Friday, July 29, 2005

California Attorney General Finds System Fails Victims, Families

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer released a report this week revealing that the criminal justice system is failing to enforce California's domestic violence laws. Joined by statewide leaders, Lockyer called for implementation of 5 key recommendations to reduce domestic abuse and challenged local law enforcement and judicial officers to increase and improve their efforts to stop the cycle of family violence."The laws already on the books should be holding batterers accountable for their violent behavior, but the criminal justice system often fails to enforce them," Lockyer said. "System fatigue is not an excuse for domestic abuse. We are going to shift a culture of complacency into a culture of compliance."The report is based on an extensive two-year assessment by Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s Task Force on Local Criminal Justice Response to Domestic Violence -- a 26-member group of experts and leaders in law enforcement, the courts, victim advocacy, public health and the legislature. Key report findings are:

- California's courts are not issuing restraining orders, even when required under law.
- Many restraining orders that do get issued are never served.
- There is often lax enforcement of restraining orders, especially firearm prohibitions.
- Community-based victim advocates are not used by all prosecuting offices to assist domestic violence victims.
- Attendance at court-ordered programs for batterers is not tracked and many never complete the program.

A serious lack of coordination plagues criminal justice agencies' approach to domestic violence.
"Our report includes disturbing examples of agencies that have failed to respond to domestic violence victims, failed to enforce the law and failed to work in collaboration," said Casey Gwinn, chair of the Attorney General's task force. "Yet, we have also seen firsthand how much can be accomplished when there is strong local leadership and cooperation among agencies."In response to the findings, Lockyer has sponsored several legislative solutions. AB 1288 (Chu), would authorize arraignment courts to prohibit domestic violence defendants from possessing firearms. That bill would also allow local law enforcement to advise a domestic violence victim whether the batterer possesses a firearm, according to a Department of Justice's (DOJ) database. SB 720 (Kuehl), would help ensure that family court restraining orders are entered into Department of Justice's database so that the proof does not rest with victims. Among the report's recommendations:

- Enforce the laws that already exist. Court officials should issue more restraining orders and get them into the system. Batterers must surrender their guns and if they do not, law enforcement must confiscate the weapons.
- Local counties should adopt a successful Long Beach model where family court judges convene informally on an on-going basis with local agency representatives, the District and City Attorneys' offices, court officials, law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations.
- Break down the walls built by a compartmentalized system by co-locating criminal justice and victim service agencies, as has happened at San Diego's Family Justice Center.
- The courts and the programs designed to get batterers to control and change their behavior must consistently impose sanctions on batterers who fail to attend classes.
- Improve computer database systems so that restraining orders get into the system, and so that attendance at required batterer intervention classes are carefully tracked.

"The broad spectrum of interests represented on the task force, from judges to prosecutors to a public defender and from law enforcement to victim advocates, proved to be an asset – we reached consensus on each finding," said Tom Orloff, Alameda County District Attorney and a task force member. "Consensus was achieved because of the compelling testimony provided at the regional hearings and the information obtained from hundreds of practitioners. We all need to improve the way we respond to domestic violence. We need to strengthen our efforts to protect victims, prosecute batterers and stop this devastating crime."Among the report's positive findings is a pilot project in Orange County's domestic violence court to confiscate prohibited firearms. The court subjects all defendants at initial arraignment to a criminal protective order that requires them to surrender their firearms within 24 hours. The court also requires these defendants to contact DOJ, which checks the information in its Automated Firearms System and enforces the firearms prohibition."We have seen far too many domestic violence cases result in tragedy after they entered the criminal justice system," stated Chief Susan Manheimer of the San Mateo Police Department and a task force member. "The task force traveled throughout the state to identify inconsistencies as well as practices that will prevent further tragedies. It is important that our local criminal justice entities work together to strengthen our response to domestic violence and move forward to adopt these findings and recommendations."

"The task force report gives domestic violence advocates an opportunity to discuss its many findings and recommendations with our partners in the criminal justice system," stated Karen Cooper, Board President of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. "As a victim advocate, I especially appreciate that the report addresses reducing the burdens the criminal justice system can place on victims who are already traumatized."The Task Force focused its investigation on 10 target counties, interviewing hundreds of practitioners and holding 6 public hearings to examine how well local criminal justice agencies respond to and deal with domestic violence issues, identify programs that work well and determine how to improve efforts to protect and prevent family violence.Lockyer's decision to appoint the task force was prompted in part by the findings of a study he and Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, commissioned to determine the effectiveness of laws and practices aimed at reducing domestic violence.

