Survivor Story June 2018

Elder abuse can be as subtle as it is tragic. Before Ruth’s condition became dangerous for her, the caregiver had begun to manipulate the situation in subtle ways by isolating Ruth from friends and family, and neglecting basic responsibilities. Ruth suffers from congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. A stroke left her partially paralyzed and she is dependent on a walker. The 66-year old’s caregiver was hired to help her with her activities of daily living (ADLs) including bathing, cooking, cleaning, and incontinent care. None of that was happening.

The Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) Care Coordinator’s notes describe a harrowing scenario: “Caregiver would often not allow client to have visitors, including her home health nurse. Caregiver was not providing any care and client would be left in her own waste. Caregiver would not prepare meals and the client would be hungry. It was reported that client was often verbally and physically abused by her caregiver…”

By the time CREA got involved, Ruth had been subjected to the three types of abuse that most often get reported to the Family Safety Center: neglect, financial exploitation, and physical abuse. When the CREA Care Coordinator intervened, she helped Ruth find long-term placement in a care home. Ruth also changed the representative assigned to help her manage her Social Security benefits so now she knows her money is being used for her care and her living expenses. She even has a new phone! Thankfully, Ruth is happy and doing very well, thanks to the concerned neighbor who stepped forward to share her suspicions about Ruth’s situation.

The law requires that you report concerns about elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) in Tennessee. Call 888-APS-TENN to investigate allegations.

CREA: A Community Responds to Elder Abuse

Although Tennessee law requires residents to report any suspicion of elder abuse or neglect, the reality is that most cases go unreported. In Memphis/Shelby County, the Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) is a collaborative effort to streamline the services available to older adults who have been neglected or abused.

“There is a misperception that elder abuse only happens in nursing homes with neglected patients. Actually, it is all around us, and as a community we owe it to our elders to protect them,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, Executive Director of Family Safety Center. “Approximately 88% of the cases we handle are the result of neglect, financial exploitation, or physical abuse, and they occur in relationships where there is an expectation of trust. As in domestic violence, victims know their perpetrators.”

CREA care coordinators and other team members are housed at the Family Safety Center, where the infrastructure is in place to provide civil, criminal, health, and social services to victims of family violence. The Family Safety Center and CREA are participating in the world-wide effort to raise awareness about elder abuse and neglect in our communities. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations have declared Friday, June 15, 2018, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Since they depend on the perpetrator for care, or basic needs such as grocery shopping and trips to the pharmacy, or because they don’t want to turn in their relative, older adults who are in abusive situations hesitate to come forward. Two-thirds of perpetrators are adult children or spouses.

Further complicating matters are the subtle, prolonged effects of abuse. The signs are not always obvious. One recent case began as a report of an abandoned house in the neighborhood. The grass was overgrown and there were no lights on at night. The neighbor assumed that the elderly woman who lived there had died. Investigators found the victim alive, but under-nourished with no electricity. The son who was in charge of groceries and paying the utilities was using the money for himself. MLGW had finally turned off the power, and that is when the neighbor noticed something was wrong.

“One thing we hear all the time is ‘I don’t want to get my child in trouble,’” says Chassity Taylor, one of two full-time CREA care coordinators assigned to elder abuse cases at Family Safety Center. “Many of our referrals come from concerned family members, neighbors, and home health care workers. Often people will admit that they suspected something was wrong for a long time, but they did not want to appear nosey by getting involved in someone’s personal affairs.”

When she is out in the community, Taylor reminds audiences that reports of suspicious behavior are anonymous. When Adult Protective Services (APS) receives a report of suspected abuse, they investigate and involve the CREA care coordinators or the Memphis Police Department detectives on site at the Family Safety Center if necessary. The person who reports a case of elder abuse does not have the “burden of proof,” the professionals will investigate and make that determination.

The care coordinators can spend from six months to a year on a case as they work with the other agencies to arrange for housing, a higher level of care, or legal advice related to the victim’s finances. Cases are complex, and they cut across all socio-economic levels of our community. Taylor says she has worked with victims on a fixed income of $1000 a month and victims with incomes of $7000 a month. And the abuse of older adults is not limited to the old and frail, she adds.

