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From The Bend Bulletin: Volunteering Against Violence


Stan Robson.jpg

Former Benton County sheriff makes domestic violence prevention a priority
By David Jasper / The Bulletin
Originally Published Dec 26, 2010


Stan Robson had some experience with domestic violence before he began volunteering nine years ago at Saving Grace, a Central Oregon nonprofit that offers services to the victims of family violence and sexual assault.

Robson, of Sisters, served the Benton County Sheriff’s Office for three decades, the last six of them as sheriff. In 2000, shortly before his January 2001 retirement, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association named him Sheriff of the Year, capping a 30-year career, 14 spent in investigations.

Within six months of leaving law enforcement, Robson, and his wife, Marjorie, packed up and moved to Sisters.

“We’d always been looking to come east of the mountains,” explains Robson, who grew up in the Portland area. While life in Benton County had been good, “it was still nice to make a break for two reasons: One, the weather is better, and (two), I was still in a fishbowl, and people were still calling me for help — even staff.”

His specialty as an investigator had been domestic violence, and skipping ahead almost a decade, Robson, 67, is still helping people escape the clutches of domestic violence through his efforts as a volunteer at Saving Grace. Founded in 1977 as Central Oregon Battering and Rape Alliance, the nonprofit’s services include a shelter and crisis hot line (541-389-7021). Other services include emergency transportation, children’s support services, court advocacy, support groups, sexual assault services and a lot more.

Within a year of his arrival in Bend, he’d given domestic violence awareness trainings and attended a few meetings. Robson also began helping at Cascades Children’s Festival, a fundraiser for Saving Grace. He also gives orientations to new volunteers about safety issues and law enforcement response. The past two years, he served on the Saving Grace board of directors.

About once a month, he gives “Inside Saving Grace” talks explaining to citizens what the organization is all about. Robson knows all too well the scourge of domestic violence. He estimates that there were about 20 homicides during his 30 years in Benton County, a relatively quiet county in the Willamette Valley, “and I’ll bet 75 percent of them were domestic-related.”

Encouraging men to step up

By and large, the victims of domestic violence are women.

“Ninety-plus percent of the domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men,” notes Robson. “It (came) almost as an epiphany that all these years, all we do is try to set up safety plans for women, self-defense, and make sure there’s a shelter and a crisis line, instead of working just as hard, if not harder, on the causal factor, which is men.”

To that end, Robson aims to speak to men’s groups about domestic violence. He’d also like to see more men become involved at Saving Grace. Its volunteers — about 75 in all — are mostly female, according to Trish Meyer, assistant executive director at Saving Grace.

“We have a lot fewer men,” she says. “There may be men who don’t know there are opportunities to volunteer with us. They may feel like they have a target on their head during training.”

To volunteer in direct services, such as answering the crisis line, becoming a shelter volunteer, facilitating support groups and similar contact with domestic and sexual violence survivors, requires 35 hours of training. Such extensive training is necessary, Meyer says, because volunteers in those roles are doing the same work as the 26 people working on staff.

There are usually some men who go through each direct services training. “We have men who’ve helped at the shelter before, and we have men who respond to the hospital for male victims of abuse who want to meet with a man,” Meyer says.

For support services — office duties, involvement with fundraising or public relations and sorting donations — only a two-hour orientation is required.

Meyer says Robson “has been, really, the driving force within our organization in encouraging men to step up and take a stand against domestic violence.”

Strong role models

“I grew up experiencing no violence,” Robson says.

Because of that, he led a blessed childhood, he says, even though his mother died in a car accident when he was just 6. Before his father remarried, they lived for three years with his grandparents.

“So I had two role models,” he says. There was his father, who was working two and three jobs to pay for accident-related expenses, “and my grandfather, who had come over from Scotland at the turn of the last century. Through the old type of hierarchy, Grandpa was supposed to be boss, but Grandma had (said) everything she wanted to say before he made that type of decision.” He laughs softly at the memory.

