Domestic Violence-Family Justice Centers-DC Public Safety-NCJA

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– Audio begins –

Leonard Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. We have an extraordinarily interesting program today. We are back talking about domestic violence. It is one of the more comprehensive programs in the state of Washington and throughout the country. This whole concept of family justice centers – it’s not just an issue of a crisis center, it’s not just not an issue of it being a hotline, it’s just not a shelter as to where battered women can go with their kids, it’s everything. All the services are packed into one particular center. This program is being brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. Those of you who listen on a regular basis to this show are familiar with the fact that they bring a wide series of programs to DC Public Safety, and we are certainly appreciative of that. Before we get into the gist of our program, I do want to remind everybody that we’re up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. We are just, again, continue to be overwhelmed, flattered, and sometimes a little miffed when you have criticisms, but we don’t care – we’ll take everything. We truly will. You can either go to the website and comment there, which is what a lot of people do or most people do, it’s media M-E-D-I-A.csoca C-S-O-S-A.gov. You can contact me directly by e-mail, that’s, Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T, S-I-P as in peculiar P-E-S @C-S-O-S-A.gov or you can follow me via Twitter, it’s twitter.com/lensipes. Our guests today are going to be Susan Adams and Jackie Smith. Susan is the Director and Jackie is the Grants Manager. The program itself is the Crystal Judson Family Center in Tacoma, Washington, and as I said at the beginning of the program, it is not just a singular approach to the issue of domestic violence. It embodies this concept called family justice centers, where the entire criminal justice system and the entire social services system comes together in a clean, well managed building, where women are victims, according to our statistics, 85 to 90 percent of the time, where women and their children can come and get the services they need and escape an abusive situation. And with that nice, long introduction, Susan Adams the Director and Jackie Smith the center’s Grant Manager, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Susan Adams: Thank you very much.

Leonard Sipes: Susan Adams, Director, give me a sense as to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.

Susan Adams: Well, the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center is, as you described, is a comprehensive service center for victims of domestic violence and their children born out of an idea that in a time of crisis, and prior to the development of family justice centers, a victim might have to go to 10, 12, 15 different places to get the help they need, and on a good day that’s hard for most of us, and when you’re in crisis, you’ve been abused, you’ve got young children and there are lot of other barriers, it’s almost impossible, and so we wonder why victims have challenges with getting the help that they need. It’s because our systems have not been set up to benefit victims. They’ve been set up to benefit ourselves, ourselves being the service agencies, at our convenience. The family justice center flips that, and says we want to do this in a way that works for victims, that supports them in helping them in their road to being survivors, and that our needs as service agencies are secondary. So we collaborate with criminal justice agencies, prosecutors, police, criminal justice advocates, and then social service agencies, chaplains, civil / legal advocates, financial workers from the Department of Social and Health Services, child support workers. We have access to a myriad of different agencies and supports from shelter to safety planning, domestic violence education, and the beautiful thing is the victim walks through one door and they access it all in one place, a place where their kids can play, a place where they can eat lunch, a place they can feel safe and welcomed and honored, and it’s for their convenience in the way that works best for them.

Leonard Sipes: In a way that works best for them. What does that say about the rest of the country that doesn’t provide this level of comprehensiveness? I would imagine that there are a lot of jurisdictions throughout the country that basically do what they can do. I have been to domestic violence shelters, more than just a couple, and it seems to me that when I walk into the building, it is there to offer a safe haven. Now, she’s going to get advice and she’s going to talk to an attorney and she’s going to talk to a social worker, but it strikes me that a lot of the domestic violence shelters or places, I don’t know a better way of putting it, throughout the country have limits in terms of what it is they could or should be doing. Am I right or wrong?

Susan Adams: Well, right. Shelters typically have limited numbers of beds and space available for clients, so you’re right – shelters can be an amazing safe haven for victims who want shelter. Not every victim wants to go to a shelter. Many victims aren’t ready to make a step to go to a shelter, or they’re looking for different avenues and they have different resources, so what they need is more generalized, comprehensive services, not just shelters. I would say that while we’re the only family justice center in the state of Washington, there are 55 family justice centers throughout the country and more are popping up every day. This is national movement directed by the National Family Justice Center Alliance, and we’re seeing this more and more. Even agencies that aren’t calling themselves family justice centers are looking at ways to collaborate and do a better job of offering services in a way that is convenient. It’s just like a grocery store that offers a wide variety of things in one place. Why doesn’t a victim of domestic violence deserve just as much as someone who’s a shopper at Kroger’s store?