“You can be sharp, relatively healthy, living independently, and still be victimized. All it takes is one person with bad intentions to slowly gain your trust,” says Taylor. “They will befriend you and slowly gain your trust. Anyone can be taken advantage of.”

The theme of World Elder Abuse Awareness in 2018 is Building Strong Support for Elders. As the baby boomer generation ages, the need for senior support services increases. Older adults who have been abused or neglected tax our healthcare system. The National Council on Aging estimates that these older adults have a 300% higher risk of death. Financial exploitation of older adults costs Americans more than $36 billion a year.

In Shelby County, the most populated county in Tennessee, there are more than 170,000 individuals over the age of 60. Research indicates that one in ten of them will be a victim of abuse or neglect, though only a small percentage of those cases will be reported to authorities.

“The numbers tell the story. We need to rally around the older adults in Memphis and Shelby County and do what we can as a community to make sure we have supports in place to protect them,” says Murry-Drobot. “Our premise is that for our community to thrive, we need everyone in the community to thrive as well. By helping our older adults feel safe and empowered, we make all of Memphis and Shelby County stronger.”

Created in 2015, CREA is a hub for a network of agencies to improve the protection of older adults. Through CREA, the community services that interact with older adults…care homes, police, paramedics, emergency rooms, financial institutions…are working together to protect seniors against abuse. About CREA.

The law requires that you report concerns about elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) in Tennessee. Call 888-APS-TENN to investigate allegations.

 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Is June 15

Memphis, TN, – According to recent estimates, there are approximately more than 172,000 residents aged 60 and older in Shelby County, and research indicates that one in ten of these older adults could be a victim of abuse and neglect. Elder abuse affects communities on many levels, from public health to civic participation to economic resources. In Memphis and Shelby County, CREA works with a network of agencies to address elder abuse and improve the protection of older adults. Led by a team of professional victim advocates and care coordinators, CREA’s multi-disciplinary team connects older adults to the resources they need to be safe and independent.

The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations (UN) launched the first World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15, 2006 in an effort to unite communities around the world in raising awareness about elder abuse. WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for our communities to raise awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders, and reaffirm our country’s commitment to the principle of justice for all.

“When it comes to protecting older adults, everyone shares some responsibility because for our communities to thrive, we need everyone in them to thrive too,” said Olliette Murry-Drobot, executive director of the Family Safety Center, where CREA is housed.

In Memphis and Shelby County, CREA directs community resources toward addressing elder abuse by allowing victims to receive all the support they need in one place with the help of a care coordinator. These services include victim advocacy, law enforcement, healthcare services, legal support, and housing assistance.

In addition to collaborating with partner agencies to streamline and coordinate the provision of services to this community, here are some of the issues that CREA supports to strengthen our social supports for older adults:

  • Develop programs to educate families and professionals who work with older adults to understand the importance of preventing isolation, how to spot the warning signs of abuse, and what to do to address abuse or neglect.
  • Collaborate with community centers that work as intergenerational spaces that allow older people to build relationships and participate in the work, play, and life of our neighborhoods.
  • Think about the role of transportation in reducing social isolation and adjust systems so that we can all continue to move throughout our communities as we age.

By doing all that we can to strengthen the social support structure, we reduce social isolation, protect communities and families against elder abuse.

Although Tennessee law requires reporting suspicion of abuse or neglect, the majority of incidents will most likely be unreported. Report concerns of elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) in Tennessee. Call 888-APS-TENN to investigate allegations.

Ways you can help:

  • Keep in contact and talk with your older friends, neighbors, and relatives frequently
  • Be aware and alert for the possibility of abuse
  • Look around and take note of what may be happening with your older neighbors and acquaintances
  • Ask questions and listen

About CREA: In 2015, the Plough Foundation funded the Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) after extensive research about the most pressing issues facing older adults in Memphis and Shelby County. For more information, visit plough.org/aginginitiative. CREA represents a comprehensive, community-wide effort to make Shelby County a safe community for people of all ages. CREA improves the protection of older adults and gives them a voice through: commitment, communication, and shared vision by the CCR team; victim-centered services that support older adults; and awareness and education to the entire community. In most cases of elder abuse, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows and trust; two-thirds of perpetrators of elder abuse are related to their victims. That’s why CREA care coordinators and other CREA team members are housed at the Family Safety Center, where the infrastructure is in place to provide civil, criminal, health, and social services to victims who know their abusers. For more information about CREA visit familysafetycenter.org/how-we-help/crea/.

