Every client encounter is unique to the individual seeking help but there are definitely recurring themes, according to Charlotte Ray, Family Safety Center (FSC) Client Services Manager. Ray says all the victims arrive with mixed emotions about reaching out for help and they are overwhelmed about the different options that are available. 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.
“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,” says Ray.
A victim-centered process
The Family Safety Center became involved with the orders of protection in 2014. Before then, victims had to go to 201 Poplar to file an order of protection. FSC Executive Director Olliette Murry-Drobot says the decision to move the process to the FSC was a game-changer.
“Imagine the trauma of having to go to 201 Poplar, given the victim’s state of mind everything else going on there at 201 Poplar. It was more of an administrative process with no other support for the victim,” says Murry-Drobot. “At FSC we’re totally focused on the victim and whatever services they may need in addition to the order of protection. The FSC is based on a national model for family justice centers, which co-locates domestic violence services for the victim’s benefit.
“It’s hard to sum up the Family Safety Center in a sentence or two since they changed my life,” says survivor Kamillia Barton. “I came in just for a protection order, however I left with the hope, healing and courage I needed to move on and never look back. The storm is over now; I will be forever grateful for the FSC!!”
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, obtain an arrest warrant, seek 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.
Each case is unique
The orders of protection are not automatic, and what may work for one client, does not work for another, says Ray. The order of protection is more than a police report, and it requires the abused to prove to the courts that he/she is in immediate danger. If the court rules the individual is in immediate danger, an ex-parte order may be granted within hours (if filed during the court’s normal hours of operation), until a hearing is held within two weeks for a permanent order.
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. Navigators often recommend proceeding with the order of protection so they document the abusive behavior more completely than the police report
“Without documentation, it’s your word against theirs,” Ray tells clients. “If you are in an abusive relationship, you are pretty certain that it was your intimate partner who slashed your tires. But without documentation, there is no real proof in the eyes of the law.” But getting the police and courts involved is a very big step, adds Ray, who has had victims call a day later to say they do not want to go through with the permanent order of protection.
DV or IPV? Violence is violence.
Domestic violence is increasingly being described as intimate partner violence (IPV). As opposed to violence among extended family members or neighbors, the victim of intimate partner violence has had a romantic or sexual relationship with his or her abuser. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines intimate partner violence as physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression (including coercive acts) by a current or former intimate partner (current or former spouse or current or former boyfriend, girlfriend.)
Even when violence occurs beyond the confines of a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend, victims can file for an order of protection. In Memphis and Shelby County, orders of protection for family violence such as this can be obtained at the Crime Victims Center and Rape Crisis Center.
NOTE: The Crime Victims Center and Rape Crisis Center, currently housed at 1750 Madison Ave. together with FSC, will be relocating in February. When the Crime Victims Center and Rape Crisis Center moves to their new home at 1060 Madison Ave., victims of violence not defined as domestic or intimate partner violence, will have to go to that new location for orders of protection.
“The Crime Victims Center and Rape Crisis Center is a great partner. We are working together to minimize confusion for our respective clients, particularly during the early days of their move,” says Murry-Drobot.
Whether victims face intimate partner violence or violence from family members or neighbors, help is available. For everyone who walks through the door at FSC, Navigators are the calm after the storm. Ray says it is their mission to arm victims with the information and tools they need to leave their abusive situation.
“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,” says Ray.
If you believe the research, there is a high probability that Cady* will become a statistic like her mother. Camp HOPE 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, 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 again 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.”
*not real name
MYTH: Domestic violence is a private family matter.
FACT: Domestic Violence is everyone’s business. Keeping domestic violence secret helps no one, has been shown to harm children, incurs substantial costs to society, and serves to perpetrate abuse through learned patterns of behavior.
MYTH: Most of the time, domestic violence is not really that serious.
FACT: Domestic violence is an illegal act in the U.S. and is considered a crime with serious repercussions. Although there are aspects of domestic violence (example: emotional, psychological, spiritual abuse) that may not be considered criminal in a legal sense, serious and long-lasting physical, emotional and spiritual harm can, and often does, occur. Each and every act of domestic violence needs to be taken seriously.