“I can’t remember them, even though I was fairly young, ever even arguing much. They may have a harsh word about, ‘Put this away,’ or ‘Where’s this?’ But that was it. It was nothing.”

Robson also chuckles when asked why he went into law enforcement.

He earned his degree in wildlife management at Oregon State University, but he graduated in the winter, and there “wasn’t much going on except going out and counting ducks and geese, and I wasn’t thrilled about that,” he says.

When his neighbor was elected sheriff, “I happened to be talking to him one day, and he said he had an opening, and, ‘Do you want to come in and compete?’ I didn’t have anything else going on. That was 40 years ago.”

Hooked on investigations

He joined the Benton County Sheriff’s Office in 1971, and wasn’t crazy about “the road,” tasks such as writing tickets.

“The way I got into investigation was working a domestic violence case, a homicide,” he explains. That was after he’d been with the department for about two and a half years.

“They pulled me off the road to do follow-up” on the investigation, he says. “They liked what I did, I guess, because they kept me around for a year.”

When a detective sergeant retired, Robson competed for, and received, that open position. “I was hooked. I got into investigation. Just really enjoyed it.”

He was an investigator for 14 years, “mainly (investigating) crimes against persons, and I specialized in child abuse, sexual exploitation of children and domestic violence follow-ups, sometimes.”

He worked somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 child abuse cases; close to 500 of them related to sex abuse.

The case that affected him the most emotionally involved 6- and 9-year-old girls who were being abused by their stepfather.

“I’d interviewed them, and the grandparents lived next door. I’d gone over and got a confession from dad,” he recalls. When he returned to the girls next door at the grandparents’, he told them that they wouldn’t have to worry about their stepfather anymore.

“The 6-year-old looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you for helping.’ God, it was ... ” he says, but he doesn’t finish the thought.

The heavy nature of his investigations “took a toll on my family some,” he says. “I was gone a lot more than I should have been. I’m not proud of it, (but) my job came first, them second, and that wasn’t right.”

As Robson began doing more administrative work, he was able to reverse that trend.

“My wife was the strong one, and we’ve been married over 45 years. I always say it’s her fault,” he says. Together, they raised two children, a son who’s served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a daughter, who works as an assistant district attorney in Bend.

Retired life

Robson also volunteers with Deschutes County Search and Rescue, tracking lost individuals and training search and rescue, law enforcement and military personnel.

“That’s another hat I’ve worn for 30 years,” he says. All told, his volunteer efforts amount to about 40 hours a month.

Robson doesn’t hunt anymore, but he fishes occasionally. He and his wife also enjoy travel. The first trip they took after he retired was to Fiji. They’ve also enjoyed trips to Mexico and Hawaii. Upcoming travel itineraries include Tahiti and an Alaskan cruise.

It was a given that his efforts to help people suffering domestic violence would continue in retirement, he says.

“There’s no way I could stay off the bandwagon with domestic violence issues,” he says. He’s gone before the state Legislature with Saving Grace, as well as in his law enforcement career, and has served on dozens of committees and task forces.

If one can’t volunteer, Robson points out that “there are so many things that can be done, just through financial support. That’s always a necessity, especially with various government funding drying up.”

Perhaps even more important is for people — neighbors, family and friends — to pay attention to signs of domestic violence, he says.

According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, 18 people die annually in Oregon due to domestic violence. At least one in 10 Oregon women between the ages of 20 and 55 have been physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former intimate partner in the preceding five years. Children have been witnesses to 33 percent of those assaults.

“Report suspicious things,” says Robson.

“I always find it important when I’m giving training to law enforcement is that we look at domestic violence as the most important call a police officer or deputy can go on. To me, it’s pre-homicide. Homicide isn’t more important. A person’s already dead. And robberies aren’t as important, if nobody’s life is threatened. If it’s one occurring, yes, it’s more important. But a DV,” as he shorthands domestic violence, “is a pre-homicide, in many, many cases.”

Asked if he’s found his career and volunteer efforts rewarding, Robson replies, “It has been for me. When I got that comment from that little 6-year-old, it made me get up the next day to go work some more.”