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Domestic Violence: Victim Safety
Family Court Monitoring Project     Victim Safety in Hawaii

League of Women Voters of Honolulu

Introduction     Response     Services     Legal System     Conclusion     Acknowledgments     References  
Domestic Violence
Victim Safety in Hawaii

Victim Services

Victim safety must be a priority whether a community has a coordinated community response or not.

1. Early Intervention

This refers to advocacy within the first 24 to 48 hours after an incident of domestic abuse. This advocacy is essential to victim safety. It is in the moment of crisis that a victim is most likely to feel temporarily free of the power her abuser holds over her and to reach out for help. Whether the victim initiates contact by calling the police, calling a 24-hour hotline, or contacting a legal advocacy agency, she needs the support of a victim advocate. She should not have to go in search of this support. Every battered woman should have the opportunity to talk confidentially with an advocate, preferably at the scene of the crime when she may be most willing to discuss what has happened to her. The advocate should be able to work with the victim from then on to increase safety.

First and foremost, an advocate can help the victim assess how dangerous the situation is and assist with the safety planning. This may be the only time when there is an opportunity to provide a victim with information that may later save her life, and sometimes the lives of her children. The advocate can provide referral information or, in some cases, directly assist the victim in dealing with the police, courts, or medical system. The presence of a good advocate could prevent a domestic abuse victim from being and feeling further abused by the system.

Women who have been abused by their partners say that it is years before they discover the help they need to leave their situations. They often blame themselves for the violence, and, as a result, do not seek help. As one woman said, "I am an abused woman who was not really aware of that fact. Abusers convince us that we deserve it. We are afraid to talk or tell for fear of punishment."

  1. 24-Hour Hotlines

    Hotlines are available on all the islands with the exception of Lanai. On Lanai victims can call the Maui Hotline collect. In the City and County of Honolulu, all three emergency shelters have 24-hour hotlines. tiffany of the shelter staffers are unpaid volunteers and university practicum students. Shelters are understaffed, and those answering the phones are trying to help current shelter residents at the same time. As a result, a caller may not get all the information or support she needs. If she does not pursue help, either by coming to the shelter or following up with other services, this may be her only contact with an advocate.

  2. Domestic Abuse Response Teams

    When the police respond to a domestic violence call, they may, upon request, transport the victim to medical care or a shelter. If she does not make this request, the police are supposed to leave her with referral information. Many victims, however, report that they never received any helpful information from the police, and that police do not transport them very often because of "liability" concerns.

    When victims did receive safety cards, they sometimes called a domestic violence shelter, the Domestic Violence Drop-In Center (Pu'uhonua), or a legal advocacy program (Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, Legal Aid, Americorps Volunteers). All of these organizations provide safety planning and advocacy, but the current system relies too heavily on the initiative of a traumatised individual.

    None exist today, but there have been attempts to establish on-call crisis teams for battered women on Oahu. The first of these, HOPE For Battered Women, was conceived in 1989 by victim/survivor members of Fairness for Abused Women (FFAW) with the purpose of providing on-the-spot crisis interventions for battered women in hospitals on Oahu. All of the counselors were survivors of abuse. FFAW asked The Hawaii State Committee on Family Violence (now called the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) to act as an umbrellas agency for the HOPE program which was funded by the state legislature in 1990. The community-based HOPE program was innovative and well received,

    The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) asked HOPE to expand its services to include interventions at abuse crime scenes, by creating a domestic violence abuse seam (DART) for HPD. In 1993, while HOPE and HPD were trying to implement the DART program, the HOPE program was turned over by the state coalition to Child and Family Services (CFS). This was without input from, and against the objections of, FFAW members, the creators of the program,

    Within 6 months, CFS eliminated the HOPE manages position. Without suitable leadership, the team of advocates walked out, and the program was compromised. Since that time, this program has received little support and is not functioning

    The DART advocates paired with police officers so that whenever the police responded to a domestic violence call, a victim advocate went along. This was effective because: l) the victim was more likely to talk with the advocate while she was there; 2) while the victim advocate was talking with the victim, the police could focus on evidence collection; and 3) the victim advocate could assist the police by talking to witnesses often children or other family members

    In 1994, HPD contracted the original HOPE crisis team, which reorganized as HEART (Hawaii Emergency Abuse Response Teams), and worked through Parents and Children Together (PACT). Unfortunately, PAT had to provide crisis interventions from its new Pu'uhonua drop-in center instead of using the combined police/HEART response which had lost its funding.