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Yes or No? Your Answers to Questionnaire Could Save Your Life

The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) brings the Family Safety Center’s prevention and intervention resources to where the victim is, when he or she is most vulnerable. This early intervention is important given that on average it takes a victim seven or eight attempts to leave an abusive situation.

LAP was introduced in the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office in the fall and so far, four out of nine MPD precincts have been trained. When LAP was introduced with Shelby County Sherriff’s Office in October, the program generated 26 calls in one month. Now, with Shelby County and 40% percent of MPD precincts on board, FSC received 261 LAP-related calls in the first three weeks of May.

“It is very difficult for victims to take that ‘big step’ and leave an abusive intimate partner, it is a complicated, emotionally charged situation. The LAP allows us to cut through some of those issues and offer help ‘in the heat of the moment’, when the victim has taken the initiative to call police,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, Executive Director of FSC. “LAP is a win-win for both the officer on the scene and the advocate on the phone, because the chance of either of them being successful is far greater when they work together in this manner.”

How it works
When an officer is on the scene of a domestic disturbance involving intimate partners, he or she uses a standardized 11 question protocol to determine the risk level for the victim. Depending on the responses, the officer will advise the victim that based on their “score” they are in danger.

“We say look, it isn’t safe for you to remain in this situation, let me put you in touch with someone who can talk to you about options,” says Major John D. Smith, Memphis Police Domestic Violence Bureau Commander.

If the victim “screens in” and agrees, the officer calls one of the advocates on duty. Major Smith explains that the officer provides an assessment of the situation, reviewing the victim’s responses, before turning the phone over to the victim. The advocate spends an average of three minutes with the officer and 14 minutes with the victim.

The advocate focuses on safety planning to make sure the victim has a safe place to go to if they feel that staying in their home is not safe. If the victim agrees to seek emergency shelter, go to the home of a friend or family member, or visit FSC for an order of protection and counseling, the officer will escort the victim to make sure they get there safely.

Major Smith says LAP gives the officers a standardized way to evaluate volatile intimate partner situations, and the advocate can help diffuse the situation by reassuring the victim there are options. Even if the officer strongly recommends that the victim should leave his or her situation, the advocate can help a victim to figure out their next step. That’s when the advocate can make all the difference.

“We can’t force someone to seek help. I tell the officers not to get discouraged if the victim chooses to stay, and ends up calling police again the following weekend. Our job is to continue reaching out. We are here to save lives,” says Smith.

“We are helping victims that otherwise would not have reached out to Family Safety Center, so this has really broadened our impact,” says Murry-Drobot. “Our biggest challenge now is staffing. We are reviewing call volumes to see where we need more help. We want to make sure we are adequately staffed to make this program a success. Currently, we have seven staff members who are on call on a rotating basis.”

Major Smith agrees. “The last two precincts we brought on board are two of our largest, so the call volume has picked up tremendously. We rolled this out slowly to gauge how many calls we would call, but now we need more advocates. We don’t want to overwhelm our advocates but we have a job to do, and our purpose is to save victims. Whatever it takes to make that happen,” says Smith.

Revealing questions
The first three questions in the lethality screen focus on imminent danger, asking if the offender has ever used a weapon against you or threatened to kill you or your children. A “yes” answer to any of the first three questions automatically triggers the LAP protocol. The remaining questions focus on a wide range of behaviors including whether the offender has ever choked the victim, attempted suicide, or stalked the victim.

The Lethality Assessment Program in use in Memphis/Shelby County was created by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence in 2005. The screening tool is adapted from an instrument used by clinicians to determine a victim’s likelihood of being killed by an intimate partner. After the LAP was developed, a few hundred homicides and near-homicides were retroactively reviewed using the Lethality Screen and it was determined that close to 90% of the homicides and near-homicide victims would have been assessed as “high-danger.”

