Washington Implements Life-Saving Alert System for Domestic Violence Victims

Addressing a matter that many victims consider to be one of life and death, Washington state will be the first in the nation to alert domestic abuse victims when their abuser attempts to illegally buy a firearm. The program is free, anonymous, and provides life-saving information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Federal law prohibits offenders with a misdemeanor or final protective order from purchasing firearms in the United States. Laws against the crime, also referred to as “lie and try,” were egregiously unenforceable because previous state laws did not require gun salesmen to report failed background checks to authorities.

According to an article from The Trace, over 3,000 of these cases were overlooked in Washington in 2016. The new Washington Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Service (WA SAVIN) requires all failed attempted purchases of firearms to be reported to Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for further investigation.

The new program is operated by VINELink, a system already widely used to alert victims of protection order statuses. Notifications are sent to registered victims via email and phone calls within 30 minutes of the “lie and try” sale.

Femicide, the homicide of women, is driven heavily by gun violence. American Progress reported in 2014 that 55% of women killed by intimate partners from 2001 to 2012 were killed by the use of guns. The report also showed U.S. women are 11 times more likely to die from gun-related injuries than women in any other high-income country.

Further research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates abusers with access to a gun are almost twice as likely to commit murder than those who are publically denied use of firearms. Alerting victims when such attempts are made gives them the vital information and time needed to protect themselves and those closest to them.

To register for the new alert system, Washington residents need only visit www.vinelink.com or call 1-877-846-3492. They must know either the last name or birth date of the abuser they wish to track. They will then be prompted to provide their phone number, email address, and to create a secure personal ID number. For additional protection, further personal information is not required, and victims will automatically begin to receive these crucial notifications. More information on the system is available on the program web page

New South Carolina Program Trains Probation Officers to Work Specifically with DV Cases

Over the past two decades, South Carolina has been ranked among the highest domestic violence hotspots in the nation. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), South Carolina has had double the national average of women murdered by intimate partners and nearly 1 out of every 5 women in South Carolina will experience stalking at some point in their life. Big Mountain Data spoke with Peter O’Boyle, public relations director of South Carolina’s Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon (DPPP), to learn what the state is doing to lower these statistics and better protect its victims from domestic violence.

“Unfortunately, in South Carolina, we have always been ranked at the top of the nation for domestic violence cases for percent of our population,” said O’Boyle. “Thankfully, however, Governor Henry [McMaster] has been working closely with us and suggested the creation of a specialized task force.”

Governor McMaster, upon winning his election earlier this year, began studying the current laws in place. His recommended solution to the state’s high rates of offenses was to create a specialized task force comprised of trained parole officers to deal specifically with domestic violence cases.

“A typical agent will be dealing in all areas of the law, including property crimes, burglary, nonviolent offenses, and even murder,” said O’Boyle.

The specific training of these newly appointed agents will lower their case load and allow for more victims to be helped.

The Post and Courier, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for “Till Death Do Us Part,” a special investigation on domestic violence, recently reported that $1.2 million was funded for the new training program for officers. This funding includes the hiring of 20 new agents who will complete a one week program which will educate officers on handling offenders and working with victims. The main goals of the new task force will be to specialize agents’ skills, decrease caseloads, and more closely supervise offenders.

The new program hopes to cover approximately 60% of all domestic violence cases in South Carolina by targeting high-risk areas. Two centers are already planned to open in both Charleston and Dorchester. In an interview with the Post and Courier, Jerry Adger, director of the DPPP, said he would like to see specialized officers in every county of the state and believes within the coming year, the new program will make a big impact on the safety of the state.

Video Credit: Post and Currier © 

A Look at What’s New at Big Mountain Data

In case you’re not subscribed to our newsletter (and you should be!), here is what we’ve been up to lately at Big Mountain Data:

1. Collaborative Project with Wunderman Health.

In May, at the inaugural American Society of Evidence-based Policing conference in Phoenix, #ASEBPconf2017, we announced a new venture with Wunderman Health in NYC. Together, we are collaborating on an educational web site that curates innovation examples around the U.S. focused on Violence Against Women solutions. The site will be parked at the URL: ViolenceAgainstWomen.sucks.

