His first thought: This is normal.
Todd Beamer High School senior Jonathan Debruil circulated the room as some of his peers were “abused” by older partners, or “killed” while in an abusive relationship.
Debruil’s desensitized reaction, he said, was due to the “naturalized” violence in Federal Way.
Then he realized the stories are real.
“It hit me that we, us up here, the children, the future, are very into growth and changing the cycle,” he said during the “In Their Shoes” workshop, as teens from Federal Way high schools had the opportunity to experience six real-life cases of domestic violence on Oct. 23.
Volunteers then made decisions as they worked through the difficulties of various teen domestic violence scenarios.
Official names of the cases were changed to protect privacy, but the participating students agreed they felt the gravity of each troubling decision as the simulation progresses.
Debruil said the “In Their Shoes” scenarios also taught him about microaggressions and the varying levels of abuse people face.
“If we want to change the culture that we’re facing today, we should be more mindful of what we say, how we say it, who we say it to and when we say it,” he said.
Hosted by the Federal Way Domestic Violence Task Force in partnership with Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN), the simulation event was followed by two panel discussions regarding the Federal Way’s legal process to domestic violence and the youths’ reactions to their experience.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which is purposely situational near Valentine’s Day, said event moderator Lizzy Truskin, who works as a youth advocate for the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network.
Domestic violence is defined in two categories, Truskin said. The first is any way that a partner can exert dominance and control over an intimate partner. Another is what can be legally prosecutable.
During the workshop, one case profiled a 16-year-old girl who held religiously conservative views and became involved with an abusive 21-year-old man, who controlled her every action, manipulated her, and ended up getting her pregnant. Throughout the case, the students made choices and saw the consequences. In the end, the girl’s aunt was the main supporter who helped her escape the abusive relationship.
Other stories profiled cases where ethnicity played a role or where the roles were reversed to show domestic violence can be done by either partner. Some cases had tragic endings.
Although teens often feel as if they are invincible, said Thomas Jefferson sophomore Isabela Borchers, “looking through the stories, I was like that could really just happen to anyone.”
Chris Carter, a learning improvement officer for Federal Way Public Schools, also went through the workshop and offered his insight on the panel.
Carter said walking through these scenarios made him realize just how vulnerable the kids in Federal Way are due to the complex situations they face daily, and also heightened his awareness of how important the amount of resources students have access to are.
Federal Way Public Schools has taken forward action this year, implementing a district-wide violence prevention program for high school athletes.
Athletes As Leaders (AAL), the program for female-identifying athletes, and Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM), the program for male-identifying athletes, began this fall sports season and will be implemented throughout all sports seasons.
Through conversations designed as specific life lessons over the course of 10 to 12 weeks, athletes connect with their coaches to open dialogue on character building, healthy relationships, violence prevention and other topics.
Bringing the “In Their Shoes” exercise to peers, classrooms, or other student communities has a long list of pros and cons, the panel agreed.
“It goes beyond … you can’t see [the abuse] from the outside in,” said FWHS senior Dejanique Jenkins, noting that red flags become oblivious over time. “You don’t notice it.”
For the generation that loves social media, Jenkins suggested figuring out a way to grab people’s attention digitally. While teens may not participate in person, another avenue to reach them is via a social media site, which allows them to comprehend the information in their own time and space.
“I promise you, they’ll be talking,” Jenkins said.
Overall awareness of the less-obvious types of abuse could benefit many, but on the other hand, people may feel attacked as if you’re trying to explain their situation without having lived it, Jenkins said.
“They’re right, I haven’t been there but I can feel,” she said.
Legal process and prosecution
The focus of the adult panel was on the legal process of prosecution for domestic violence, and included voices from Federal Way police and Federal Way’s Municipal Court.
Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter has worked for Federal Way police since its inception in 1996 and said he has dealt with domestic violence incidents as a patrol officer, a detective and now from more of an administrative perspective.
Last year within the city limits of Federal Way, 3,146 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the department, Sumpter shared with the crowd.
Nearly 600 of those times, police found probable cause to arrest someone.
“There’s a call going on right now somewhere in Federal Way,” he said. “Now those are the reported incidents; we also know that a large other number — which we can only guess at — goes entirely unreported.”
Upon arriving on the scene, police will investigate for probable cause of domestic violence crime. If found, then officers must arrest the primary offender.
Jail is essentially the waiting room for the rest of the process, Sumpter said.
Charlotte Storey, domestic violence prosecutor for the city of Federal Way, handles all misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor prosecutions for the city.
The goal of prosecution is not punishment, but to avoid the cycle of domestic violence, she explained.
According to Storey, the three main goals are to achieve justice for the person harmed, address the underlying issues that caused the perpetrator to commit the crime, and to hopefully prevent future domestic violence crimes in Federal Way and protect the community at large.
Federal Way’s defense attorney Karama Hawkins also joined the panel to explain her role in the process.
While Hawkins has defended many people accused of these crimes, “I am not an advocate for domestic violence. I represent people who are accused of crimes, regardless of what those crimes are in the city of Federal Way,” she said.
Often, Hawkins is the one person on the panel saying the allegations may not be true. Most cases resolve without going to trial, but there is still emphasis put on addressing the issues that led to the incident in the first place.
“We’re trying to end cycles here,” Hawkins said, echoing Storey’s sentiments.
Federal Way Judge Dave Larson explained his role in the prosecution as being the guardian of the legal process.
His judge’s robe brings its own sense of power and control, which he must use responsibly when dealing with domestic violence cases, he said.
“I have to decide whether someone stays in jail on bail or whether I release them,” Larson said. “If I keep somebody in jail, that wouldn’t have ever caused any harm to somebody then I made a mistake there. If I let somebody out that went and killed somebody or hurt somebody, I have to live with that too.”
Many of the people Larson sees in court for domestic violence crimes are low-income, he said.
If no contact orders are issued, the couple must live separately and “so sometimes we make people homeless, or sometimes we make it so the victim isn’t getting the financial care that they need … sometimes we create more problems unless we’re willing to mitigate those by being responsible whenever we approach cases.”