Even if the victim chooses not to seek help while the officer is on the scene, it is an opportunity to give a victim tools for the future. Also, since it is a standardized tool, law enforcement and advocates can assess situations and discuss solutions using a common language, not just the officer’s instincts on the scene.

“We will definitely be using LAP questionnaires to identify trends and work collectively to better serve our clients through prevention and intervention,” says Murry-Drobot.

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Survivor Story May 2018

Throughout ten years of marriage, there had been multiple calls to police. This time was different. “Has your intimate partner threatened you with a weapon?” asked the officer who responded to the scene. “Is your intimate partner violently jealous, or does he control most of your daily activities?” After she finished the screening, the officer told Rita (not real name) that she fit the profile of someone in danger of being injured or killed. “You should separate from this situation,” he warned.

It’s a simple 11-question screening tool, but a victim’s responses can save his/her life. The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) teams local law enforcement with Family Safety Center advocates to identify victims at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. LAP brings the Family Safety Center’s prevention and intervention resources to where the victim is, when he or she is most vulnerable. This early intervention is important given that on average it takes a victim seven or eight attempts to leave an abusive situation. LAP was introduced in the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office in the fall and so far, four out of nine MPD precincts have been trained.

After alerting Rita about the dangers she faced, the officer offered to call an advocate for her. With the advocate’s support, and with the police standing by, Rita began to plan her departure – a new beginning. Three weeks later, she is sticking to her plan. “After years of abuse, she is in the right mindset now. That’s all that matters,” says Priscilla Blackmon, FSC Housing Manager.

When the officer asked her the screening questions from the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), Rita’s mindset was “enough is enough.” It takes a long time for victims to choose to leave, that’s why LAP has proven to be successful. It connects victims with services at a time when they may be more receptive. If the officer just leaves a brochure and tells the victim to call for help later, it may never happen.

After conferring with the advocate, Rita drove herself to the Family Safety Center with police following close behind. At FSC, a navigator helped her arrange for emergency shelter and Rita filled out paperwork for an Order of Protection. With shelter secured, and plans to pursue counseling, police escorted her to pick up her young children from school.

Today, she is back at work full-time, living in a safe place with her children, and taking it one day at a time. Her husband has not been served with the Order of Protection papers yet, but Rita is not discouraged.

Blackmon says Rita is “doing everything she should be doing.” She is participating in therapy and she has followed through with the of Order of Protection filing. For her, the LAP-trained officer was in the right place at the right time.

“It’s a matter of timing and reaching the victims at the right time,” says Blackmon. “By working together, the police and the advocate have a bigger impact because the officer on the scene can warn the victim that he or she is in a dangerous situation and then the advocate can reassure the victim that she has options and that there are opportunities to leave and remain safe.”

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Survivor Story April 2018

At 23 years of age, Marcus has sage advice for others seeking a way out of an abusive situation. “If you’re on the fence about seeking help, I want you to remember two things: First, your circumstances never determine your value or worth,” says Marcus. “Secondly, remember to never be ashamed of your story, or what you’re going through, because one day your story could be used to help someone else.”

The stigma attached to domestic violence means people who are trapped in abusive situations often need reassurance that they are doing the right thing by seeking help. Many victims are understandably hesitant to step forward, and this reluctance is magnified in the LGBTQ community, where victims are afraid to be outed to their family or co-workers.

Marcus decided to seek help when his previous sexual partner would not stop harassing and stalking him. Stalking often goes unreported but it can escalate quickly and is known to be a precursor to violence. In Marcus’ case, the sexual partner was stalking him and harassing him with texts threatening to kill him. Unfortunately, Marcus’ situation is not uncommon and technology has only made it easier for abusers to stalk and harass victims.

Stalking is defined as “conduct directed toward a specific person that would lead a reasonable to fell fear.” Experts advise that when it comes to stalking, trust your instincts. If you feel you are in danger, you probably are. The majority of victims know their stalker: 61% of females and 44% of males know their stalker.

