News

Domestic violence advocates combined; help wanted

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Victim advocates in Federal Way’s Police and legal departments have joined forces to keep battered women from slipping through the cracks.

Until recently, both departments had their own sets of volunteer advocates. While both were working in the interest of the victims of domestic abuse, the hand-off from one agency to the other allowed some women to slip away.

Under the old system, police advocates would meet with the victim, sometimes moments after the batterer fled or was arrested, to explain services available to victims and to make a safety plan. But after that initial contact, a victim might not hear from someone in authority until days later, when a different volunteer from the legal department would call to explain the court process.

City officials suspect the time lapse and failure to make a connection with the victims of domestic abuse allowed agencies to lose track of them.

“There was no rapport between the scene (of the abuse) and the end of the trial,” city attorney Pat Richardson said.

Advocates found that by the time someone from the law department called, some women had changed their minds about pursuing charges, testifying or attending the hearings, either because they were too tired or afraid.

Others had taken their apologetic abusers back and made amends and didn’t want to rock the boat by going through the court process.

Still others opted out of pursuing a trial because they needed their abusers to work and couldn’t afford to lose the paychecks by sending them to jail.

And some disappeared completely, changing telephone and cell phone numbers and moving away.

City officials think they might have a better chance of bringing batterers to trial if they build a better rapport with victims, giving them one team of advocates to work with through the whole process.

Now that they’ve combined the two teams, they need more people. Currently, the city only has five volunteers, plus a full-time advocate and a part-time advocate.

Last year, the city prosecuted 613 misdemeanor domestic violence cases, including fourth-degree domestic violence assault, malicious mischief, harassment, interfering with calling police and violations of protection orders.

Cathy, the full-time, lead advocate (she declined to give her last name for safety reasons), said the number of cases has increased by about 200 a year, probably because more people are reporting domestic abuse.

She said she’d like to start with a team of at least 20 volunteers and build up so advocates could be paired and work on a rotating, on-call basis. Ultimately, officials want someone on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The city provides training for victim advocates two nights a week for a couple months. It includes basic domestic violence education — what Cathy called “Domestic Violence 101” — like how the cycle of violence works and how to create a safety plan.

City officials hope the new system, plus a new cadre of volunteers, will keep the victims engaged in the process long enough to see their abusers convicted and sent to jail or into treatment. As it is now, only about half of the victims see their batterers all the way through a trial.

“It’s very difficult,” Richardson said. “We’re hoping that by establishing a rapport, we can encourage victims to see it through to the end of the legal process.”

For more information or to volunteer to be a domestic violence victims advocate, call the lead advocate at 661-4073.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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