MYTH: Victims provoke their partners’ violence.
FACT: Whatever the problems exist in a relationship, the use of violence is never justifiable or acceptable. There is NO EXCUSE for domestic violence.
MYTH: Domestic violence is an impulse control or anger management problem.
FACT: Abusers act deliberately and with forethought. Abusers choose whom to abuse. For example, an abuser will selectively batter his wife but not his boss.
MYTH: Women are just as violent as men in relationships.
FACT: Some women report striking their male partners during the course of conflict, often in self-defense. Women, however, rarely commit deliberate acts that result in fear, injury, rape or death.
MYTH: Domestic violence is bad but it happens else elsewhere. It doesn’t happen in my community, my neighborhood, my culture, my religion, or my congregation.
FACT: Domestic violence happens to people of every educational and socioeconomic level. Domestic violence happens in all races, religions, and age groups. Domestic violence occurs in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.
MYTH: It is easy for a victim to leave their abuser, so if he/she doesn’t leave, it means he/she likes the abuse or is exaggerating how bad it is.
FACT: Fear, lack of safe options, and the inability to survive economically prevent many victims from leaving abusive relationships. Threats of harm, including death to the victim and/or children, keep many battered women/men trapped in abusive situations. The most dangerous time for a victim is when he/she attempts to leave the relationship, or when the abuser discovers that he/she has made plans to leave.
MYTH: Domestic violence can occur in older women, but it is quite rare. .
FACT: Approximately half of all elder abuse in women is thought to be domestic violence “grown old”. Older battered women are less likely to seek and receive help.
MYTH: Anger management programs are briefer, more cost effective than, and just as successful as certified batterer intervention programs.
FACT: Although briefer and less expensive than certified batterer intervention programs, anger management programs are not effective to address the deep-rooted issues of batterers.
Source: Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.
Finding shelter for victims with children, particularly for large families, is a challenge for Family Safety Center (FSC) and its partners, but local advocates understand that the alternative is homelessness and continued abuse. Many of the clients who come to FSC seeking emergency shelter are motivated by a desire to remove the children from the abusive environment and ensure their safety. In the year ending June 2018, FSC arranged emergency shelter for over 900 individuals, 61% of them children, for a total of 8,258 bed nights.
In recent months, two things have happened in Memphis/Shelby County to impact the emergency housing situation for domestic violence victims in our community. Beginning in July, the FSC began using Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) to help victims. This HUD program provides vouchers for qualified DV victims who need help covering their rent. FSC Emergency Housing Manager Priscilla Blackmon says recipients must apply at least 30% of their monthly income toward housing. Fortunately, the availability of TBRA has coincided with an increased demand for services due to the rollout of the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP).
LAP is a national model focused on reducing intimate partner homicides. LAP allows law enforcement to assess the danger of a domestic violence victim during a service call. Once assessed, the victim is connected to an advocate over the phone. The FSC, along with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and the Memphis Police Department (MPD), rolled out LAP in phases, beginning in October 2017. As of June, with two MPD precincts pending, the monthly call volumes indicated a steady increase.
FSC’s creative approach to emergency shelter includes arrangements with a few area hotels and operating several apartments to provide victims with a safe place to go. More “traditional” group shelters are not a solution for everyone and communities across the country are looking for ways to serve an increasingly diverse victim population. FSC now has the ability to serve several groups that face challenges at traditional shelters including men, large families, pregnant women, and members of the LGBTQ community.
According to a survey of over 700 FSC clients, 98% desired non-traditional housing. FSC continues to work with partner agencies to further expand the variety of shelter and housing options for its clients. FSC Emergency Housing Manager Priscilla Blackmon says the options provide FSC more flexibility. For example, when someone calls the hotline in the middle of the night, there is no time to wait for paperwork at a community shelter so the hotel room fills the immediate need, she says. Depending on the abuser’s situation, whether they are incarcerated or not, a victim may ask to be transferred from one location to another because they are concerned for their safety. “It’s all about making sure our clients feel safe,” says Blackmon. After the initial intake, a case manager will continue to provide support, including connections to other services while in FSC’s care.