The URL says it all, and, frankly, it’s all you need to say about the everyday reality of violence against women. Our goal is to showcase what is working.

Oftentimes, law enforcement, nonprofits, and civic agencies stumble upon something interesting by attending a conference, or reading a media report. We want to accelerate that exposure and learning. We are asking progressive law enforcement agencies to share their stories, so that we can amplify them via this site and social media.

If you want to learn more about how you can get involved, or how to submit your cases, please let us know. We are pitching this idea to backers, and are optimistic about our prospects to make this showcase a reality.

Wunderman Health is a New York City-based global digital agency and a world leader in marketing and database operations.  The Wunderman Health team, led by CEO Becky Chidester, has partnered with us on the site design and launch plan.

 

2. First Steps in Nashville.

At our partner Superion’s flagship customer event, #SUGA17, we launched our MVP (minimum viable product) for the law enforcement market. The IPVO Tracker will create an offender list, as well as training staff on how to properly collect data on offenders and teach staff on how intimate partner violence is uniquely different from other types of criminal behavior.

Analysis of the data is the first step in the highly successful High Point Model.  If you’re interested in learning more, let us know.  First-time pilot customers can sign up now for a 20% early adopter discount.

 

 

 

3. Our “Dream Product.” 

With the expertise of Dr. Jill Messing, a leading academic and thought leader on Lethality Assessment, we are creating a new software tool in order to assess the threat risk of domestic violence offenders. The software will be able to combine criminal history with lethality factors and compute a unique score for each offender.

The software will be SaaS-based and accessible via any mobile or desktop device, including patrol car systems. Criminal justice, law enforcement, and social services professionals will have real-time data available on all known offenders.

 

 

 

4. Capstone Kick-off.

Big Mountain Data is now a board member of the  Master of Data Analytics (MSDA) program at University of Central Florida.  We will be partnering with Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to build a tool that will identify, track, and hold offenders accountable. The project will be a capstone assignment for MSDA students who will graduate in the spring of 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

5. New Services Listed on Web Site. 

 

We have a number of new services on our website, including our co-venture with Superion.

We’re primarily interested in providing law enforcement with clean data on dangerous, repeat offenders.  But, we’ll also do data analysis local to your region.  We’ve worked with universities, journalists, nonprofits, and researchers to supply data visualizations and reports.

If you have a custom report or project in mind that involves data analysis, we can turnaround projects fairly quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Moving Forward

August is approaching fast and will bring with it the Tech2Empower conference in Austin, TX. The statewide conference will provide an exclusive peek into leading technology that will help “build community, strengthen services, and tell the story of the Texas family violence movement.”

Below is a description of our workshop.  We’ll also be exhibiting at the event, showcasing our software prototype, and answering questions about our data analysis offering.

We are looking forward to returning to our Austin roots!

Colorado Passes No Bail Legislation for Stalking and DV Offenders

DENVER — As of August 2017 domestic violence offenders will no longer be granted bail after conviction. House Bill 17-1150, “No Bail For Stalking and Domestic Violence Offenders,” protects victims from further abuse by some of the most dangerous offenders.

The bill was signed just a year after the fatal Colorado domestic violence case of Janice Nam.

Coverage by the Denver Post states that on the night of May 30th, 2016, Glen Galloway violated Nam’s restraining order by breaking into her Colorado Springs home as she slept. He proceeded to shoot her twice in the head.

Prior to her murder, Galloway failed to appear in court for a stalking conviction Nam had filed against him. Earlier articles from the Denver Post show that Nam had filed “multiple protection orders related to domestic violence cases in 2014.” The case lead Colorado legislators to question the effectiveness restraining orders have of protecting victims against domestic violence.

Lydia Waligorski, policy director for Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in an interview with the Post that stalkers “are the folks that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They are typically not the people who are respecting protection orders.”