Published in June 2003, the 51-page Senate Office of Research report showed that while California has taken critical steps to protect domestic violence victims, a comprehensive assessment of those efforts was still needed.Domestic violence statistics collected by DOJ show California local law enforcement agencies received 186,439 domestic violence-related calls for assistance in 2004. During that same year, there were 169 murders committed as a result of intimate partner violence and 46,353 adults and juveniles were arrested for spousal abuse under Penal Code section 273.5.Additional information about the Attorney General's efforts to combat domestic violence and copies of Keeping the Promise – Victim Safety and Batterer Accountability are available at the Attorney General's Crime and Violence Prevention Center web site at (Source: California Attorney General's Office)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New York Mayor Bloomberg Opens First New York Family Justice Center

July 20, 2005 -- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today opened New York City's first Family Justice Center located in downtown Brooklyn, cutting the ceremonial ribbon accompanied by Avon Foundation President Kathleen Walas, actress/producer and Avon spokesperson Salma Hayek and U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women Director Diane M. Stuart. At the Center, professionals from 37 community partners and nine government agencies will provide an array of necessary services to domestic violence victims. For example, with only one visit, victims may meet with a prosecutor, access social services, begin long term counseling, and meet with a clergy member - all in their native language. The Center anticipates helping approximately 7,000 adults and 14,000 children each year, and is the first of 15 centers to open nationwide as part of a U.S. Department of Justice initiative.

"Domestic violence often leaves victims physically, financially and emotionally devastated," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The Family Justice Center will be a place where domestic violence victims will be able to find the essential services they need under one roof in a supportive, comfortable and understanding environment. We want domestic violence survivors to know that the process of recovery and a new life can begin here."

"The Avon Foundation Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program launched a year ago, and we awarded one of our first grants to the Family Justice Center," stated President, Avon Foundation Kathleen Walas. "We are proud to be members of the Founders' Circle, and extend our gratitude to the dozens of agencies whose collaboration made this Center a reality. We invite other foundations and corporations to join us and help continue the unique vision of hope that the Center represents."

"It is an honor to take part in the opening of the Family Justice Center, which I hope will be the first of many," said Ms. Hayek. "We cannot tolerate a world in which one in three women is a victim of domestic violence, and for the past year I have worked with Avon on the new Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program. Individuals, companies like Avon, the government and domestic violence organizations working together can break the cycle of domestic violence."

The Family Justice Center received a $725,000 grant from The Founders' Circle, a diverse group of foundations and corporate citizens who were the first to commit financially to the Center,including: the Avon Foundation, Altria Corporate Services, Cisco Systems, Inc., Dell, Inc., Dr. Joy to the World Foundation, Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, Lifetime Television, United Way of New York City and Verizon Wireless, New York Metro Region. Additional funding is provided through in- kind donations from the City and community partners, and more than $1.2 million in a Federal grant.

Also joining the Mayor at the opening were Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman, , Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence Commissioner Yolanda B. Jimenez, New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Companies Support Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

The Avon Foundation -- The Avon Foundation continues their "Speak Out Against Domestic Violence" campaign with "Speak Out Against Domestic Violence - Let Congress Hear Your Voice!" They are encouraging individuals to join Salma Hayek and Avon in the campaign to raise awareness and Speak Out Against Domestic Violence. Anyone can stop by the Avon Let's Talk Beauty Tour and sign a card that will be shared with Congress supporting the reauthorization of VAWA. The Avon Let's Talk Beauty Tour will collect signature Cards in support of VAWA all summer and fall until the bill is passed, and will present these petition cards to Congress. In addition, on July 19, Avon Foundation President Kathleen Walas will accompany Salma Hayek to Washington DC as Ms. Hayek testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of VAWA.

Lifetime Television -- Lifetime Television has an Action Center in the Stop Violence Against Women Section of their website at to explain how individuals can become involved in the reauthorization of VAWA. Lifetime has also created FREE stickers for the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to distribute -- and an email postcard is in the works that can be used to encourage people to contact their Members of Congress and urge them to vote for reauthorization. If you would like stickers, you can contact Cheryl O’Donnell at NNEDV at (202) 543-5566.