“Coming into the Family Safety Center I was very anxious and scared,” says Marcus. “However, immediately after I stepped through their doors and met the staff, I felt an overwhelming sense of acceptance, love, and most importantly I felt safe. The staff really left a lasting impact on my life.”

Click here for a Fact Sheet on stalking.

FSC Reaches Out to LGBTQ Victims

A series of focus groups facilitated by the Family Safety Center last year revealed a real disconnect for the local LGTBQ community seeking DV services. As a result, FSC hired a full-time staff member focused on the community, pursued more diversified housing options, and began sensitivity training for law enforcement.

Domestic violence victims are often hesitant and frightened to step forward and speak up. Those dynamics are compounded when victims are members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom are not comfortable going public in the first place.  In addition to hesitancy coming forward, these victims are more likely to experience discrimination when they try to access services, something Phillis Lewis says she witnessed i 2011 when she was trying to help a victim in her role as a Victim Witness Coordinator in the District Attorney’s Office.

Lewis came in contact with a victim who was in a same sex relationship and needed help. Lewis referred her to an agency that she thought could cater to the victim’s needs. She later found out that instead of helping her through her traumatic experience, the agency focused on the victim’s sexuality.

“This was upsetting to me because DV is already under-reported in the LGBTQ community,” says Lewis, who now works at FSC. “I began doing research to see what the numbers were for reporting in Shelby County for DV in the LGBTQ community, and the numbers were extremely low. After speaking with friends within the LGBTQ community we came to the conclusion that victims did not want to be outed. When someone does come for help, it is our duty to help them without judgement.”

Click here for LGBTQ Power & Control Wheel

In October 2017, Lewis joined FSC as a full-time Navigator/ LGBTQ liaison, due in part to feedback received in a series of focus groups, facilitated to explore the barriers that LGBTQ DV victims may face when seeking support. Key take-aways were that interactions with law enforcement can be harmful if officers allow their own biases to interfere with serving victims, including failing to use proper pronouns when addressing transgendered individuals. Participants also said that faith-based services sometimes focus more on a victim’s sexual orientation than the services needed at the time. Housing is also a challenge since there are restrictions about who is allowed in which shelters.

“FSC is committed to serving all victims of DV in our area. We work hard to be a welcoming and affirming community for all victims seeking support,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, executive director of FSC. “After the focus groups, we took a long hard look at our operations, we took study recommendations to heart, and we began to look at areas for improvement. I feel we are having an impact on multiple levels and Phillis has been a great addition to the team.”

Lewis is sensitive to the unique challenges of LGBTQ victims who feel overlooked or remain in the shadows, and she has been instrumental in developing relevant programming at FSC such as the sensitivity training for local law enforcement which was a direct result of the focus groups. Most importantly, victims who come to FSC for help see her as a source of strength who provides support in a non-judgmental way.

“I was in a very bad place and I did not know what to do. All that’s behind me now,” says Deborah (not real name.) “Phillis let me know that it’s okay to not be okay and to seek out help…I was very alone. She gave me the resources I needed, told me where to go, and what to do,” says Deborah.

In addition to hiring a full-time staff member to serve as a liaison to the LGBTQ community, Murry-Drobot says the FSC is exploring ways to increase awareness about FSC services among area agencies that work with this segment of the community so they know to refer clients to FSC. Plans are also underway to develop peer support groups. Being able to provide various housing options has helped families with children as well as transgender victims.

In one of FSC’s more ambitious LGBTQ programming initiatives, Murry-Drobot and Lewis are conducting sensitivity training for local law enforcement thru the MPD training academy, and there are plans to provide training during roll-call sessions throughout Memphis/Shelby County on a weekly basis.

“We already work with law enforcement on a daily basis. They are great partners,” says Murry-Drobot. “Domestic violence units from MPD and Shelby County Sheriff’s office are located at our facility so in addition to working on specific cases, we collaborate to come up with creative ways to fix gaps in the system. That’s how we engage with all of our partners, together we can create a community where domestic violence survivors can thrive.”