Cases like Nam’s are not uncommon. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “Do Protection Orders Protect,” cross-examined the rate of protection order effectiveness of every state in the nation. Their findings showed that for every 100,000 adults, 880 have filed protection orders. Between 84 and 92 percent of these orders are implemented for domestic violence offenses alone. However, almost a fifth of all protection orders go unenforced. Supporters of the new House Bill hope it will eliminate the possibility of further abuse victims often experience once their abuser is set free on bail.

Along with Colorado, 20 other states and DC have implemented immediate arrest laws for domestic violence calls. These laws allow police officers to detain the primary offender without a warrant at the scene of the incident. These laws, along with the denial of bail to offenders, has given new hope to many victims in Colorado.

In an interview with Fox 21 News, Colorado State Representative Clarice Navarro, a main proponent of the new bill, is optimistic for its potential to help victims in the very worst situations.

“This new law will be a sigh of relief to many victims who after enduring the stress of a criminal trial, won’t have to fear retaliation from their attacker,” said Navarro. “I am grateful to all the stakeholders and legislators who participated in this process and hope this new law empowers more victims of stalking and domestic violence to report the abuse they have suffered.”

The new law will take effect August 9.

Big Mountain Data heads to Nashville

We are joining our partner, Superion, in Nashville, TN this month to host a screening of our film preview and  to discuss the ways data can inform the criminal justice ecosystem surrounding the intimate partner violence challenge.  If you’re a Superion customer going to SUGA 2017, we look forward to seeing you there.  Our film preview will be in Hermitage C at 2:15pm on June 20.  We will feature our film team, as well as host a conversation with Chief Ken Shultz of the High Point Police and Shay Harger, victim services director at Family Services of the Piedmont.

Just like Politics, All Domestic Violence is Local

From L: David Barden, Attorney; Jim Verity, Former Orange Co. Sheriff Law Enforcement Officer; Carol Wick, Domestic Violence Expert; Dr. Lee Ross, UCF Assoc. Professor of Criminal Justice; Tom Gabor, Criminologist Christy Jordan, Mental Health Counselor.

Big Mountain Data was pleased to produce a local learning event for the League of Women Voters here in Seminole County.  The topic was, “Guns and Domestic Violence: a Deadly Combination.”  The event ran two hours and featured noted gun violence scholar, Dr. Thomas Gabor, as well as an expert panel including voices from law enforcement, victim services, and academia.  Nearly 100 Seminole County residents attended the two-hour event.

Key takeaways included a better understanding of how the danger increases exponentially when a domestic violence offender has access to a firearm, the gaps in the existing process regarding the surrender of firearms, how “murder-suicide” in the headlines is nearly always a euphemism for domestic violence homicide, and the role the community can play in increasing pressure on local leadership to identify and safeguard the population from dangerous, high-risk offenders.

“We need to focus on the volatility of the perpetrator rather than the vulnerability of the victim.” – Carol Wick, domestic violence expert.

Private Violence: Three Years Later

This post is cross-posted from the Private Violence team email.  It’s authored by our longtime advisor, Kit Gruelle. 

Kit Gruelle in the film “Private Violence.”

In January 2014, Private Violence premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Many people who watched the film were stunned and appalled by what they saw on the screen: Deanna Walters, rescued after her estranged husband kidnapped and terrorized her from one end of the country to the other, lying like a corpse in her hospital bed, every inch of her bruised and battered. Viewers were equally appalled by how little regard North Carolina’s criminal justice system had for prosecuting Deanna’s near-death assault. Deanna, it turns out, was lucky: her abuser was ultimately brought to justice in federal court and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

For the last three years, I have traveled throughout the country with the film, including spending a great deal of time in the South, both in small towns and big cities. After the credits roll and the lights come up, a Q&A session usually follows. The general feeling in the room is one of outrage. Again and again, people ask, “How can this be happening now in the United States? Aren’t we more evolved than this?” Sadly, the answer to that question is a definitive no. No, we are not more evolved than this. This sort of violence is a too-oft occurrence in homes all across this country.

