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 © 

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.

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.

Connecticut Law Obfuscates Abuser Accountability

Thanks to a change in Connecticut law, law enforcement agencies in that state may not report the names and addresses of people accused of Top Secretdomestic violence crimes. Supporters of the new state law say the change guarantees confidentiality to domestic violence. In most cases, they say, releasing the name or address of the offender results in the release of the victim’s identity.

Here’s the key section of Public Act No. 15-211, Sec. 24, Section 54-86e: all names and addresses of victims of domestic violence remain confidential “and shall be disclosed only upon order of the Superior Court.”

Although the intention of the law is to prevent re-victimization, Big Mountain Data opposes the move. The law stands in direct opposition to our philosophy: Only by publicly identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable for their criminal actions can we end domestic violence. We support public access to the names of perpetrators as well as statistics about arrests, convictions and other details about domestic violence offenders.

After the policy became law in July, the police department in the town of Redding changed its official policy, apparently becoming the first agency in the state to do so. Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) told The Redding Pilot in November that she supported the Redding department’s move and hoped the decision would spur open discussion of the issue.

“I do support this policy because it offers confidentiality for the victim. We are, therefore, not outing the perpetrator, but from where I sit, offering confidentiality is the stronger [objective],” Jarmoc said in November.

The Connecticut law conflicts with another state law – one that requires identification of anyone who is arrested. Connecticut lawmakers got around this by approving legislation Oct. 1 that exempts law enforcement records from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act under eight circumstances. One is “if they were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime and disclosure would not be in the public interest because it would reveal … the name and address of the victim of sexual assault or risk of injury to a minor.”

Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, told The Easton Courier the dispute reveals “a conflict in interpretation,” adding, “there is no such thing as a secret arrest in Connecticut.”

We’ll keep an eye out to see how this issue evolves. It may take a legal challenge from a media outlet, relative or concerned citizen to push the issue into court. In the meantime, we respectfully disagree with CADV’s Jarmoc that the Connecticut law is a good thing. But we agree with her on this: Let’s debate this issue publicly.

 

New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry Bill Moves Forward

New Jersey is a step closer to creating the United States’ first statewide Internet registry for domestic violence offenders. The state’s Assembly Women and Children Committee June 18 approved New Jersey Assembly Bill A-2539, also known as Misty’s Law. The registry would be similar to the sex offender registry. Individuals would be able to research potential partners and learn about any history of domestic violence. It would also allow survivors of domestic violence to track their abuser’s location.

“A few clicks of the mouse could help prevent someone from falling into an abusive relationship,” Democratic Assemblywoman Carmelo G. Garcia said in a press release on PolitickerNJ.com. “This could prove an invaluable tool, especially given how hard it often is for victims to extricate themselves from this type of relationship.”

The law would allow any member of the public to view records that include: the defendant’s name and any aliases; any aggravated assault offense involving domestic violence for which the defendant was convicted; the date and location of disposition; a brief description of any such offense, a general description of the defendant’s modus operandi; the defendant’s age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair, eye color and any distinguishing scars or tattoos; a photograph of the defendant and the date on which the photograph was entered into the registry; the make, model, color, year and license plate number of any vehicle operated by the defendant; and the street address, zip code, municipality and county in which the defendant resides.

Misty Ramos

Misty Ramos was murdered by her boyfriend in 2012.

The bill is named after Misty Ramos. She was strangled to death in June 2012 by her former boyfriend, Noel Irizarry, at her home. Irizarry was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her death. Misty Ramos’ brother, Kell Ramos is president of  Domestic Violence Action Group USA, which supports the bill. After Izarry’s arrest, Ramos learned that his slain sister’s boyfriend spent 10 years in prison for slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend, NJ.com reported. Ramos is a documentary maker working on a film about the issue.

The group will focus on men, Ramos told NJ.com. “We need men to be part of the solution,” Ramos told the news outlet. “Focusing on the woman is needed, but what happens to the next generation? The same cycle repeats itself. There’s going to be more men doing the same thing. How do you stop that? Other men have to hold men accountable to their actions.”

 

Status of Women in the States Report Presents Data on Domestic Violence

iThis week we’re cheering the important work of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Since 1996, the organization has collected data, crunched the numbers and presented valuable reports via its Status of Women in the States project. The organization has earned a solid reputation as a credible and valuable resource. Its data is often cited in the media on issues including poverty, pay equity, reproductive justice and health – issues often connected with domestic violence.

This spring, IWPR has published updated data and trend analysis on women’s economic, social, and political progress in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States overall. The reports include: Employment & Earnings, Poverty & Opportunity, Work & Family, Violence & Safety, Reproductive Rights, Health & Well-Being, and Political Participation. Each includes interactive maps that highlight the issue and well-documented data.

Earlier this month the organization released its report on violence and safety, which includes a section on intimate partner violence. The report echoes a concern of Big Mountain Data. “Quantitative data on these issues are limited, especially at the state level,” it notes. It also notes the many state laws address domestic violence offenders but many “may also fall short of providing the full range of protections that women need.”

The 43-page is full of information worthy of a close read. (It also includes troubling data on stalking, teen violence dating, campus sexual assault and trafficking.) Highlights include:

  • In 2012, 924 women in the United States were killed by an intimate partner.
  • 19% of women in the United States are raped at some time in their lives, and 43.9% experience other forms of sexual violence.
  • Multiracial and Native American women are more likely to experience rape and sexual violence than other groups of women.
  • Tactics of abusers may include not only sexual abuse or rape, but also reproductive or sexual coercion.
  • Domestic and sexual violence puts women and girls at higher risk of sexually transmitted disease.
  • Anti-violence programs and services for victims are unavailable to many.
  • Courts often do not take allegations of domestic abuse into account in child custody cases

The report underscores the need for efforts that go beyond “awareness,” focus on the root causes of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable. Despite progress, the report notes, “threats to women’s safety continue to profoundly affect their economic security, health, civic engagement, and overall well-being.”

 

 

 

Huge Percentage of Cases Never Prosecuted, Pulitzer Report Notes

abused womanOne story in the Pulitzer-Prize winning series about domestic violence recounts some of the reasons offenders are not held accountable for their crimes. “Cases against domestic abusers fall apart on a regular basis, allowing them to escape punishment and continue to mistreat the women in their lives — at times, with deadly results,” the reporters write in Part Five: “Cases fall apart, abusers go free.”

Advocates will likely be familiar with the examples The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, found. In one case, the male perpetrator posts bail within hours of being charged with criminal domestic violence. “Then the charge goes away entirely after his girlfriend has second thoughts about testifying,” the story says.

Contributing to the problem are the perennial challenges of overcrowded court dockets, poorly trained law enforcement, and victims “too scared to testify against the men who beat them.” Most troubling in South Carolina was “a domestic violence law that treats first-time offenders about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

The high number of cases dismissed is also troubling. The newspaper found that about six in 10 domestic violence cases in Charleston and North Charleston municipal courts between 2009 and 2013 were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors. The number of dismissed cases remains high even after then-Attorney General Charlie Condon in 2001 ordered prosecutors to pursue convictions even when victims refused to cooperate.

“Our biggest issue is the lack of cooperation from victims,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the paper.

Prosecuting a case without a victim is difficult. The strongest witness is often the victim. As the story put it: “To make a case stick, it usually comes down to the woman testifying against her man.”  South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson encourages prosecutors to pursue cases even when victims are hesitant. His words to victims point to the broad impact of domestic violence. “This is not your cross to bear,” the paper reported him as saying. “This is my burden. … He has committed a crime against the state.”

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Series On Domestic Violence Sets Precedent For Transparency

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The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, this week was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “Till Death Do Us Part.” The five-part series published in August 2014 spurred reform to domestic violence laws for the first time in at least a decade. South Carolina “for more than 15 years was among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men,” the paper reported in the introduction to its multimedia project. “The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.”

Journalists consider winning a Pulitzer akin to winning an Olympic medal. The Post and Courier’s ambitious project won journalism’s gold medal with “Till Death Do Us Part.” The Pulitzer jury called it “a riveting series that probed why South Carolina is among the deadliest states in the union for women and put the issue of what to do about it on the state’s agenda.”

The story “revealed numerous failings, including limited police training, inadequate laws, a lack of punishment, insufficient education for judges, a dearth of support for victims and traditional beliefs about the sanctity of marriage that keep victims locked in the cycle of abuse,” the paper said. They called this “a corrosive stew” that made the state one of the deadliest states in the nation for women.

The series is a well-written, well-produced project about a perennial problem. It deserves journalism’s highest honor for shining light on the problems and “shaming” officials to make changes. Six months after the series was published, state lawmakers, prosecutors and police pledged “this is the year we finally pass a comprehensive bill” on domestic violence. Some parts of the proposed laws have stalled, but the paper continues to aggressively cover developments.

Big Mountain Data cheers this work. We’re especially pleased with the precedent the paper set by partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting and compiling a database of those killed at the hands of intimate partners. They used police reports, court records, criminal rap sheets and other documents to plot where each killing took place. Then they looked for trends. In addition, they studied conviction rates and plea deals, which the paper’s executive editor pointed out in his prize application letter, the state judicial system does not track.

The paper set a valuable precedent in linking online to every fact and statistic they reported. Access to records varies by municipalities. But this project highlights the value of making criminal records public.

Massachusetts Law Shields Domestic Violence Offenders

A Massachusetts legislator hopes to reverse a state law that says police logs and arrest reports on domestic violence cases are not public records. That policy is part of the state’s comprehensive domestic violence law, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in August.

The law establishes a new crime of first-offense domestic assault; imposes delays in setting bail in domestic violence cases; makes strangulation a felony; allows employment leave for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking; and requires new training for police, court personnel, judges and prosecutors,

Removing domestic violence information from police logs and reports doesn’t keep victims safe and may help abusers avoid public sshadow-mancrutiny, state Rep. Josh S. Cutler told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

“We’re all in favor of protecting the victims,” he said. “I don’t think we should be in the business of protecting the perpetrators.” Concealing perpetrators’ identities puts domestic violence “back in the shadows, when this is something that needs to be in the light of day,” he said.

Cutler filed a bill in January that would remove the confidentiality requirement for police logs. Confidentiality would be maintained for more in-depth police reports under his bills.

Domestic violence survivors’ advocates said that keeping the police information out of the public eye gives victims more safety, the Telegram & Gazette reported. “Victims are contacting police to stop the violence. They’re not necessarily contacting police to share their story publicly,” Karen Riley-McNary, director of community intervention for domestic violence services at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, told the publication.

The new law makes it easier for some victims to report abuse, another service provider said.

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said making the perpetrator’s name public “serves an important public safety purpose. It provides notice to the public about crime that has occurred in their community and their neighborhood.”

Cutler’s proposal has support from Norfolk County district attorney and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

Family Justice Centers: A Best Practice

A broad survey by the Police Executive Research Forum reinforces the benefits of Family Justice Centers in addressing domestic violence. The concept Under_One_Roof_copyrefers to a multi-agency service delivery model where “multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work together, under one roof, to provide coordinated services to victims of family violence,” according to the Family Justice Center Alliance. The centers offer one place for victims to ‘talk to an advocate, plan for their safety, interview with a police officer, meet with a prosecutor, receive medical assistance, receive information on shelter, and get help with transportation,” the organization’s site explains.

The PERF study, which included 358 law enforcement agencies, found that 43 percent of responding agencies have a specific unit devoted to domestic violence cases. The average size of these specialized units is 11 people; the median staff includes 5 people.

Survey respondents working in Family Justice Centers affirm the model’s value. “Every day we are collaborating and sharing information,” Sgt. Jordan Satinsky of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department told PERF researchers. “We know each other and have built trust with each other,” said Sgt. Rachael Van Sloten of Oakland, California.

The concept dates to the late 1980s, and in 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice identified the San Diego Family Justice Center model as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention services. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush created a $20 million initiative to create these one-shop centers.

According to the Department of Justice, documented outcomes of Family Justice Centers include: reduced homicides; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; and reduced recantation and minimization by victims.

Download a 2007 DOJ report here, which outlines specific best practices.

Download “The Family Justice Center Collaborative Model,” published in 2008 in the St. Louis University Law Review. Its authors are four directors of Family Justice Centers.  About 80 Family Justice Centers operate across the United States. Experts clearly support the model, and they appear to be successful. So why doesn’t every community have one?