Leonard Sipes: Well, you’re not going to hear me disagree with that. I remember we were talking before recording the program, that my first encounter with domestic violence was as a cadet in the Maryland State Police, and that’s 40 years ago, that’s scary to say, but eventually going on to be a trooper for a short amount of time before going onto college, and I remember going up to a home and it was a domestic violence case, and it was a man who beat his wife with a frying pan. It was just the saddest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, and it took me to my core, as a human being, as to questioning the whole validity of marriage or whatever. I don’t care how you feel or what the provocation was, you just don’t hit anybody. I know you don’t hit anybody, but certainly you don’t beat them to near death, and walking into that situation and the woman refused to prosecute. Now this was back in the ’70s, where without the woman prosecuting, you ran into a big of a jam in court, so what we ended up doing was charging him for assaulting us. I won’t tell you what it is we did to get him to assault us, but that was the charge, and so at least we had him for that. We couldn’t pull off the domestic violence charge or what I considered to be an aggravated assault, which is enough right there, to me if not attempted murder, at least we had him for that and that was unquestionable and we’ll let the attorneys work out the rest of it. That, to me, is domestic violence. That, to me, is not the kind and gentle domestic violence that you see on television. It is horrific in nature, and we’re not even getting into the psychological bondage, we’re not even getting into new research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that suggests that half of these incidents are witnessed by children, and the impact that it has on children. So domestic violence, I don’t need to convince everybody that it’s a bad thing – I’m suggesting that it is one of the worst things that can happen in the lives of human beings, so that’s putting a bunch of softball questions to the two of you, but either one of you, do you want to respond?

Susan Adams: I just want to throw one thing in there because I agree with you. You don’t have to convince anybody that domestic violence is a bad thing, but a part of what the problem is in our society is while people recognize it’s a bad thing, we don’t go the next layer below that and talk about why it is that it continues to be something that is a perpetual problem in our country, and it’s because our focus is in the wrong place. When you talk about domestic violence, and even the story you were telling there, you didn’t do this, but I can guarantee that your listeners might say, well, gee, why didn’t she prosecute? And immediate focus goes onto her and why she doesn’t do certain things, and that tends to be people’s natural reaction, either that, or that would never happen to me or that would never happen to my child or my daughter. So we are focusing on victim behavior instead of on abuser behavior, and we’re judging why this is happening based on what the victim has chosen to do, and we need to delve deeper and step back from that judgmental piece about victims and say there are lots of reasons why they may have done those things. But when we as a society and a court system, civil justice system and the family law system, there is still such a focus on why did the victim do such and such? She must be crazy. That’s where we really breakdown in our ability to move forward and eradicate this problem, and I’m sure Jackie has some other comments as well.

Jackie Smith: Right. One of my comments is focusing on the children, as well, and the impact of trauma in witnessing domestic violence on children. I facilitate a group called Stepping Stones, which works with children and moms who have been impacted by domestic violence, and the long-term effects of trauma are very detrimental. It affects them in school, it affects their ability to focus, it affects their ability to manage their emotions, because so often the children are focused on the abuser’s behavior in the home and tip-toeing and stepping around and being very aware of how the abuser feels or how he opens the door or how he walks into the house, and they change their behaviors based off of his. So that’s something that we really need to focus on as a society, too, because if we’re going to break the cycle of violence, we really have to focus on resources for children. That’s why the family justice center exists as it does in terms of having a playroom, having advocates who can go in there and talk to the children and be supportive people in their lives, and also model some positive behavior.

Leonard Sipes: There are many criminologists in this country who have come to the conclusion many years ago, that we say, why crime? Why crime in America? What are the true issues? What’s the heart and soul behind crime in America, and there are a lot of criminologists who basically will say, simply, child abuse. That individuals grow up in homes, where either they have raised themselves since the age of eight or they grew up in homes that are filled with violence, and in many cases, domestic violence. How many offenders have told me throughout my career that they witness acts of violence directed toward their mother? Time after time after time. So again, I just never know how to describe this set of circumstances, because the words ‘domestic violence’ don’t do it for me. I don’t know what words would, but they just never seem strong enough to really get people to understand that this may be the heart and soul or part of the heart and soul behind the crime problem to begin with. One of the things you all were telling me before the program is that in 2009, and we’re recording this in November of 2009, so we still have another month to go, 3,243 people in the Tacoma, Washington, area, now again, you’re not limited to Tacoma, Washington, but probably most of your folks are from the metropolitan area, but 3,243 came to the center in 2009. That’s a lot of people.