At screenings, after the Q&A session ends, a line forms. People want to share their personal experiences. Many approach with tears in their eyes. Even more talk about how afraid they are to “say it out loud.” Too many are afraid to call the police. Some have lost loved ones to what we still call “domestic violence,” but what should be called “intimate or misogynistic terrorism.”

The stories are cut from the same cloth. I hear the same narratives, on repeat. Over and over, women say, “He seemed like such a nice guy when we first got together! The nicest guy I ever met!” They wonder what they missed, and often, they blame themselves for the abuse. They take their cue from larger society, and also, our criminal justice system. With deep, lasting, devastating consequences.

It is our addiction to victim-blaming that allows the abuser to carry on, almost completely unchecked, until there’s one or more dead bodies on the ground, and way too many children left to live with the legacy of family-based terrorism that alters their world view forever. I tell people that the abuser commits the act, but the system drives the getaway car for him. And we all pay for it in spades.

What will it take for this country that gives so much lip service to caring about women and children to actually start caring about them? When will we connect the dots between the abuse and violence that is used to control, coerce, and intimidate family members and the criminal conduct we read and hear about in our communities?

I wish I could say that the issues presented in Private Violence have been addressed and rectified, but they have not. Not by a long shot. The (reported) numbers remain the same: One in three women in the U.S. will experience intimate partner terrorism at the hands of their husband or boyfriend. Many abused women who attempt to leave their abusers will be hunted down and murdered in cold blood. Domestic violence murder/suicides are on the rise. Firearms are the weapon of choice. Over 50% of mass shootings have some connection to domestic violence. These are the hard truths, no matter how hard we try to turn away. It is now 2017, and a new administration is in place. And despite these dismal numbers, there is talk about doing away with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a bipartisan law that was passed in 1994. It seems that it’s now open season on women and children in the United States.

In the three years since our Sundance premiere, Deanna has graduated from college and is ready to move on to the next phase of her life. But most importantly, she is safe. Living a life free of violence. But thousands upon thousands of Deannas wake up every day in the most dangerous place in the world for them: their very own homes. How is that acceptable in a so-called “free society?” It isn’t, and sadly, Private Violence remains as relevant today as it did at our premiere, and as relevant as it was 10 years ago when we started this project. If VAWA is done away with, it will send an even louder signal to abused and terrorized women and children that what’s happening to them is just fine with the government. In my mind, I can see the lines of women I’ve spoken with around the country, and I think about how nice it would be to say to them “your elected officials care about this and want to make sure you are safe at home.” At this juncture, in too many cases, that would be a lie.

Until we prioritize this crime and deal with it like we should, we will continue to simply play catch-up. Feminist icon and our Executive Producer Gloria Steinem suggested that, rather than lining up ambulances at the bottom of the waterfall, it might be a good idea to build a partition at the top to stop families from cascading over the edge. That would be the more humane and proper approach. Lives and money will be saved (the economic costs to domestic violence are staggering), and we’ll all be able to sleep safer at night. Until then, the work continues. We work until we #EndPrivateViolence.

 

Taking the Show on the Road – Austin

Big Mountain Data is kicking off its U.S. speaking tour next week in Austin, TX.  If you’ve been following along with us, you know we launched the company in Austin.

It’s our pleasure to return to town to tell our story and show a preview of our film about High Point, NC. We are also pleased to be presenting at the offices of our original advisor, Erik Huddleston.  It was Erik, now CEO of TrendKite, who casually mentioned I should focus on offenders, rather than victims.  He set in motion all our future plans with that simple, important redirect.

If you’re in the Austin area, or you know someone who’d be interested in our work, please sign up to attend our Lunch & Learn at the TrendKite offices.  You’ll get free food and a lot to think about.

When: March 24, 2017, 12pm – 1pm

Where: TrendKite Office, 800 Brazos St #340, Austin, TX 78701

Eventbrite - A 21st Century Approach to Ending Domestic Violence

Newly filed Texas bills aimed at repeat DV offenders

AUSTIN — Texas Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) hopes to combat domestic violence by repeat offenders in Texas in two bills filed this legislative session.

