent separation, and extreme possessiveness. While extreme possessiveness can be more subjective, attempted strangulation and recent separation are two objective criteria where we need to advocate for a criminal justice system response that keeps Idahoans safe. We must also continue to educate systems on unconscious and conscious gender biases or devaluation of girls, women and people who are gender nonconforming that often minimizes the abuse and is reflected in low bail.

Sadly, only a few days before the homicide, Pease posted on Facebook posts: “I refuse to perpetuate the cycle of domestic violence by exposing my children to it. I do not abuse…therefore I will not submit myself to abuse.” What we know from our advocacy experience is that Kelly Pease was courageous and clear, she escaped an abusive relationship and the criminal justice system response, created to enhance safety and accountability, failed her and her children.

Organizational Reflection on Visibility & Inclusion for Underserved Survivors and Their Children

First impressions make a big difference. People who have experienced trauma and discrimination have good reason to use their protective instincts and look for signals that we either welcome or exclude them. Even if we ourselves identify with an underserved community, and have the training and experience to work with underserved populations, we still miss opportunities to be supportive if people don’t make it through our door, or pick up the phone and call. How do we let people know they are welcome, and that we are open and prepared to support them?

Consider the outside of your building from fresh eyes, then walk through the door of your program with fresh eyes as well. What do you see that would clearly show someone who may have a visible or invisible disability, or who is gay, lesbian, transgender or gender non-conforming, that they are seen, valued, and welcome? What about an immigrant who does not speak English? People who are undocumented? Young survivors? Where can people see themselves here?


  1. Is there any sign or symbol on the outside of the building or office that expressly welcomes people who are marginalized?
  2. Are posters/pictures/quotes/messages hanging on walls diverse and inclusive?
  3. Are non-DV brochures available for local, state, or national resources for culturally specific communities?
  4. Do reading materials represent age, gender and cultural diversity and in ways that does not stereo-type?
  5. Is religious and spiritual inclusion noticeable?
  6. Do DV/SA resources and brochures include multiple identities and experiences?
  7. Are multiple languages represented?

We can also think about our outreach activities, and how and where we promote our services. Do we reach out to underserved communities, and if we do, have we reflected on whether our materials and services are relevant to these communities? When we reach out, we need to develop mutual, meaningful partnerships and avoid entering into transactional-based relationships.

Sometimes people from underserved communities can give us valuable feedback, but we must also seek out information and growth on our own, and not put the burden on others to “teach” us.

The Idaho Coalition is still learning, but we are also here to support you. Whether helping connect you with resources or generating ideas, we value any opportunity to learn and grow alongside you, and deeply value the life-saving work you do in your communities!

Melissa Ruth, MS, LCPC

This article is partially adapted from Quick Organizational Audit: LGBT Visibility & Inclusion, by The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse at

Crisis Survival Strategies for Individuals Impacted by Sexual Assault

Individuals who are impacted by sexual assault often experience difficulty dealing with triggers. But, triggers can also be viewed as indications of what is in need of healing.

The Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative has an incredible handout for individuals who have experienced sexual assault on dealing with triggers and recommends these five steps to help survivors navigate triggers safety and reclaim their power:

  1. Notice when you are triggered and what is happening. What physical sensations do you feel and what memories or thoughts came up?
  2. Stop and breathe. Breath is an important part of healing.
  3. Choose. Consider your choices of coping mechanisms. What do you need to be able to enact that coping mechanism?
  4. Engage. Stay present as much as possible.
  5. Return. Return to what you were doing before the trigger or start at Step 1 again.

The following are examples of crisis survival strategies that may be helpful to provide to the individuals you are working with or to use during support group or crisis intervention:


  1. With other thoughts. Count to 10, color, watch TV or read a book
  2. With intense sensations. Hold a smooth pebble, squeeze a rubber ball, listen to loud music


  1. With beauty. But a flower, make your space pretty, look at pictures on the internet.
  2. With smells. Candles, incense, lotion and perfume can help you relax.
  3. With kindness. Call a support person, go for a walk, light candles.
  4. With spiritualism/prayer. Meditate, breath, or engage in a spiritual practice.