Susan Adams: It is a lot of people, and the statistic I’ll add that we didn’t discuss before, was that doesn’t include the kids that have walked through the door – 977 kids have come along with those adults, as well as 711 other friends and family members. It’s a broad, broad base of folks and our clients are actually many more than just that number of kids – those are kids that have come through the door. We also track how many family members they have total that are living in the home, so as Jackie said, this has such a huge impact on so many people and on our society, and if we don’t address that, we’re looking at continuing this cycle for too long.

Leonard Sipes: The criminal justice system, back in the ’70s, we were accused of, and in the ’80s and in the ’90s and in the new century, the criminal justice system, we haven’t been that great of a team member in terms of victim’s services or domestic violence, and that’s simply because it’s not that we’re insensitive to the issue, I think we’ve got so much that’s on our plate, and being pulled in so many different directions, that it’s hard to really focus on one particular problem over another. But I think what you will say, is we have improved our service delivery to victims of domestic violence, and it sounds like you’ve got the entire criminal justice system willing to interact with you and come to the center to be a part of that comprehensive approach to victim’s services, correct?

Susan Adams: Absolutely. I started out my career as a deputy prosecutor in the county prosecuting attorney’s office. Back in the early ’90s when I was hired, I found sort of similar to what your first experiences were, we didn’t have any training with domestic violence, it was very frustrating, and we really, again, focused on the victim. Gee, she doesn’t want to prosecute, well we have about a million other cases to prosecute, so we’re just going to move onto those. There was just not a lot of training or insight given. Law school at that time didn’t teach anybody about how to deal with these cases, and in any event, we’ve come a long way from that time, thankfully. We have fantastic domestic violence coordinated units. The prosecutors and the sheriff’s department have been working together for almost 15 years now, co-located, cooperating and working together to effectively prosecute cases. Training has improved greatly, and so we’ve definitely come a long way. Do we still have a ways to go? Always. I think it’s, especially with law enforcement and prosecutors, just like you say, they are pushed in many different directions, they’ve got a huge caseload and now we’re dealing with massive budget cuts and doing more with less, so it’s that continued training, but the collaboration helps. Having us all here together and relying on one another’s expertise really then, even in times of economic downturn and doing more with less, we are able to, because we become greater than the sum of our parts when we’re working together.

Leonard Sipes: And you have, beyond law enforcement, you have a wide array of individuals providing social services, correct?

Susan Adams: Correct, and I’d like to add to that a little bit more too, because we have clients who come in, who are in the criminal justice system, who maybe don’t want to be, but here they have the opportunity to speak to the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorneys will come over to this side and talk to the victims about their case, and about realistic repercussions of if you choose not to cooperate, this is what’s going to happen. If you chose to cooperate, this is the outcome that you’re looking at, so that way they can really make educated decisions in terms of do they want to go along with prosecution? Do they want assistance with prosecution, or is that detrimental to their family? And being able to have a face-to-face conversation with a prosecuting attorney who is compassionate and knowledgeable is huge. It’s a very, very difference experience from what victims perceive the criminal justice system to be. At the same time, we have victims who want to talk to a sheriff or to a police detective, and the detective will come here to this side of the office, sit in a comfortable room, and take a statement from a client, and it’s a huge difference because they’re dressed in lay clothes and it’s very comfortable, and the advocate can sit with them and support them through the process. I think through that collaboration, the criminal justice system has an idea of what it’s like to be a community advocate, and we understand their role, and I think a big barrier that we’ve been able to overcome is understanding the different roles that we have and the different goals and objectives we have, and how do we put that down to serving the victim?

Leonard Sipes: We’re halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce our guests today, Susan Adams, the Director of the center and Jackie Smith, the center’s Grants Manager. We’re talking about the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma, Washington, a comprehensive one-stop shop, if you will, in terms of serving victims of domestic violence, part of a concept called family justice centers, which is just growing throughout the United States. They served 3,243 victims in 2009 alone, and we’re only 11 months through 2009, plus hundreds and hundreds of children. We do want to remind everybody that this is a show of the National Criminal Justice Association. They produce these shows, they bring us wonderful guests and wonderful topics, in terms of what really works in the criminal justice system in the United States. The website address for the National Criminal Justice System is www.ncja.org, www.ncja.org, and in terms of a place of help, it is www.aplaceofhelp.org, and that’s the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, www.aplaceofhelp.org.

