D.C. agencies need a citywide policy for dealing with domestic violence, according to a report released this month by the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Only the Metropolitan Police Department and Child and Family Services Agency have a written strategy to combat domestic violence, the coalition’s report said.
“What we know is that there are not enough domestic violence services to meet the demand of domestic violence survivors,” said Dawn Dalton, the coalition’s policy director. “It wasn’t were out to get you and put you on blast and highlight things that aren’t going well. We need to have a sense to what’s going on.”
The coalition noted D.C. Police and the Office of Unified Communications reported nearly 36,000 calls related to domestic violence, an 11 percent increase since 2012.
People of color are affected the most in the city, with almost 50,000 Blacks identified as victims of intimate-partner violence, according to the report. A survey conducted by the national Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence determined an estimated 104,000, or 39 percent, of women in the District have been “slapped, punched, threatened, beaten, stalked or raped by an intimate partner.”
Dalton said the coalition chose 22 city agencies and the city council to assess domestic violence strategies in the city because they would have the most influence and interaction among survivors.
The 24-page document resembles a checklist of what each agency received from a survey sent in September. Nearly every agency including the city’s health department checked a box stating it didn’t have a policy, “but demonstrates plans to implement” one.
Alison Reeves, spokeswoman for the health department, said in an email the agency’s Human Relations office reached out to the coalition to discuss and work on “best practices.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said in an email Monday, Nov. 26 that the agency implemented policy and guidelines to handle domestic violence calls and incidents since 1991. In addition, all recruits and promoted first-line supervisors must receive domestic violence training.
“Domestic violence incidents negatively affect the overall well-being of victims and their families,” the spokeswoman said. “When abuse in the home or relationships escalates to the level of physical abuse, threats, or any form of criminal activity, it is imperative that the department provides members with a set of policy and procedural guidelines that require members to effectively conduct their duties and enforce the law in a professional and cohesive manner.”
The coalition said it’s not clear if Metro has a policy, but the agency’s Employee Assistance Program provides workers support and service for those in domestic violence relationships.
The city’s Housing Authority didn’t respond to the coalition’s survey.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s 12th annual census count in September 2017, the District ranked 31st in serving 616 people with legal, transportation and other services.
One neighboring jurisdiction, Prince George’s County in Maryland, still ranks number in that state with domestic-violence related homicides. The state ranked 27th in serving 926 people for similar needs. In Virginia, the state ranked 18th at 1,514.
In the District, the coalition recommended city employees receive training on how to identify and provide proper referrals for survivors who seek help.
The report notes Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue said D.C. will implement a policy for all 35,000 city government employees by Jan. 1.
“Mayor Bowser has directed us to create a District-wide domestic violence policy based on established best practices that center the needs of survivors,” Donahue said in a statement. “It is vital that we ensure the District government provides domestic violence survivors with all the support they need and we are committed to doing so.”
The coalition conducted three focus groups in September with two nonprofit organizations, Bread for the City and So Others Might Eat (SOME), and published anonymous comments who survived abusive relationships.
Some of the comments reflect how they received help from how agencies and the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, a main contact for residents who experience homelessness managed by the city’s Department of Human Services. The statements include:
• “My first experience with Virginia Williams was good; they helped me get into a safe house.”
• “They are not genuine, I don’t think they care enough. Workers ask ‘can you go back home?’ when you’ve told them that you’re leaving an abusive relationship. “I felt like there was no compassion there at all.”
In terms of homelessness, the document states about 75 percent of Black women are homeless, though about 52 percent of the city’s population are adult women.
“In order for anything to be meaningful, there has to be a commitment from the top down,” Dalton said. At the end of the day, folks should have consistent experiences with the staff person they are interfacing with.”
To read the coalition’s report, go to dccadv.org.