    Maui County has an effective crisis response team, which was initiated by the police, It is housed with Women Helping Women and has two full time advocates. The shelter on Kauai and the Kauai police will begin a response team soon due to the fact that they are the recipient of one of four 1996 VAWA grants.

  3. Pu'uhonua

    On Oahu, the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline (DVCLH) works with the police and Parents and Children Together (PACT) to provide early intervention services through Pu'uhonua. Pu'uhonua provides legal assistance, shelter information, referrals to support services, assistance with welfare, and additional advice, but the services are not available on a 24-hour basis. In addition, victims must come to the drop-in center to get services. Located on Vineyard Street in Honolulu, the center is not easily accessible to women living outside of urban Honolulu.

    In a recent effort to assist more victims, a Pu'uhonua advocate has been moved to the Waianae police station where she rides with police officers on domestic violence calls between 4 p.m. and midnight. In the first two weeks of the program, the advocate met with 43 women.

  4. Victim Witness Assistance Division

    Based in the prosecutors offices across the state, the victim witness assistance programs could provide early assistance to victims. The Maui county office provides excellent advocacy services for victims. In criminal cases in Honolulu, the Victim Witness Assistance Division program provides the complaining witness with an advocate to assist her through the legal process. In the prosecution of abusers, the testimony of victims as witnesses is often essential for a conviction. The goal of the advocate is to ensure that the victim cooperates with the prosecution and is kept current regarding court dates. This is not easy because many domestic violence victims do not feel safe testifying against their abusers. If the perpetrator is not convicted, or is given a lenient sentence, he is likely to blame his victim for getting him in trouble in the first place and retaliate with more abuse.

    Currently, the Honolulu prosecutor's office sees the task of getting witnesses to cooperate as incompatible with the task of providing intervention on the victim's behalf. In an interview with the Honolulu League of Women Voters in September 1997, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said:

    The people who are working for me... are working towards the gore of getting a successful prosecution. Private advocates [i.e., those in the private, nonprofit service sector) have the luxury of doing what they think is right for the single victim. There is a tension in the victim witness unit between the need to provide services for a victim and the need to remember that they are part of the prosecutor's office.

    In the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, safety and support for victims is not seen as competing with prosecution. There are two sets of people who work with victims. There are witness coordinators who assist with the prosecution and victim advocates whose goal is primarily victim safety. They have found that when victims are supported and kept safe, they are more likely to cooperate. Alana Bowman (who is Deputy City Attorney, Special Assistant to the City Attorney Domestic Violence Unit Criminal Branch of the LA City Attorney's office) found that 50 percent of battered women wanted the charges dropped when they appeared at the perpetrator's arraignment the day after charges were filed. But when advocates provided support for the victim, explained the various choices she could make for her own safety, and described the legal process, including restraining orders and sentencing, 80 percent of the so-called non-cooperating witnesses agreed to cooperate.

    In Honolulu, perhaps advocates in the prosecutor's office could review HPD reports each morning and contact these victims immediately. The job of the advocate would be to provide a safety plan for the victim: determine the victim's current level of safety, provide shelter and hotline information, and explain the risks involved in leaving the abuser. The advocate could then provide ongoing support for the victim throughout the criminal process, while assisting in the collection of information for the case. Some community advocates have suggested moving the advocacy unction out of the prosecutor's office, or at least out of the Victim Witness program.