All right ladies, where do we go to from here? It is clear that you run a nice, clean, modern, comprehensive, one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence. Can we get into the larger issues of domestic violence because one of the things that always has amazed me, especially considering there are so many criminologists as I said before, who do believe that domestic violence / child abuse and neglect is the heart and soul of why we have the crime problem that we do in the United States. What are your observations about domestic violence? The response sounds like it’s gotten better, but does society understand what it is we’re talking about here? Do we all understand how complex and how difficult and how damaging this issue that we refer to as domestic violence, do they really understand how tragic it is?

Susan Adams: Unfortunately not. I don’t feel that our society is even near to where we need to be in terms of understanding the dynamics and really the root causes of domestic violence. I often think of my daughter, who is young. She is nine years old, and at school, she will be told that a boy hits her because he likes her, and so this is how our girls are being socialized in terms of violence equals liking. And if I didn’t go back and say, well, no, that’s not okay, who would tell her otherwise? As parents, oftentimes that’s the norm, that’s what we tell our families as we’re growing up, is you hit her because you like her. And there is this need for power and control that often stems from these types of behaviors, these interactions that begin in youth, and it’s also through observing domestic violence in the home settings because there are these average childhood experiences that children have either growing up in a home where they’re experiencing neglect, possibly because it’s a single parent and she’s not able to be home to take care of her child, so they’re latch-key kids. You have kids who are growing up in abuse home where they are witnessing and/or experiencing physical violence, emotional abuse, and so all this creates psychological damage and damage from the traumas they’re experiencing, which as we know, as kids grow up, they take these experiences and interact negatively in society.

Leonard Sipes: Part of it is,I was sitting in a radio station one time, getting ready to do a live radio interview for a religious station, and it’s interesting that the station housed both a rap station and a religious station in the same building, under the same network. I’m sitting there, and they were not just playing the rap songs, they had the words to the lyrics, what we refer to as a character generator – you see the words to the lyrics as the song was progressing – and I sat there for about 20 minutes waiting for my interview and I was watching the words, and to say that what I saw was sexist / dysfunctional / oh my God, is today’s understatement. There’s a certain point where you say to yourself, do we have a society that is pro domestic violence?

Susan Adams: I don’t know if it’s pro domestic violence, but we’re so incredibly desensitized again to what it is, and we’re so willing to say, oh, that’s just a piece of music or that’s just entertainment when you’re talking about the wrestling. I happened to watch an old movie a few weeks ago, the Urban Cowboy with John Travolta and Deborah Winger, and I remember watching that show as a teenager and thinking, oh, this is a really good movie. I’m watching it now as an adult and Deborah Winger was raped in this movie, she’s beaten up by her husband, and that is not even an essential part of the show. It’s just part of the storyline, but no one ever addresses that gee, this poor woman is abused, and that’s just one example. It’s just woven so much into our culture in music and entertainment, that it just becomes desensitized. I really do believe that there is a feeling among folks that haven’t potentially been victims of domestic violence that in order to sort of separate themselves from it, that it’s this whole idea that oh, it couldn’t happen to me. That happens to other people, and we just want to turn ourselves away and say that’s just an ugly thing that happens to certain people but not me, and we know for a fact that that’s not true. We see it cut across all sections of society, but there’s that protection mechanism that we see a lot. I see it when I go out and speak to groups, and folks that just say, yeah, I understand, but that’s not something that happens in my neighborhood. That doesn’t happen in my community, and until we really dispel that notion and re-sensitize ourselves, we’ve got a long way to go.

Leonard Sipes: The negative messages are in virtually every part of society. It just doesn’t seem to matter, whether it’s television or whether it’s a movie or whether it’s music, that whole concept of it’s okay to use your bulk to intimidate, gosh, I’m going to get in a lot of trouble here, the little woman, that’s their words not mine, it becomes,you just sit there and you say to yourself, did I just see that? Why isn’t there a national uproar every other day about the things that we hear and see and witness? There just doesn’t seem to be a national sense of outrage that,again, my perception of domestic violence goes all the way back, and I’ve experienced other cases of domestic violence, but I will never forget being 18 years old, being out there with the Maryland State Troopers, and going to that house and seeing that woman unbelievably beaten up, and was told at that point by that trooper and other troopers that what you saw tonight is really not unusual. As you flip that over to a television show or to a radio show or to a movie, there seems to be a huge disconnect.

