HELENA — The Helena Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Working Group (DVSA) along with The Friendship Center recognized two members of law enforcement for going above and beyond in supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The 2021 DVSA officers of the year are Helena Police Officer Steven Cornish and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Paul Weber.
Lewis and Clark County has a higher rate of reported sexual assault and domestic violence than the national average, and one of the highest rates in the state. The Friendship Center served 568 known individuals in 2020, providing 3,923 nights of shelter to 110 adults, and 3,189 nights of shelter to 37 children.
Law enforcement and advocates believe a key factor in the higher number of reported crimes is how both the Sheriff’s Office and Police Department treat those crimes, creating a safe place where victims feel comfortable reporting what happened.
Both Weber and Cornish say it’s important to listen and let victims know they can trust them.
“Often as part of the domestic violence cycle, the victim is isolated from their friends and their family and a lot of the times they don’t feel like they have anybody they can turn to or anybody that they can call for assistance,” explained Cornish. “So being able to be there for that victim and being that point of contact and being able to follow up and make sure that they’re remaining safe.”
“To establish that relationship kind of shows that we will listen and we will take that report and we will seek justice for that victim,” explained Weber.
Weber has been with the county since 2016 and was nominated for going above and beyond when responding to a report of rape and strangulation.
“Corporal Weber exemplified best practice in trauma-informed response and interviewing,” said Erin Sayler, Victim Advocate Coordinator for the Montana Army National Guard, who nominated him. “He was highly caring and compassionate, allowed the survivor time and breaks, asked necessary uncomfortable questions in a gentle manner…and thanked the survivor for trusting him with her experience.”
Cornish joined the Helena Police Department in 2017. He was nominated by HPD Detective Brandon Wootan based upon two investigations conducted “incredibly well” in the past year.
“If one of my loved ones were victimized, I would fully trust Officer Cornish to help the navigate the process and conduct an excellent investigation”. Wootan said. “Officer Cornish is a tremendous asset to the Helena Police Department and to survivors of domestic/sexual violence, alike.”
Law enforcement officers that respond to domestic violence calls are asked to perform duties that will increase victim safety and offender accountability. Domestic violence cases are difficult to prosecute, and often victims find it difficult to engage in the process and often have a fear of working with law enforcement. “Engaging with the legal system can be intimidating, especially if someone has received threats about reporting to law enforcement. These officers, and so many others, understand the unique and complex dynamics that come with domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault working group is excited to be able to honor the immeasurable and invaluable impact of their compassionate and trauma-informed response with this award,” said Gina Boesdorfer, executive director at The Friendship Center.
The DVSA Working group was initiated by The Friendship Center, in cooperation with law enforcement, to provide individual victims of DVSA access to wrap-around support and as many potential resources as possible. The group was established to build relationships with relevant agencies to better understand available partner resources and look at concerning trends with DVSA.
If you or someone you know are a victim or survivor of domestic violence, know that help is available.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. An advocate can provide assistance to victims, and anyone calling on their behalf.
The Friendship Center also provides a 24-hour hotline at 406-442-6800.