    In Honolulu, the so-called conflict of interest between the batter victim and witness interferes with effective services for victims. Battered and formerly battered women in Honolulu say that their worst experiences have been with the judicial system. The Victim Witness program is well funded, but victims have expressed anger and frustration by the way they were treated by the prosecutors office. The only contact the program makes with misdemeanor victims before her first trial is a letter. One victim said that the only time an advocate spoke with her was five minutes before she was to provide testimony. Other victims say they never spoke with an advocate. Victims also felt that the courts are not safe in the chaotic environment of the courtroom and narrow hallways, particularly during Monday morning trial calls, it is not unusual for an abuser to be physically close to his victim and to find ways to intimidate her.

2. Safe Shelter

  1. Emergency Shelter

    Victims of domestic violence must be able to find safe shelter at any time of the day or night There are emergency shelters on all of the islands with the exception of Lanai. Victims on Lanai are housed in hotels or moved off island. On the neighbor islands one great challenge is trying to keep locations secret. There is inadequate staffing and a lack of children's programs an all islands. Currently, three emergency shelters are available on Oahu where women and children can stay up to 90 days. These shelters serve women who are in immediate danger, All of these shelters have a no-turn-away policy. Abuse survivors, however, report having been turned away because of lack of space or "ineligibility". The lack of space seems to be a problem, particularly at the Honolulu shelter.

    Everyone in the domestic violence community agrees that Oahu's emergency shelters are under-funded. Victims say that at some shelters there is inadequate food, and what is available is kept locked up except at certain hours. Victims also report that furniture is old and falling apart, and mattresses are sometimes infested with bugs. Because shelters cannot provide childcare, mothers must watch their children, making it difficult for them to deal with finding housing, legal assistance, and the general trauma of the situation. One shelter with 30 residents has only five phones, so residents must limit their calls to five minutes. One woman described the condition of domestic violence shelters as worse than the prisons.

    When a woman seeks shelter, it should be an opportunity to review safety planning, identify community resources, and provide psychological counseling. Shelter workers should be able to assist women with transitional planning, obtaining public assistance, and finding housing and childcare. Shelters in Honolulu do not have adequate staff to provide this help. At two out of the three shelters there is only one paid manager.

    Because shelter funding is inadequate, a shelter may only have one or two paid staff members to work with 25 to 30 residents (women and children). These staff members are doing intake, answering emergency calls, assisting women who are leaving the shelter, and caring for residents. Programs for children have been cut from almost all budgets. The inability to serve children is a large gap in current services on Oahu.

    Inadequate funding has also led some shelters to ask their clients to pay a fee during their stay. Women who have no cash are asked to contribute their food stamps as the fee. The fee is not high, but most women have little or no money when they flee their abusers. They have left behind everything, including clothing, access to bank accounts, cars, and personal possessions.

    It is important that adequate public funding be available to provide women and children with a way out of violent situations. Public funding for shelters should support adequate staff, building upkeep, child care and children's programming, nutritional food, personal care items, safety planning, support and counseling, and transitional planning. Funds are needed to fly a woman off-island when necessary for her safety. Shelter workers should be able to act as case managers for victims, helping them through the legal, medical, and social service systems so they can live safely on their own.

    Emergency shelter is a short-term solution to an immediate crisis. If women victims and their children cannot return home after staying in a shelter, where do they go? Affordable housing is very difficult to find in our state.

  2. Transitional Housing

    On Oahu, Child and Family Service has some transitional apartments but at this point it is uncertain how well they are meeting the needs of victims. There are at least two private transitional programs on Oahu, Hospitality House and Transition House, that offer women safe housing for one or two months, after a stay in an emergency shelter. These programs also serve abuse survivors who do not meet shelter criteria. These are women who are not in immediate danger but whose lives have been so disrupted by violence that they need a great deal of support to get on their feet.

    Hospitality House also takes women from other islands who must leave their home islands to be safe. Supported by a local church, Hospitality House can provide four to six families with free shelter for one or two months while they make arrangements for mare permanent housing. Hospitality House requires that women provide their own food and child care, making it difficult for women who have given their food stamps to an emergency shelter to enter the program. The monthly fee for Transition House, run by the United Church of Christ, is $400 a month which is great deal of money for many abuse survivors. Both of these programs are privately funded and receive no state or federal movies.