In June, Murry-Drobot and Orisha Bowers, director of education and outreach at SisterReach, a FSC partner organization, will present their findings from the year-long LGBTQ study, including the focus groups, at the 2018 Saving Ourselves Symposium, in Birmingham, Alabama. Murry-Drobot hopes that by sharing the research, more advocates can better understand the barriers and factors impacting Black women who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender, and non-conforming people navigating domestic violence support services.

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Survivor Story

If you believe the research, there is a high probability that Cady (not her real name) will become a statistic like her mother. Camp HOPE America wants to change that. One-third of children who experience domestic violence are likely to be victims themselves, and another third will grow up to be abusers.

During her week at Camp HOPE America in Memphis last summer, Cady had fun with new friends and found comfort in meeting children with similar life experiences… children trying hard to separate their dreams for the future from the tragedy that has dogged them so far. The days are filled with typical camp fun and games, but there is plenty of time for serious discussions about coping with stress, sharing feelings, and healthy relationships.

“I just try not to think about what happened that much and have fun,” Cady told a journalist at camp last summer.

Teaching children to cope with their trauma and be hopeful about their future is one of the key goals of FSC’s Camp HOPE America, TN. According to experts, children who are resilient are less likely to fall into the trap of a violent relationship. Cady’s mother was trapped throughout her seven-year marriage before she finally decided to leave and sought a restraining order against her estranged husband. It was too late. In the fall of 2014, her husband showed up at the day care where she worked in Whitehaven and killed her.

Over 200 clients seek help from FSC each month. For the children caught in the middle, the scars can last a lifetime. Camp HOPE is a chance to break that cycle.

At least for Cady, it seems to be helping. She looks forward to attending Camp HOPE this summer and is already thinking of coping skills she can share with first-time campers this year, says her grandmother.  “She is looking forward to when she can contribute to others and help them learn coping skills,” she says. “She understands that the best way to continue learning is to stay involved.”

 

 

Survivor Story

Whenever he got mad, Lisa’s husband would scream and often hurt her, then physically prevent her from going out the door. A few times Lisa did manage to get away to sleep in her car or spend the night at a hotel. But she was never away for long.

“He’d call and manage to convince me it was my fault and I always went back, she says. “I went to my sister’s apartment once, after he had thrown a chair at me, and he tracked me using my phone; I was embarrassed so I didn’t do that again. I just told myself that he had an anger problem, not that it was abuse, and so I didn’t reach out for help.”

Lisa admits for a long time she was too embarrassed to confide in her parents or friends. That all changed one day last fall when she feared for her life. Realizing she needed to protect her 11-month-old daughter, she was suddenly “beyond the point of being embarrassed.” Lisa confided in her friend in Nashville.

“She is the one who ended up connecting me to a domestic violence hotline, and they connected me to the safety center for emergency sheltering. It was by the grace of God that I was finally ready to ask for help, and that through my good friend I got connected to people who could help me. I tell her all the time that she saved my life,” says Lisa.  The Family Safety Center gave her the support and validation she needed.

“The most helpful thing for me — outside of helping me file for the ex-parte protection order (which I would not even have known to do, had it not been for them) — was that they listened, they hugged me, and they told me I did the right thing. That was something I needed to hear, over and over again,” says Lisa. “I actually still have “YOU DID THE RIGHT THING” written on a post-it note on a wall in my bedroom. It’s been 5 months now since I left, I’ve been in therapy and understand the cycle of abuse, and there are still days when I need that reminder.”

Now that she is starting over in a new community, with family nearby, Lisa hopes to use her experience to encourage other victims to come forward. On average, a person attempts to leave an abusive relationship eight times before they succeed. Things get further complicated when an abusive relationship extends beyond the physical, to financial and emotional abuse.

“My husband controlled all of our finances, had isolated me from my family and was in the process of isolating me from my friends. He is a master manipulator and liar. He had me convinced that I was the cause of and deserved the abuse,” she says.

In addition to their personal physical and emotional barriers to seeking help, many victims argue that the system makes it hard to leave. For example, when they file for an order of protection, the burden of proof is on the victim, who must recount the instances of abuse in detail.