Ways to help
Clients who need housing, also need basics like food, toiletries and diapers. “Just think of a typical family with five children, two in diapers, three in school, who leave their home abruptly often after police have been called to a disturbance, “says Blackmon. “What would that family need? We prepare boxes for them with basic necessities to try to get them through the first few days.”
FSC accepts donations of food, toiletries, diapers, and bus passes. Clients are sent to other community agencies for clothing. Financial donations are also accepted. Five days of shelter costs $350. To learn more about how to get your organization involved, or how you can help as an individual, please visit familysafetycenter.org.
After completing the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) screening, Helen* decided to heed the advice of both the officer and the FSC advocate and get out.
“I can’t believe I am actually going through this again,” said Helen, who had a history of abuse in a previous relationship. She arrived at FSC seeking an order of protection and shelter from her abuser. In addition to the fact that she this was not her first abusive relationship, Helen had something else in common with many other FSC clients: she was worried about her child’s safety.
In Helen’s case, the child was a teenage son. She was afraid he would intervene to try and protect his mother, and in turn get hurt. Helen said she was pleasantly surprised with the housing options FSC offered. She desperately wanted a safe place to live so she could keep working and providing for her son. Priscilla Blackmon, FSC Housing Manager, said mother and son were relieved she was able to find them emergency housing.
“When I told her that we were going to assist her with housing the son gave me the biggest hug and said ‘thank you’,” said Blackmon. Helen and her son stayed in the hotel for three nights before settling into an apartment for a few weeks.
Eventually, one of our partner agencies was able to find a permanent housing solution. Helen is now living in her own home and providing for herself and her son.
*not real name
One common denominator in all cases of elder abuse is the violation of trust. The abuse of older adults carries all the emotional complexities of domestic violence and more. In Memphis/Shelby County, the Family Safety Center and Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) are making a difference. Tennessee law requires that you report elder abuse. Read More.
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.
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.
The odds are against children who have witnessed domestic violence at home. Research indicates that one-third of these children will grow up to mimic the abusive behavior in their own relationships, and one-third will end up being the victim in an abusive relationship.
“Camp HOPE allows us to intervene in these kids’ lives while they are still young and learning how to make sense of the turmoil they find themselves in,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, executive director of Family Safety Center. “We let them know they are not alone and that the trauma they have experienced does not have to define their futures. We help them learn tools for coping. If we intervene early enough, maybe we can steer them toward making good choices later in life,” she says, adding that FSC’s partnership with the University of Memphis Psychology Department is a crucial component of the Camp HOPE effort.
Camp Director Kelbert Fagan agrees. This summer they had 30 counselors to 45 campers. Approximately half of the counselors were Doctoral, Master’s, and undergraduate students from the University of Memphis Psychology Department. Rising seniors from area high school students assisted as Jr. Counselors. All counselors received extensive training in the Camp HOPE curriculum. Fagan says he wants to keep this low camper to counselor ratio next year. If the camp expands, he says, it will grow the number of older campers. This year’s campers ranged in age from seven to 11, Fagan would like to see more campers ages 12 to 18.
“Growth of the program will likely come from serving the older campers. As far as quality of the program, we need to cap it around 55 or 60, just because of the nature of the traumas the kids have been through,” says Fagan. “We had a lot of kids who needed help de-escalating because of their situation and also being away from home…with this type of camp you have to make sure you have the resources to provide quality services because each child needs a lot attention. We had kids who shut-down, and we had to tend to them.”
In addition to the University of Memphis, Camp HOPE relies on Memphis Police Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Memphis Grizzlies and the Exchange Club of Memphis. Several local businesses provided cash or in-kind donations for the Camp, including Aardvark Memphis, Gant Systems, and OR Nurses. Verizon is a national sponsor of Camp HOPE America. Local campers enjoyed an interactive learning lab that Verizon brought to the site. At the first camp reunion, Verizon will provide each camper with a free tablet.