    Kauai has six, single-family homes that are available to women m transition for a maximum of two years. The rent is ten percent of the family income. Many victims say they have difficulty following the strict rules that apply for placement in these homes. Funding cuts may soon close These homes.

    More shelters of this type are needed throughout the state. Building is currently under way for a transitional complex in Wailuku to house AIDS patients, the Nameless, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

3. Case Management and Victim Advocacy

Case management is a long-term process. Case management involves assisting and advocating for victims throughout the system so that they can obtain short and long-term housing, transportation, medical care, economic and legal assistance, child care, vocational and educational opportunities, and counseling programs. The best victim advocacy requires case managers who are dedicated to collaboration and are willing to speak out on behalf of their clients, A good advocate has the training and experience necessary to understand the basic issues of sex assault, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental illness, according to the Ad-Hoc committee report, case-management is the most under-funded area in domestic and sexual violence services. The neighbor islands have no case management programs at all.

DVCLH has recently begun a case management program, Ala Kai'i, for women receiving its legal services. If a client appears to need assistance in addition to legal services, she is referred to the Ala Kai'i advocate. Because these services are restricted to legal clients of DVCLH and a limited number of Pu'uhonua clients, few battered women actually get these case management services

DVCLH has a new advocacy unit called Partners in Probation, in which DVCLH advocate-case managers follow up with the victim of even abuser who has been placed on probation by Family Court. Case managers attend Family Court criminal cases to reach the partners of the probationers. A small room at the courthouse is available to them. It the victim is willing to discuss her situation, the advocate stays in close contact with her, assisting her in obtaining social services, while monitoring the behavior of her abuser. With a victim's permission information from a victim about her abuse or about her abuser that can be used to assess compliance with the terms of probation is given to his probation officer.

It is too early to tell how successful Partners in Probation will be, but so far the results are promising. This program gives advocates a chance to talk with every woman whose abuser is placed on Family Coin probation. Although this is not the early intervention desired by advocates, it is a chance to provide support over a period of three months to a year and to assist women in analyzing their options during a time when the perpetrator is under close supervision. Victims so far seem pleased with this new service.

4. Low Income Women

Many of the problems abused women fate have to do with the lack of adequate public support for poor women. Although the "domestic violence option' in the welfare reform law will help abuse survivors avoid same of the more stringent restrictions of the new welfare law, there is no guarantee that they will be exempt from time limn and work requirement that make the search for independence and stability even more difficult. To stand on their feet again, abused women need affordable and accessible child-care, medical insurance, housing, and legal assistance, in addition to either welfare assistance or well-paying jobs.

Much of this social and economic support has been withdrawn from all women in the last decade, and with Hawaii's poor economy, there is no telling whale the future will bring. The current waiting time for Section 8 housing in Honolulu is two to three years. Hawaii, once known for its universal access to health insurance, now falls short in providing adequate access to health care, Although small emergency stipends for victims are available through places like the Honolulu Community Action Program, the Waikiki Health Center, First Presbyterian Good Samaritans, and the DVCLH emergency aid program, these are insufficient. One reason women return to their abusers is because they have no other way to provide food and shelter for their children. When public funding dries up, so do their options for the future. As the financial safety net provided by government for women and children slowly disappears, the risks for abused women become more grave and the barriers to leaving abusive situations can become insurmountable

5. Treatment and Counseling

On Oahu, women in emergency and transitional shelters are required to enroll in support groups, which often focus on understanding the dynamics of abuse. Group counseling is also available through the Family Peace Center and Child & Family Service. The Family Peace Center runs several special groups, including one for mentally ill women funded by Quest, and children's groups. There are few other counseling programs for children. Abuse survivors express dissatisfaction with support groups that have open enrollment. Open enrollment means that new women enter the groups all the time and it is difficult to move deeper into issues. Survivors mentioned that they found this aspect of I first phase Family Peace Center support groups frustra' g. amity Peace Center second phase groups which don't have open enrollment were given praise. Members, fostering self-sufficiency, work together to raise funds to pay for the groups by selling Zippy's chili or having rummage sales.

