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?'”