Liz Claiborne Inc. -- CEO Paul R. Charron wrote a letter to Senator Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, encouraging reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Quoting from a portion of his letter, Mr. Charron said, "Domestic violence is a high priority concern for Liz Claiborne Inc. It not only impacts us as a business, as we experience the consequences of domestic violence on our employees, but it affects us on a personal level as well. We are a member of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence and have spearheaded a company-wide campaign to fight domestic violence. Liz Claiborne Inc. offers an environment of support in the workplace, where we can accommodate flexible hours for domestic violence victims to seek safety and protection."

Mary Kay Inc. -- Mary Kay Independent National Sales Directors drove their pink Cadillacs in front of the Capitol Building to symbolize the strong commitment of Mary Kay Inc. and its 650,000 Independent Beauty Consultants in the U.S. to ending domestic violence and enhancing the original bill. The National Sales Directors wore their purple national sales director suits by St. John -- fitting because purple also is the color that is symbolic of the fight against domestic violence. "Renewal of this legislation is critical if our nation is to continue to improve the criminal and civil judicial response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking," said Anne Crews, vice president of government relations at Mary Kay (Anne Crews is also vice president of CAEPV's Board of Directors). "One in three women in the U.S. today will be the victim of violence during her lifetime."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Family Justice Center Opens in Alameda County, California

On July 11, the Family Justice Center in Alameda County, California opens. The Alameda County Family Justice Center will be located at 27th Street and Telegraph Avenue and is a collaboration involving at least 20 public agencies and private nonprofit organizations in an effort to provide "one-stop" services to victims and their families. The Oakland site will bring counselors, medical technicians, social workers, investigators, probation officers, interpreters, career consultants and district attorneys together to help victims. "We've got a tremendous group of people coming together," said Nancy O'Malley, Alameda County's chief assistant to the district attorney. "One of our goals is to provide resources currently not being provided."

Services will range from emergency food and housing to job-placement assistance. There will be specialized resources for elderly, deaf and non-English-speaking residents, O'Malley said. All services will be free and confidential. Located at 27th Street and Telegraph Avenue, the nondescript three-story building is based at the former Alameda County Central Health Clinic, which closed two years ago and fell into disrepair, said Harold Boscovich. Boscovich is a retired director of the victim assistance division of the Alameda County district attorney's office, who is ensuring that every inch of the center's 21,000 square feet is "comfortable and kid-friendly." He's supervising installation of donated furniture and a new coat of paint to replace the peeling brown facade of the center.

"It'll be a family-friendly place," he said. "We're here to help everyone feel more at home."
Marcia Blackstock, executive director of Bay Area Women Against Rape, agrees. "This is a great opportunity to be in close proximity with a variety of services and a wide array of agencies to refer to," she said. She said Women Against Rape staff members will work hand-in-hand with medical technicians and counselors to treat and curb the cycle of violence caused by abuse, whether it's physical, sexual or verbal. By becoming more of a "hands-on advocate," Blackstock hopes her staff will help thousands of victims through the Byzantine process of cops, courts and counseling.
Lt. Mike Yoell, commander of Oakland Police Department's Special Victims section, said his unit will continue to work on cases, ranging from physical abuse to child prostitution, at the new location. Often victims have difficulty finding time or transportation to meet with investigators, and become discouraged with the lengthy red tape process. Now police officers, district attorneys and numerous nonprofit legal advocates will be able to offer assistance to those who need it. But what if victims don't want to get involved with the police? "They don't have to," Yoell said, emphasizing victims' wishes are paramount.

Much effort has been made to ensure the safety and anonymity of victims, with tinted windows at the facility, on-site police surveillance and at least half a dozen sheriff's deputies and police available at all times. Parents with children in tow can get counseling, fill out forms or call friends and family without fear, said O'Malley. "The Alameda Family Justice Center will be a safe and comfortable location where they can be helped," she said.

More than 25,000 cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect were reported last year in Alameda County, according to the Alameda County Child Abuse Prevention Council. Services for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and other forms of mistreatment were "long overdue" Boscovich said. "It affects all of us," he said, noting the center's comprehensive approach to victims. "We'll be here for anyone who needs help."