Hospitality House provides an effective educational program about the impact of abuse on mental health. A series of workshops by experts on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) helps women understand that their depression, anxiety, flashbacks, headaches, and other physical ailments are a result of the abuse and not character flaws. Women can also attend therapy sessions for a small fee with Dr. Edward Kubany, a psychologist with expertise in PTSD.

The trauma caused by spousal abuse is a long-term health problem. It is essential that therapists receive adequate training in how to recognize domestic abuse situation and in how to treat women in these situations. The research on domestic violence makes it clear that joint partner counseling is inappropriate in abusive situations, but victims report that there are still some counselors who suggest that victim and abuser be counseled together. Even after they explain that their partners are abusive, counselors continue joint sessions. In addition to the psychological trauma, this puts women in danger, as evidence shows that joint counseling is one more way for an abuser to exert control over his victim. Residential treatment facilities would be ideal..

Abuse victims suffer from a wide array of physical and mental health problems including addiction, suicidal tendencies, depression, and stress-related diseases. If psychological trauma is treated, the community will, in the long run, save social and economic resources. Abused women could become more productive members of the community after healing from the trauma. One way to help women get these services is to require private and public insurers to include adequate coverage for appropriate mental health services.

Survivors also express a need for spiritual support. Shelters that receive state funding are afraid to offer any kind of spiritual program fearing they will violate the prohibition of government aid to religion and lose their funding. This is an area that deserves further exploration_ Residents of Hospitality House find great satisfaction in the spiritual support they receive from the church.

6. Broader Community Intervention

Often, women find themselves in need of public assistance because of an abusive spouse. According to a study in 1996 by the Massachusetts Coalition of Battered Women, more than half of all homeless women lost their shelter because of an abusive situation.

The federal Welfare Reform Act of 1997 contains the "Family Violence Option" Transitional Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which extends welfare benefits beyond the five year cap for victims of domestic violence. Hawaii is one of the first states to implement the Family Violence Option. All social workers in public agencies need training in how to recognize domestic violence and how to work with abuse victims. It is essential that welfare workers are able to identify battered women and that women acknowledge the abuse they have experienced so that they can receive the benefits of the Family Violence Option.

The same Massachusetts study found that in child abuse cases, 50 percent of the mothers were also abused. Severely traumatized mothers, on the surface, may not appear to be good custodial parents. When spouse abuse is not recognized, children are often turned over to abusive fathers. On Oahu, many domestic violence survivors say that Child Protective Services is a nightmare. Many social workers do not understand spouse abuse, do not recognize abusive partners, and often support abusive fathers.

Medical providers also need to recognize domestic violence and ask patients about possible abuse. Abused women and children often end up in emergency rooms and health clinics. Health care providers in all settings need to follow protocols that identify domestic abuse victims, assess the level of lethality, and provide referral information for the victim. In many cities around the country, domestic violence advocates are employed by the hospitals to provide ongoing training for health care providers and support and advocacy for victims. No domestic violence victim should leave an emergency room without having spoken to an advocate. Castle Hospital currently works with advocates from Hale Ola shelter and may provide a good model for other Oahu hospitals and clinics. HOPE for Battered Women had a 24-hour hospital crisis team ; one time, but lack of funding has eliminated this service.

Other places where the community can help break the cycle of domestic violence include schools, churches, social organizations, and workplaces. If we learn to recognize the signs of domestic abuse, we can intervene before the violence turns lethal. We need to be able to assure women in our community that we condemn abusive behavior and that violence in the home is not a private matter, but a community issue. Even if a woman is not ready to seek help, by providing her with information, we have given her the message that when she is ready, help is available.

Introduction     Response     Services     Legal System     Conclusion     Acknowledgments     References  

League of Women Voters of Honolulu
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