FSC brings campers together throughout the year to keep up the positive momentum of the Camp HOPE experience. University of Memphis researchers use evidence-based surveys to measure how “hopeful” campers are.
“Hope scores are typically higher after camp than before camp, but the farther away they get from camp, the score begins to decline. The reunions keep the hope scores up,” says Fagan.
Katie Howell, PhD, the University of Memphis assistant professor who oversees the Camp HOPE evaluation, explains that hope has been proven to be an indicator of future success.
“Hope is a protective factor against many forms of mental illness, such as depression and posttraumatic stress, so by focusing on increasing hopefulness we can improve the health and well-being of youth exposed to violence,” explains Howell.
A less scientific measure of the camp’s success is the fact that some campers did not want to leave, and some parents said their kids had been looking forward to camp for weeks. For many, camp was a positive refuge from the situation at home. Fagan says many of the campers are in transition, moving from house to house as their parent attempts to get a fresh start. One girl returned to the YWCA shelter after her week at camp.
By design, the Family Safety Center (FSC) brings to one location multiple agencies focused on improving outcomes for domestic violence victims. The new Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) is a prime example of this teamwork. Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) deputies or MPD officers on a domestic disturbance call can now use a brief questionnaire to determine if a victim is in imminent danger. If necessary, officers will connect the victim with a Family Safety Center advocate while still on the scene. As evidenced by the increased volume of referrals to FSC, these timely interventions are making a difference.
While each agency plays an important role in the LAP, the SCSO Fugitive Bureau gives the program teeth. For every high-risk victim, there is a dangerous perpetrator that must be brought to justice. The fugitive bureau steps in to facilitate an arrest if the abuser has eluded the officers or in particularly heinous cases such as domestic violence-related homicides.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Pope, Commander of the DV Unit, says his team’s goal is to effect the arrest in the cases that cross his desk. The Sheriff’s Office investigates the cases to decide whether to issue a warrant, advise a victim to file an Order of Protection, or help the courts determine the conditions of bail. Lt Pope says patience and persistence pay off. His deputies are dogged in their pursuit of the perpetrators, and patient with victims who are hesitant to come forward and file a report.
“We don’t always get a victim to follow through the first time,” says Lt. Pope. “Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a second incident. Two or three months later, when it happens again, all of a sudden they realize it’s worth cooperating with us. We understand that we can’t force anyone. Our job is to keep them safe regardless.”
SCSO Detective Nichole Brumley, who has worked in the Domestic Violence Unit for more than five years, says the most challenging part of her job is convincing the victims to leave their situation.
“These are emotionally complicated cases,” says Detective Brumley. “I always tell the victims ‘I am sure this is not the first time, and I am pretty sure there will be a next time. If you are not concerned for yourself, think about your children.’ It is a tough decision for victims who are financially dependent on their partner or who want to keep their family together,” she says.
The MPD and SCSO Domestic Violence Bureaus are co-located at FSC so there is regular communication about high profile cases, including when the fugitive squad is needed to expedite an arrest after a homicide. Difficult ongoing cases also surface at the weekly Domestic Violence Review and Response Team (DVRRT) meetings, a chance for law enforcement and advocates to discuss specific cases.
“We have everyone around the table at the DVRRT meetings, including housing and legal assistance,”says Olliette Murry-Drobot, Executive Director of FSC. “The LAP program has made us that much more efficient, because we can zero in on the high-risk situations that have been identified in the LAP screenings and need immediate attention.”
The DVRRT meetings are also an opportunity to address gaps in the system. When the fugitive squad complained that they were often unable to serve Orders of Protection against individuals detained on other offenses because they were released before the deputies arrived to serve them, the Sheriff’s Office worked with the Clerk of the Court to change the booking procedure. Now, before a DV perpetrator is released from jail, authorities check to make sure there are no outstanding Orders of Protection.
“With the key partners in one location we are able to brainstorm about how best to allocate our community’s domestic violence resources as efficiently as possible. We also brainstorm ideas about what is working and what is not working in other communities. We are able to build on our strengths and continue to remove barriers for victims that we are serving,” says Murry-Drobot.