Police step in
The mediation center gets 55 percent of its referrals from the Washington County States Attorney's office, said Valerie Main, executive director for the center.
Other referrals come from court personnel, nonprofit groups and government agencies. Publicity for the center includes the information cards, which local law enforcement officials might hand out when they respond to domestic disputes.
Police often get called to disputes where physical confrontation hasn't occurred yet, but the parties' argument gets loud enough for a neighbor or family member to become concerned and call police, according to Detective Sgt. Paul Kifer, supervisor in charge of criminal investigations for Hagerstown Police, and Lt. Mark Knight with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Arguments usually stem from money, suspected infidelity, children, drug or alcohol use, or the general stress from managing family and work, Kifer said.
Police try to diffuse the situation, calming family members down.
Kifer said Hagerstown Police will do some initial mediation on the scene, but often the family needs long-term assistance. Many families are not going to seek counseling or mediation to resolve their problems, so police either give the family information about counseling services or provide the family's contact information to a counseling service, Kifer and Knight said.
Whenever Hagerstown Police respond to a domestic call, even if it's just a verbal confrontation, they give the family's contact information and their observations to CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused), Kifer said.
From October to December 2007, Hagerstown Police wrote up 82 domestic violence assault reports and 64 verbal disputes in which there was no assault and gave copies of those reports to CASA, Kifer said.
Knight estimated that the sheriff's office responds, on average, to approximately 50 calls a month for domestic disputes that are solely verbal.
The Hagerstown group gets in touch with the family members and offers its assistance, including counseling, legal and shelter services, said Vicki Sadehvandi, CASA's executive director.
CASA provides counseling to prevent violence among intimate partners, such as spouses or boyfriends and girlfriends, Sadehvandi said. If they don't want to talk to CASA officials or they are not intimate partners, CASA lets the family know about other counseling groups or suggests they talk to their minister.
Sometimes arguments lead to property destruction, even throwing a glass across a room, Kifer said.
"It's not much of a stretch from throwing property to harming someone," Kifer said.
Getting involved early on, referring families to counseling while the confrontation is nonphysical, can help prevent the situation from escalating to a physical fight, Kifer said.
Tips from the pros
Mediators with Washington County Community Mediation Center are trained to help families work out their disputes, according to Ryan Trout, a volunteer mediator. Trout said the keys to mediators' techniques can be used by family members to help them resolve their problems.
Some tips from Trout:
· Listen to each others' sides. Don't cut the other person off. Listen to each other's suggested solutions.
· Don't ignore the problem. If one person wants to avoid the conflict by not discussing it, give that person some space but don't concede the argument or you'll just feel like a doormat and more conflict will ensue.
· If tempers are hot, discuss the problem after both sides have had time to cool off. Or perhaps discuss a hot issue when it comes up and then finish the discussion after taking a breather, Trout said.
· Keep an open mind. Trout said sometimes people think only their view is the correct one or that they're weak if they concede their point. If they don't keep an open mind, he said, they just dig in and the stalemate continues.
· Disagreeing doesn't mean the end of the relationship. Arguing and expressing your expectations can strengthen a relationship. "You don't want to be walking on eggshells your entire relationship," Trout said. "Clarify what's important to you."