Helping clients make sense of a fragmented and intimidating process is a priority for the police, legal, and social service agencies co-located at Family Safety Center. Staff meet regularly to brainstorm, discuss best practices from other communities, and improve outcomes for victims. They understand that victims of domestic violence have enough on their plate.

Lisa empathizes with victims who feel overwhelmed.

”In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma of finally processing all the abuse you’ve been subjected to over the years, and the emotional pain of realizing your marriage is over, you’re also trying to take care of your child, navigate a confusing legal system you don’t understand, hold down your job, open your own bank account and credit cards, learn how to manage your finances all over again, and find a safe place to live,” she says. “Meanwhile, some part of you still loves your husband and hopes he’ll change. And every time you hit a snag — your husband keeps calling, work is stressful, bills are adding up, your judge doesn’t believe in DV — that little voice that your husband planted in your head tells you to just give up and go back. I know why a lot of women do. And it breaks my heart.”

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FSC Navigators help clients weigh their options

Once a domestic violence victim makes the decision to contact the Family Safety Center, a trained Navigator will confidentially help him or her sort through the law enforcement, legal, and social services they need to bring their abuser to justice and start a new life.

According to Charlotte Ray, FSC’s Client Services Manager, who has been an Navigator since 2014, every encounter is unique to the individual seeking help, but there are definitely some common themes. She says all the victims arrive with mixed emotions and they are overwhelmed about the different options that are available.

“I tell them the main thing is to be safe. When I meet with them I make sure to reaffirm that they are doing the right thing and that they are believed,” says Ray. “They come to us in a state of disbelief, they are in denial that things have been escalating. They’ll say, ‘that was not the first time I answered in that manner…I don’t know what set him off this time’.”

Lisa (not her real name) walked into FSC five months ago. Now living in a different state, with plenty of family support, she says she still needs to be reminded that she did the right thing.

“I actually still have “YOU DID THE RIGHT THING” written on a post-it note on a wall in my bedroom. It’s been 5 months now since I left, I’ve been in therapy and understand the cycle of abuse, and there are still days when I need that reminder,” she says.

Multiple services. One location.

Because FSC brings to one location the agencies necessary to help someone safely leave a violent situation, a victim can file an order of protection, get legal advice, and arrange for emergency shelter all in one visit. Working closely with partners in law enforcement, justice, and local community services, Ray and other FSC staff create a plan specific to each client. The FSC is based on a national model for family justice centers, which co-locates domestic violence services for the victim’s benefit. The approach has revolutionized how communities serve victims who otherwise would have to travel to multiple locations to find relief.

Victims are able to access support after-hours using the FSC Domestic Violence Hotline, where trained advocates are able to provide safety planning on the spot, crisis counseling, and link victims to emergency housing.

In addition to their obvious physical and emotional trauma, Ray says victims are often confused about the orders of protection and the legal process in general. The orders of protection are not automatic, and what may work for one client, does not work for another. The order of protection process requires the abused to prove to the courts that he/she is in imminent danger. If the court rules the individual is in imminent danger, an ex-parte order may be granted until a hearing is held within two weeks for an order of protection.

A big step

According to Ray, victims are sometimes discouraged by the process, the long form, and the evidence needed to successfully file for an order of protection, because among other things, it requires them to provide details of the abuse and re-live the trauma.

“Without evidence, it’s your word against theirs,” Ray tells clients. At the hearing, victims are encouraged to provide pertinent information, or evidence, such as witnesses, photos, text messages, police reports, anything to support their statement. But getting the police and courts involved is a very big step, adds Ray, who says it is not uncommon to have clients change their minds about going through with their request for an order of protection.

FSC Navigators are the calm after the storm. Charlotte Ray says it is their mission to arm victims with the information and tools they need to leave their abusive situation. FSC clients have the odds stacked against them. In a frail emotional state, they are expected to navigate a complicated process.

“We try to smooth the way for them. People always ask them ‘Why do you stay?’, but I get it. It’s not that easy for victims to leave,” says Ray. “I wish someone would ask, ‘Why does the abuser abuse?'”

 

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