House Bills 524 and 525 would help inform the community of domestic violence offenses while increasing punishments given to the offenders. Villalba filed the two bills last year on Dec. 7, and Texas’ 2017 legislative session began Jan. 10.

Ben Utley, legislative director at the Texas House of Representatives, said the bills have not yet been introduced but that they are both a top priority.

“Domestic violence is a growing epidemic with tragic consequences,” Villalba told FOX 7 in Austin. “We need to send a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated and that repeat offenses will be met with the harshest penalties available under the law.”

HB 524 would make a third domestic violence conviction a second-degree felony while altering the offender’s eligibility for parole and mandatory supervision. HB 525 would require an offender on his or her third conviction to register in a public database.

Sandi Murphy, a legal and policy advisor for the Battered Women’s Justice Project and advisor to Big Mountain Data, advised caution in supporting a database or registry of this nature.

“Too often, victims of DV end up arrested and convicted (rightly and wrongly),” she said. “Such registries would create devastating effects on their efforts to find work and housing and keep custody of the children.”

The central database proposed in the bill would contain information about the offenders committing violent acts against children or other family members and would also include convictions of dating violence.

“Such registries (much like the firearms bans) create obstacles for prosecutors to obtain plea agreements to charges that actually reflect their DV status, with offenders seeking to plead to non-domestic charges to avoid the registry,” Murphy said.

Villalba has shown similar concerns. In an interview with NBC in Dallas-Fort Worth, he discussed the possibility of a database “outing” potential victims.

“The question is, do we really want to out victims?” he said. “That’s a concern. In this situation, we will prioritize life over that concern.”

Information that wouldn’t be publicly available in the database includes the offender’s social security, driver’s license and telephone numbers, along with any information that could identify the victim. The new bills come after a year that saw another unprecedented domestic violence victory in several states, including Texas.

Last year marked the first time the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women awarded funds based on requirements of the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act. If a state meets the requirements of the act, it would be eligible to receive additional funds in its Stop Violence Against Women and Sexual Assault Services Program. Texas was one of 12 states to qualify for the funding.

Domestic violence hotlines in Texas answered 185,373 calls in 2014. More than 100 Texan women were killed by their partners in 2012, which is about 10 percent higher than the national total.

An Open Letter to Women in Data Science

It was my honor to present at the Women in Data Science convening at the New College of Sarasota last week.  The agenda featured prestigious speakers from Stanford streamed in, along with local speakers like me who could attend in person.  I was extremely fortunate to discover this amazing event and get onto the agenda at the last minute.

You see, these are my people.  Women in data science are what I need in 2017.*  

My company, Big Mountain Data, is designed to solve one of the most horrific problems that impact women around the world – every day: Intimate Partner Violence a.k.a., Domestic Violence.

My presentation briefly described what we aim to do and how we can disrupt this seemingly intractable societal issue.  I then described the success we’ve had so far in proving our thesis.  I showed a short clip from our documentary about a town that effectively short-circuited its domestic violence problem.  One woman told me she cried after she saw the short film clip. Crying absolutely permitted in social impact startups solving big world problems.

A career in data science is one of the most lucrative, interesting, and potentially ground-breaking pursuits in the tech field today. Name an industry, and it has an acute demand for data scientists and analysts.

But what if you could use your talent and passion to really make a difference on a horrific scourge that impacts women every day? Here is what you need to know: behaviors in this field follow a standard pattern. They are predictable.  Much of the data we need to make these predictions, we already have in structured databases.  If we layer on unstructured data, the possibilities are limitless to intervene – and disrupt –these cycles of violence.

Would you like to know more?  Contact me.  I would love to talk to your company, university or data science meetup about the possibilities.

*Of course, we are an equal opportunity startup.  But, how cool would it be if women solved this problem?  Very cool.

Let’s go!

Presentation: