It may still be a few months away, but now is the time to start planning for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and how your department can get involved to help raise awareness.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since the days of “Let’s take a walk outside to cool off” protocol in responding to domestic violence calls.
“I don’t think too many states haven’t enacted the mandatory arrest (response),” said Deputy Chief Beau Thurnauer of East Hartford, Conn. But there’s always more that can be done.
History of Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Domestic Violence Awareness Month had its start at the Day of Unity held in 1981. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was behind that event, which had the intent of connecting advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and children.
The observance expanded to a week, and by 1987 a full month was observed. The first domestic violence toll-free hotline also began in 1987. Two years later Congress passed Public Law 101-112 designating October of each year Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Day of Unity is celebrated the first Monday of that month.
The color purple is the color of domestic violence month because purple hearts are given to those wounded or killed in military battles. For survivors of domestic violence who are wounded physically and emotionally, the color is meant to symbolize peace and courage and is a way of honoring survivors and to show dedication to ending the violence.
The traditional theme is “Mourn, Celebrate, Connect”: mourning those who’ve died because of domestic violence, celebrating those who’ve survived and connecting those who work to end violence to each other and the people who need help.
Key considerations when organizing a domestic violence campaign, whether national or local, is first of all frequency of message. Frequency is crucial to a successful public awareness campaign, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, which suggests varying the media used to convey the message relying on several sources — for example, radio, newspaper, television and social media.
Secondly, consider whether it might be helpful to join forces with other anti-violence advocates, domestic violence coalitions or other area law enforcement agencies with the goal of reaching more people and having a greater impact on public opinion.
A couple of departments that believe in partnering with other agencies include East Hartford, Conn., and Alexandria, Va., and both have been recognized for their efforts.
East Hartford, Conn.
Deputy Chief Beau Thurnauer said although his department doesn’t have plans for Domestic Violence Awareness Month firmly in place yet, one thing he’s sure it will highlight is the Lethality Assessment Program.
Thurnauer is East Hartford’s contact for domestic violence issues. He explained why the department enacted this program.
“There’s good research in domestic violence cases that if you ask key questions of the victims… and connect them to a shelter or provider, it lessens the likelihood of the victim being more severely injured or killed.”
Officers are trained to ask basic questions. If the victim scores above a six, the officer calls the shelter and hands the phone to the victim. In 100 percent of the cases the suspect is not on the scene when the assessment is taking place. The program is used only in cases where the officer thinks the chance of severe injury or death is a concern.
While the procedure isn’t yet widely used, it’s popular on the East Coast. Thurnauer’s department has been planning the program for a year and went live with it June 1.
Six members of the department were trained in-house and will work to train the other 131 members. He also said that program administrators are in the process of writing “a pretty comprehensive policy, so there are no questions” about how this assessment is carried out. For example, officers would need to be convinced the victim is at serious risk to call an advocate.
“They don’t call the shelter on every case — this is designed for high-risk situations.”
The local shelter that the department works with, Interval House, initiated the discussion about the Lethality Assessment Program. “They came to us and said, ‘We think this is really good — you use this tool and we can partner with you,’” Thurnauer said. The department now has a memo of understanding with the shelter and a 24/7 number that can be called.
The partnership and the East Hartford department were highlighted by the International Associations of Chiefs of Police for their “collaborative effort against domestic violence.”
“We do none of this by ourselves,” Thurnauer said. “We will succeed in stemming the tide by partnering with everyone we can possibly partner with.”
Other than introducing the LAP, he’s just starting to think about plans for DVAM. Officers may wear purple ribbons or do a repeat of last year’s successful T-shirt giveaway for youth, when officers caught young people doing random acts of kindness and gave them a T-shirt that said “one act of kindness.”
“I love reward programs. There’s been so much negative publicity in law enforcement this past year that anything we can do to get a positive message out is great,” he said.
The city of Alexandria was highlighted in a Department of Justice report for its Coordinated Community Response in dealing with domestic violence issues. Numerous agencies are involved in the Domestic Violence Intervention Project: Alexandria Public Schools; Alexandria inova Hospital; court services; the Department of Community and Human Services; the fire and health departments; Legal Services of Northern Virginia; the Office of the Commonwealth Attorney; Office of Housing; Office of Magistrate; Office of Probate and Parole; Office of Sheriff; the police department; social services; Stop Child Abuse Now; Substance and Abuse Services; and the Victim’s Witness Protection Program, as well as private citizens.
The agencies all partner to raise public awareness of domestic violence. Alexandria Police Deputy Chief of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Debbie Evans said, “Every time Alexandria Police Department responds to a domestic violence call they call us from the scene to get an advocate in touch with the victim.”
Unlike East Hartford, Evans said an advocate is called in for every victim of domestic violence. She credits Coordinated Community Response for that.
Every other year the city holds a Silent Witness Candlelight Vigil, exhibiting life-size silhouettes to represent victims who lost their lives to domestic violence. The Commonwealth of Virginia joined the Silent Witness Project in 2002. In October they display the silhouettes in front of city hall and hold a silent candlelight vigil, allowing some private time for the families, too.
Alexandria participates in The Clothesline Project each April for sexual assault victims and each October for domestic violence victims. Vividly decorated T-shirts are strung on a clothesline to bear witness to violence against women and their strength to survive. Also a nationwide project, it began in 1990 in Cape Cod when women hung a clothesline across the village green in Hyannis, Mass., with 31 shirts decorated by survivors of rape, assault and incest.
Since doing the laundry is viewed as women’s work, and in the past women exchanged information over a backyard clothesline while hanging the laundry, it seemed like a simple concept and one in which each woman could tell her story in her own words. In Alexandria they hold T-shirt decorating nights.
Evans, too, advised departments that want to get more involved in domestic violence awareness to create a partnership.
“It’s very beneficial to get involved with advocates — it helps cases run more smoothly when you do. Having a coordinated community response is very beneficial to both the victim and the perpetrator.”
With the coordinated community response, they are able to pool resources, wrap around the victims and work as a team, she added.
Now is the optimal time to purchase purple ribbons and maybe, as Thurnauer suggested, start declaring: “We want you on our team” to fight domestic violence.
Plan early for Domestic Violence Awareness Month so that you can schedule labor, make collaborations and secure needed funding. Some very simple things every department should be able to do, no matter the size or budget, are:
- Wear purple ribbons every day in October. Have each member of the department wear the ribbon to promote awareness.
- Distribute domestic violence posters to other municipal departments and local businesses.
- Create paper placemats that say “Domestic violence leaves an empty place at the table” and resource information. Distribute them to local restaurants.