Change Body Responses

  1. Breathe deeply
  2. Try muscle relaxation

For more information on how you can assist individuals who are impacted by sexual assault, check out this handout or contact Jennifer.

StrongHearts Native Helpline Launches as a Critical Resource for Domestic Violence and Dating Violence in Tribal Communities

StrongHearts Native Helpline ImageFor the first time in history, a culturally-relevant, safe and confidential resource is available for Native American survivors of domestic violence and dating violence, who now make up more than 84 percent of the entire U.S. Native population. The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and The Hotline have launched the first, national crisis line dedicated to serving tribal communities affected by violence across the U.S., called the StrongHearts Native Helpline.

Starting today, Native survivors in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska – the helpline’s initial service areas — will be able to connect at no cost, one-on-one, with knowledgeable StrongHearts advocates who will provide support, assist with safety planning and connect them with resources based on their specific tribal affiliation, community location and culture. Callers outside of these states can still call StrongHearts while the helpline continues to develop its services network. All services available through the helpline are confidential and available by dialing 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. Callers after hours will have the option to connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or to call back the next business day.

“The reality is that so many of our American Indian and Alaska Native people experience domestic violence and dating violence every day,” said Lucy Rain Simpson, executive director of NIWRC and a citizen of Navajo Nation. “It has never been more evident that our Native people need a Native helpline to support efforts to restore power and safety in our tribal communities. The StrongHearts Native Helpline is ready to answer that call.”

The StrongHearts Native Helpline was created by and for Native Americans who, compared to all other races in the U.S., are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault, two and a half times more likely to experience violent crimes and five times more likely to be victims of homicide in their lifetimes. Even though a staggering four in five experience violence, Native Americans have historically lacked access to services.

“The Hotline has served victims and survivors of domestic violence for 20 years, and we recognize that Native American survivors have uniquely complex needs,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of The Hotline. “Through StrongHearts, domestic violence advocates will be able to address those complex needs with an unparalleled level of specificity.”

Advocates at the StrongHearts Native Helpline are trained to navigate each caller’s abuse situation with a strong understanding of Native cultures, as well as issues of tribal sovereignty and law, in a safe and accepting environment, free of assumption and judgment. Callers will be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect by a well-trained professional.

“To enhance access to services and meet the unique needs of Native survivors, a dedicated Native helpline that provides support and connections to shelter, advocacy, and other services is critical,” states Marylouise Kelley, FVPSA Program Division Director.

Initially, StrongHearts will focus efforts on providing services to survivors who live in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, which combined make up more than 12.5 percent of the country’s entire Native American population.

“The team will leverage the large number of Native-centered resources established within these states to begin providing services, with further outreach to tribal communities as StrongHearts continues to grow,” said Simpson.

The StrongHearts Native Helpline plans to purposefully and thoughtfully expand its services to Native American survivors nationwide – based on utilization, demand and resources available.

“Verizon is proud to be the first corporate sponsor of the StrongHearts Native Helpline, a resource that will provide a crucial space for Native people to find support,” said Stuart Conklin, program manager at the Verizon Foundation. “We look forward to its success and continuing to build on a lasting partnership.”

Training & Events

Stories of Transformation Poetry Celebration
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Linen Building – Boise, ID
6:30pm – 7:30pm MT – Middle School Program
8:00pm – 9:00pm MT – High School Program
Free Admission
To view a pdf version of the Our Gender Revolution poetry collection, please

Idaho Coalition Store Materials

Reminder that shipping for all material orders made by Programs on the Idaho Coalition website store is FREE of cost, please use the below coupon for all orders.

Visit the online store to view current Idaho Coalition materials available for order. For store questions, please contact Lacey Sinn.

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