City programs fight domestic violence
The health-related costs of domestic violence assaults, homicides and rapes exceed $5.8 billion each year, according to the Ruidoso, N.M.-based American Institute on Domestic Violence, and abuse victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work each year. To address the issue, cities are creating programs to help victims in the community and in their own workforce.
In October, Toledo, Ohio, implemented flexible scheduling to help city employees protect themselves from abusive spouses and allow them to take time off to handle legal and medical issues. The city created the project in response to a request by a domestic violence advocate in the city, says former Toledo Councilwoman Ellen Grachek, who helped push for changes. The advocate pointed out that the city was one of the community’s largest employers, so it could set a good example, Grachek says. “To have a policy in place for a situation that arises gives people in supervisory and management positions the ability to respond quickly and smartly,” she says.
The city will train supervisors to be sensitive to such situations and ensure that an employee who is a victim of domestic violence does not face disciplinary action for necessary absences. “It also serves as a very strong statement that the city will not tolerate domestic violence among its workforce,” Gracheck says.
The policy also increases the chances that abuse cases are successfully prosecuted by allowing employees time off to attend legal proceedings. “We know from the reality of domestic violence that cases don’t get prosecuted because the victims don’t show up,” Grachek says.
Though the policy was issued in October, it was implemented at the end of November. Supervisor training should start within the next few months, says Rosie Elizondo, the program coordinator. “Our policy is on bulletin boards and places where our employees can go out and look at it and know that that is available to them,” Elizondo says.
In 2005, after experiencing a record number of homicides, most related to domestic situations, Roanoke, Va., formed a special task force to address the problem. The task force made several recommendations for changing the way the city investigates domestic violence cases.
The city’s domestic violence specialist, Pamela Gold, helps implement those changes. Previously, many domestic violence cases were lost because prosecutors were having a problem getting victims to court. “What really was needed was somebody to help the victims get through the court process, and also to refer them to services they need,” says the department’s Education Information Specialist Aisha Johnson.
Gold’s gender and civilian status has helped her gain the trust of victims. “A lot of these women, because they’ve been assaulted by a male and have criminal histories, we get past that because I’m not a scary-looking uniform officer,” she says.
Victims often find it hard to leave their abuser, Gold says. “I tell them that, if at some point they need to call me again, I’ll be glad to help them again, because [abuse often happens] over and over again before they finally end up leaving,” she says.
Since the program’s implementation, 911 domestic violence calls have decreased more than 50 percent, Johnson says, though that may not reflect a corresponding reduction in incidents. “But, we like to think that incidents are down [because] there were six domestic homicides in 2005, but there were zero in 2006 and 2007,” Johnson says.
Councilman Sherman Lea led Roanoke’s task force and said he may reconvene it to consider other new policies, including one similar to Toledo’s. “I would like to see us go that far,” Lea says. “I would be willing to bring it before the council.”