Advocates have a critical role to play when it comes to safety for victims of domestic violence. Most importantly, advocates provide victims with risk assessment and safety planning, two important services most other helping professionals do not provide.
Traditionally, advocates have focused on risk factors known to be associated with a victim leaving an abusive relationship, but trends in reviewed murder-suicide cases support a new emphasis for safety planning, both while the victim remains in the relationship and also beyond her leaving.
While 62% of victims killed in reviewed murder-suicide cases were no longer involved in a relationship with their abusers (a much higher percentage than the 34% who were out of the relationship in reviewed homicide cases), 13 victims were known to still be in the relationship with their abusers at the time of the murder-suicide. In addition, when parties were known to be separated in murder-suicide cases, the average length of time between separation and the fatal incident was five months.
Advocates often walk the path of various states of separation with their clients. They must be adept at working with victims across those states of separation to successfully develop strategies for safety planning with them, as boundaries of safety planning while in and out of a relationship are often blurred.
CHART: RELATIONSHIP STATUS – OUT OF RELATIONSHIP
CHART: VICTIM’S ADVOCACY PROGRAM CONTACT
CHART: WITNESSES TO INCIDENT
In reviewed murder-suicide cases, 81 individuals were killed, and the impact of these incidents extends far beyond the incident itself. During these incidents, there were 141 individuals, including 36 children, who witnessed the murder-suicide. Interviews with family and friends reveal follow-up services for families, friends and surviving children are woefully inadequate.
This is especially true for children, who are likely suffering from complex trauma. Please refer to page 23 of the 2015 Fatality Review Annual Report for a list of Resources for Supporting Children and Families Who Survive Domestic Homicide.
- Incorporate suicide risk factors into existing domestic violence lethality assessments and intake questions about history of abuse.
- Ask direct questions about threats to kill or cause harm, recent financial or employment changes, looming court dates, declining health and any changes in the abuser’s perception of reality.
- Educate victims on homicide-suicide connections and additional safety risks when mental health issues are present.
- Provide access to in-house counseling or a list of local mental health resources available. Include varied options for assistance and include phone numbers such as the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (1-800-715-4225 or www.mygcal.com).
- Draw awareness to walk-in clinics or hospitals, which provide emergency mental health intervention and treatment.
- Cross-train with mental health providers and develop a network of referrals to further benefit victims.
- Provide a copy of a TPO or other relevant court orders that address the abuser’s conduct to the abuser’s counselors and to the discharge planner if the abuser is receiving in-patient treatment.
- Become familiar with local protocols on release from mental health treatment and establish contacts who can act as your liaison should safety measures need to be addressed prior to a patient’s discharge.
- Ensure victims who remain in the relationship or who remain in contact with their abusive partner receive a safety plan. For a sample safety planning template for victims who remain in contact, refer to Advocacy Beyond Leaving: Helping Battered Women in Contact With Current or Former Partners: A Guide for Domestic Violence Advocates (Jill Davies, 2009).
- TPOs are a part of a process for increasing victim safety and not a single event; implement procedures to follow-up with victims while their TPO is in place.
- Make follow-up contacts with victims to determine if new safety issues have emerged and assess additional services which may benefit victims.
- Document issues of contempt or violations of TPOs.
- Explain the victim’s rights, including modifying or extending the order.
- Assess the ease of access to not only the TPO process for victims, but also the contempt process.
- Ensure the Court provides forms for victims interested in self-petitioning for contempt issues, along with referral information for victim services to be distributed by court staff.
- In communities where multiple agencies provide similar services to victims, develop partnerships and conduct assessments of strengths and needs together.
- Collaborate and share referral and resource information to ensure barriers for victims are minimized, regardless of their point of entry into the judicial process.
- Cross-train on services provided and utilize each other’s expertise to improve all services.
- Encourage victims to seek follow-up through personal referrals between agencies. Use existing relationships with other advocates and service navigators to provide warm referrals and “pass the torch” between agencies.
- Provide referrals to and assistance with filing for Crime Victims’ Compensation through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC). Information about the program can be obtained at www.cjcc.georgia.gov/victims-compensation
- Contact victims intermittently to determine whether claims have been resolved or whether follow-up with CJCC is needed.
- Encourage victims to send a letter to CJCC with their application, allowing advocates who work at domestic violence programs to discuss their claim status or file an appeal on their behalf. The victim must place their original signature and date on the letter with suggested text: “I, [victim name], hereby give my permission to [domestic violence program name] to file an appeal on my behalf and discuss my claim status with the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program and the staff of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council with regard to my compensation benefits.”
- Cultivate resources that can fill gaps in what Crime Victims’ Compensation can pay, such as relocation expenses and safety improvements.
- Ensure child victims perceive their victimization to be of equal importance as the adult victim. If they have experienced a traumatic event, making statements like “This is already hard enough on your mother” minimizes the impact the event has had on them and eliminates opportunities to discuss ways you could help them feel supported.
- Children exposed to violence, particularly those who have been impacted by a lethal incident of violence, may experience a delayed processing of events. Conduct follow-up with child victims or their guardians six months to a year later, to determine if emerging needs for services exist.
- Provide referrals to additional resources if a victim has not been satisfied with the services they received from prior referrals. This is especially important if a victim did not bond with a counselor.
- Consider linking the child to peer support as a supplement to traditional counseling.