Officers and Domestic Violence Counselors Team Up to Help Victims Find Safety

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

One moment 32-year-old Tania was walking her child to a bus stop in Hollywood, the next she was running for her life. With help from a team of advocates who work with local police to help save women like her, Tania has escaped the clutches of her batterer and stalker. Today, she is a survivor of domestic violence and chooses to live a life free of violence.

But it was just a short time ago that Tania feared for her life. Last November, a very aggressive woman who appeared to be concealing a weapon, confronted her as she walked her to the bus. Her child saw the whole thing, but it was only the most recent is a series of incidents that made her fear for her life, Tania recalls. She told EGP she was convinced her ex-husband had set up the confrontation, but couldn’t prove it.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Policías y Defensores de Víctimas de Violencia Domestica Unen Fuerzas

“He sent someone to the bus stop to hurt me,” Tania said. “I called the police, they never showed up. I went to the station, they wouldn’t take a report [because I wasn’t hurt and I didn’t see the weapon].” Fearing for their safety, she picked her daughter up from school and “we never went back home,” she told EGP.

Sadly, Tania’s story is not unique.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) gets about 48,000 domestic violence calls per year and investigates about 20,000 domestic violence reports as crimes, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck last October, announcing the expansion of the LAPD’s Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) program.

DART trains officers and civilian domestic violence counselors to respond to domestic violence incidents and how to offer victims help. A DART unit is comprised of two sworn police officers in uniform and trained DART counselor/advocate. The unit deploys four times a week on the nights when the most domestic violence calls are made to 911.

In the Northeast and Hollenbeck police divisions, DART partners with the anti-domestic violence advocacy group Peace Over Violence, a non-profit that helps and empowers victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and incest.

Officers Ryan Duncan and Myra Correa respond to domestic violence calls in the Northeast division. The station gets about 5,000 domestic violence related calls a year, Duncan said.

When responding to a call, first the officers secure the scene and start their preliminary investigation speaking with the victim, depending on the severity of the call, officers will provide Emergency Protective orders to the victims and families if needed.

Once the their preliminary investigation is complete, they ask the victims if they want to speak with a DART civilian counselor who can provide information on counseling, advocacy, support, accesses to restraining orders and other resource information. After the victim signs a waiver to allow the counselor to speak with the victim, they speak in private with the officers outside.

Duncan told EGP that calls come in almost every night, but many victims reject the help being offered by Peace Over Violence advocates who accompany them on the calls.

While law enforcement authorities say domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes and victims often refuse help or try to protect their assailant, according to Tania it was a struggle to find help when she finally wanted it. She told EGP she couldn’t hide out with family or friends, and the police didn’t seem to believe her, which made her feel completely alone.

Like many victims of domestic violence, Tania says her abuse started early, when she and her ex-husband were still dating. It started with a slap across and went down hill from there. One night, while on a “romantic” date, he put a gun to her face after reading in her diary that she wanted to leave him. She didn’t leave.

He was obsessed with the idea that she would cheat on him, she said. “‘If I ever catch you cheating, I will kill you,’ I saw it in his eyes,” Tania recalled.

Tania says she didn’t leave him because she loved him, and feared he would be deported if she got the police involved.

In 2002 she took out a restraining order against him, but thinking he had changed, married him five years later. The abuse started up again as soon as they were married.

It wasn’t until he started physically abusing their child that she got the nerve to kick him out, that’s when the latest stalking began. She changed her locks, but he broke into her apartment. He would call her nonstop, eavesdrop outside the door of her apartment and had people follow her.

Since the November incident at the bus stop, Tania and her daughter, whose real names have been changed to protect their privacy and safety, have stayed at hotels, an emergency shelter and are now living in transitional housing.

Tania connected with Peace Over Violence through a detective at the Northeast Police Station, who gave her the phone number to the organization’s hotline.

She was encouraged to go to an emergency shelter and eventually did after Peace Over Violence emergency services coordinator Alice Corona told her it wouldn’t hurt.

“I didn’t want to go but I did. It was the best advice I could ever take,” Tania confessed.

Tania started receiving crisis counseling, received help getting a restraining order as well as filling out the custody paperwork, Peace Over Violence also helped her connect her to other community resources.

“Alice [Corona] would accompany me to court… It felt really good, she believed me,” Tania said.

Corona remembers Tania said the first night they stayed in the emergency shelter, was the first time her child slept peacefully and didn’t stay up praying worried for their safety.

With the restraining order in place and living out of the area now, she says she feels safe though he’s using the court to harass her. Besides seeking custody, he’s also gone after her for spousal support even though she is not employed. Peace Over Violence has helped her advocate for herself but Tania has also learned to advocate for herself, Corona said.

“Tania would take notes and ask the judge question, she would cross examine her ex,” Corona said, asking him for example why he had recently obtained a passport.

Peace over Violence Director of Intervention Services Yvette Lozano says it takes an average of 8 times before a victim leaves the aggressor and then it becomes more dangerous for the victim. DART officers can provide Emergency Protective orders and advocates can help them get longer-term restraining orders in place.

There are many reasons why victims refuse help. They may dismiss the violence due to embarrassment, or they may be afraid their partner will take the children away, or they may be financially dependent on them. In other cases language or immigration status could be a barrier, she explained.

Sometimes victims say their abuser was drinking, but alcohol does not cause domestic violence, said Duncan.

Lozano remembers a case where a woman was battered by her husband inside a moving car, he then threw her out on the 110-N freeway. The victim, who suffered a broken pelvic bone, had previous incidents of domestic violence but had rejected help back then, she said. The victim was an undocumented woman in her 40s. While she was in the hospital, Peace Over Violence assessed her needs, helped her get a restraining order and resources to get a special visa for victims of domestic violence.

Lozano said the advocates respond to domestic calls with the officers but only talk to the victims after the officers have made sure the location is safe and wait outside. Information shared with the advocate is confidential unless the victim is suicidal or homicidal, she said. Beside accessing the individual’s needs, like if the person needs an emergency shelter or a restraining order, the advocate will follow up within 72-hours of the incident.

Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous for officers to respond to, “help me help you,” said Correa.

For more information on Peace Over Violence visit www.peaceoverviolence.org or call their 24-Hour Hotlines at (310) 392-8381, (213) 626-3393 or (626) 793-3385.

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April 18, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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