Susan Adams: I agree completely, and I think it goes back to what Jackie was talking about, that we need to be addressing a lot of these issues at a much younger age, and we here at the family justice center have a teen outreach advocate that goes out into the schools and does education, domestic violence education, with young people because that’s where we really need to start focusing our attention and not waiting until they’re 18, 19, 20 years old. We need to be talking to kids that are 9, 10, 11 years old, that are now using technology and many other things, and again, with this power and control where girls think, oh, he loves me so much, that’s why he texted me 2000 times yesterday. We need to be educating and talking about it. I think overall as a society, we should be outraged and unfortunately that’s not the case, but what we are doing that I think is better than we were doing even 10 years ago, is that we’re talking about it. We’re on your radio show, we are on the radar of a lot of conversations that we weren’t even 10 years ago, so it’s a slower process than it should be, but at least we are starting to get people talking about it. We’re getting religious groups asking us to come to their churches and their church groups to talk about what we do, and as communities, we are responsible for getting out there and talking about this to anybody who will listen, getting that awareness and then hopefully creating that outrage that you’re talking about.

Leonard Sipes: Now the danger of taking it as far as I’ve taken it is, the flip side of that is that there are many instances where it is progressive, it happens over the course of years, it is psychological as well as it’s physical, it is emotional as well as it’s physical, and it’s progressive in nature. Most of the cases that I’ve witnessed didn’t start off with a beating. They started off with ordinarily a man, and I don’t want to be politically correct about this – 85 percent, 90 percent of the victims of domestic violence are women – it can be and oftentimes is progressive to the point where the female victim says to herself, oh my heavens, what’s just happened? When she sits down and realizes that the set of circumstances that she’s in is not,she’s having a hard time comprehending where she is, and sometimes it’s startling to sit there and say to yourself, oh my heavens, I’m a victim of domestic violence.

Susan Adams: Right. Oftentimes what we like to do is actually make a timeline with clients on their relationship, and we talk about the beginning of the relationship in terms of how romantic it was and how he swept her off her feet and said the right things and told her she was perfect, and then she felt oftentimes like she had to adhere to this standard of being perfect, and when she failed being perfect, it was her fault for not being perfect. It was her fault for not knowing what to do, how to do it, so she changed her behaviors to try to achieve that level of perfection. And oftentimes none of us are perfect and none of us can expect to be perfect, and so it creates this sense of responsibility, on her part oftentimes, for his behavior and his out lashes. And so when we look at the relationship on a timeline, we find that maybe the first year or maybe the first two years were good, and then something happened. Then the next time was six months, then it was three months, and pretty soon they find themselves in a cycle where everything is very chaotic and they’re trying to tip-toe around and make things okay in the home, and they’re not able to regardless of what they do. That’s when they find themselves feeling like they’re spinning, is what I often hear, and it’s hard to get out because you’re so focused on other things that really thinking about your own reality is very difficult. So that’s where an agency like the family justice center comes in, and is able to provide some education or insight in terms of what’s happening in your relationship.

Leonard Sipes: The half hour program has gone by like wildfire. We only have about 30 seconds left of radio time. Is there a way that we can sum up what is the most important take-away for individuals listening to this program to understand? Not only about the Crystal Judson Family Center in Tacoma, Washington, but about domestic violence in general?

Susan Adams: I would just say that domestic violence impacts all of us, whether it is directly as victims or as co-workers, church members, family members, and to be informed – understand what it is. Peel away the layers. It’s not just a bad thing; it’s destroying the fabric of our society. If you become aware and become an advocate on behalf of victims and on behalf of those trying to survive, you’re taking a step as a community member to make our country a better place.

Leonard Sipes: Oh, I think that’s one of the best summations I’ve ever heard in my life because I do believe so much that it does go to the very fabric of our society, and very damaging. Ladies and gentlemen, you have been listening to Susan Adams, the Director, and Jackie Smith, the center’s Grant Manager, and they both represent the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center in Tacoma, Washington. I’ve really enjoyed the time with you ladies. If people want to get back in touch with you, it’s www.aplaceofhelp.org, www.aplaceofhelp.org. The program today was brought to you by the National Criminal Justice Association. We really are appreciative of the wonderful programs that they bring to DC Public Safety. You can reach the National Criminal Justice Association at www.ncja.org, www.ncja.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We are up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for our radio and television show, blog and transcripts. You can reach us at media.csosa.gov and you can reach me directly by e-mail leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or you can follow me on twitter.com/lensipes. I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, Tacoma, domestic violence, family justice centers.

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