The case for DV Reform

Posted on October 27, 2011 by DVReform

Gimme Shelter: The Case for Domestic Violence Reform

By the time you go to bed tonight, 3 women will have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.

For millions of victims, domestic violence is a matter of life and death, but victims of domestic abuse are being victimized again- ignored and abandoned by the very victim service providers that claim to help them. These publicly and privately funded agencies have no oversight – and are in desperate need of reform.

It’s hard to comprehend, but each month its estimated thousands of victims of abuse are turned away from state and federally domestic violence shelters and agencies. Many shelters refuse women with children, charge fees battered women cannot afford, and reject women because of their immigration status, their sexual orientation or their abuser’s occupation. A majority of those shelters that DO accept all victims are not funded by the private and public sector through NNEDV, NCADV, and state coalitions, so they are limited to the numbers of victims they can shelter.

When a victim of domestic violence calls a hotline at the local, state or national level, instead of help, they are often referred to another agency, which in turn refers them to yet another agency. Many women tell of being referred back to the same agencies, but receiving little or no practical help.

Maria DiBari, an abuse survivor who has since created the Tri-County Crisis Center in New York, says, “A victim will reach out in need of a specific resource and no one can provide it. Hotlines will refer to shelters and shelters will refer to other agencies and programs and those programs and agencies will refer them back to the shelters. So it becomes a vicious circle.”

DiBari approached many agencies including LSHV, OPDV, NCADV, NYS Coalition, every shelter in NY, Justice Centers in NYS, and she contacted all of her state officials for assistance and still could not get the resources she needed.

Alexis Moore, head of Survivors in Action, and also a former victim of abuse, agrees. “I was referred and referred and referred… until finally I was referred back to the same agencies that I had already been through.”

They both point to battered women like Heather Williams, of Connecticut, who has reached out to more than 50 state and local agencies, but has yet to receive the help she needs. Heather’s most dire need: legal representation.

“I am a victim of domestic violence and stalking. I have a four year-old daughter and have been in an ongoing custody battle with my abuser. In the past, I’ve had numerous orders of protection that have been violated, have been unable to obtain my own police reports, and, most recently, have been falsely charged with domestic violence. I’ve already spent $100,000 in attorneys’ fees for child custody and have been unsuccessful in my attempts to protect my daughter and myself from my abuser. I live in fear of retaliation. Once you’ve left, the danger is far from over. Now your abuser is on the war-path, and there’s no one to help you.”

Finding and obtaining legal representation is the biggest challenge for victims. Many victims go without legal counsel because they can’t afford lawyers. Agencies will often refer them to Legal Aid, a service that provides free representation, but few if any of their attorneys are experienced in domestic violence law, an essential to help victims of abuse navigate the courts, DCF/CPS, the paperwork, the endless bureaucracy, and the legal tricks their abusers will play.

Heather, after requesting assistance from more than 50 government and private agencies in New York and Connecticut, as well as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has yet to find a pro-bono attorney to take her case.

Often services offered women are simply denied. Lily Morales contacted the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – one of the most heavily funded agencies in the United States – for free reconstructive surgery after her abuser disfigured her face. Though surgery is advertised as a service the NCADV provides, Morales was refused.

Other women are simply given incorrect or bad advice. Alexis Moore was told by prosecutors, law enforcement, victim advocates, domestic violence shelters, and other agencies to change her social security number for safety reasons, only to have her request repeatedly denied by the social security administration, for “lack of ongoing abuse” – the standard reply in such cases. When the SSA does grant a social security number changes, victims have actually been arrested and accused of identity theft or fraud.

Karen Elkins, a pro-bass angler, abuse survivor, SIA advisory board member and DV Reform supporter was denied social security number change for safety in 2009. The letter she received from SSA denying her social security number change for safety is like what is estimated to be millions of letters received by abuse victims from SSA each denied by SSA for the same reason, “lack of ongoing abuse”.

There is little oversight of how federal and state funded agencies spend their money: no assessment as to whether or not these agencies are meeting the victims’ needs. Even worse, victims have no recourse when this happens – no place to report this second victimization.

The problem is NOT money but instead how monies and resources are allocated by publicly-funded agencies. DV Reform is about bringing oversight and accountability to these agencies. DV agencies and victim service providers are not regulated as other agencies are yet they deal with customers i.e. victims who are facing life or death circumstances. Victims left behind need to have a place to file formal complaints like consumers have today with law enforcement, businesses and other government agencies.

Everyone knows all too well what DV is. The problem now is victims who are reaching out for help find that no real help exists and there is no place to turn when they are left behind to complain or file a formal complaint.

We are advocating for there to be a federal domestic violence oversight committee for EVERY agency who operates in U.S. that receives funding from public or private sector – where victims can document experience and file complaints.

By writing to local, state and federal officials in support of DV Reform, individuals can use social media platforms to promote this cause as well and join with Tri-County Crisis Center and Survivors In Action by visiting our web sites and contacting us there.

www.SurvivorsInAction.org and www.TriCountyCrisisCenter.org