Jefferson County Attorney’s Office to offer additional support to domestic violence victims at the greatest risk of lethal assault

December 19, 2016

Jefferson County Attorney’s Office to offer additional support to domestic violence victims at the greatest risk of lethal assault
$100k increase comes at a time when domestic killings, city’s murder rate are on the rise

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell is hiring two additional advocates for victims of domestic violence, with one position solely focused on victims at a high risk of lethality.

At least 13 deaths so far this year in Jefferson County have been connected to domestic incidents, compared to nine domestic homicide victims countywide in 2015 and 11 in 2014.

“The main objective for anyone in law enforcement or public service is to protect innocent citizens from harm,” said Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell. “These new positions demonstrate a laser focus on supporting domestic violence victims at the greatest risk of deadly abuse.”

The new positions are the result of a threefold increase in grant funding from the national Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office (JCAO). The two new advocates will join three current advocates working out of the Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC) at the Hall of Justice (see below for history of the DVIC).

The JCAO will receive $150,182 from the one-year grant, with the ability for future requests. Since the DVIC opened in 2001, approximately $50,000 in annual VOCA funding has previously paid for one advocate position and support services. Additional VOCA funding will also be used for training, new equipment and telephone interpreter services. Last year, 197 victims with limited English proficiency were served by DVIC advocates.

Increase in victims seeking help, victims at high risk for deadly abuse merits additional support

In 2015, JCAO advocates in the DVIC assisted 5,142 victims. Those assisted were primarily victims of domestic violence but advocates also assisted victims of elder abuse, sexual assault and child abuse.

In 2016, with the passage of KRS 456, interpersonal protective orders (IPOs) became available for victims of dating violence and for victims of stalking and sexual assault, regardless of the relationship. In 2016 to date, there has been 17.5% increase this year in victims seeking protective orders.

January 1, 2015 to December 1, 2015: 3,776 EPOs issued through the DVIC.

January 1, 2016 to December 1, 2016: 4,435 EPOs and IPOs issued through the DVIC.

Since 2012, the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) has had in place a Lethality Assessment Program when it responds to domestic violence calls for service. Based on this objective tool, a victim can screen-in as high risk or high danger. In these cases, the victims are provided immediate access to an advocate/counselor with the Center for Women and Families.

In 2015 alone, LMPD did 2,328 screenings of domestic violence victims and 70% were determined to be high risk. Examples of cases that would screen as a high risk of lethality include domestic violence victims who have been the victim of an assault with a gun (or other deadly weapon), or who have been the victim of strangulation, or a victim of criminal stalking.

Advocates crucial to victims, strong prosecution

Because those who access the DVIC are often victims of trauma, it is critical that they speak to an advocate to learn all legal and personal options available. Being able to speak to a victim advocate early in the process allows a victim to shrink what seems like an overwhelming problem into a more manageable set of problems with solutions.

There is demonstrated need to have an advocate devoted to high risk victims. Many high risk victims do not fully understand the danger they face. Advocates understand that after a violent episode, a victim might be vulnerable to falling in a trap of thinking that once a protective order has been obtained or the perpetrator has been arrested, the risk has gone away. Some may return to the abuser, thinking the problem is solved or due to pressure from the perpetrator or family members.  Repeated assistance by an advocate is needed to help keep high risk victims safe and engaged in the legal process.

The new high risk advocate will work with victims already screened in as high risk by police, or perform a similar screening already in use at the DVIC. This advocate will also train and work with other DVIC advocates so they are cross-trained to administer the risk assessment screening tool.

In addition to the normal responsibilities of DVIC advocates–explaining the criminal complaint and emergency or interpersonal protective order processes, conduct lethality assessments, conducting safety planning and making referrals to community partners–the advocate working with high risk victims will follow-up on these cases to ensure: that victims are attending court proceedings and medical appointments relevant to their case; that perpetrators and their family members are leaving the victim alone; that victims have a telephone so they can reliably communicate with prosecutors, police and advocates; that victims have reliable transportation to court; that police and victims are properly following up and police are providing stepped-up patrols when necessary; that victims are receiving available and useful community resources for which they are eligible (e.g., representation by Legal Aid Society, Center for Women and Families, referrals for special needs victims, public assistance benefits, etc.)

Holiday season brings additional risk of domestic abuse

“The holidays present additional challenges and stress for most families and they are especially difficult for those whose safety is threatened,” said Marta Miranda-Straub, president and CEO of the Center for Women and Families. “We see higher incidence of intimate partner violence during the holidays. Providing safety plans, emergency shelter, resources and advocacy are crucial in preventing homicides. Resources like the Domestic Violence Intake Center at the Hall of Justice and The Center’s 24/7 crisis intervention advocates are here to help.”

History of the Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC)

The Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC) opened in April 2001, the result of local criminal justice and community partners’ commitment to supporting victims seeking legal action. Founding partners included the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk (OCCC), LMPD, the Center for Women and Families and the National Council for Jewish Women, among others.

Since its opening, VOCA has provided funding for the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office (JCAO) to employ one full-time victim advocate in the DVIC. In 2004, a second advocate position was added.

In County Attorney O’Connell’s first full year in office, 2009, the DVIC was relocated to an expanded space of approximately 2,500 square feet. Prior to expansion, only victims seeking both an emergency protective order (EPO) and criminal complaint received services in the DVIC. After expansion, EPO clerks from the OCCC moved all functions permanently to the DVIC.

Now, all domestic violence victims seeking any type of offered legal service are directly assisted in the DVIC. The JCAO provides victim advocates to meet with all victims 96 hours each week, from 7:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. each week day and 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. on weekends. Combining all services in one location has resulted in significant increases in clients obtaining needed advocacy services.

Currently, the JCAO alone has 12 employees working for the DVIC, including the equivalent of 3.5 full-time prosecutors. There are three full-time advocates, in addition to paying advocates overtime to cover the 16 weekend hours.

The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office and Domestic Violence (DV) Prosecution

In addition to general criminal prosecution, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office operates two specialized units: DUI and DV. In 2015, the DV unit prosecuted 3,810 domestic violence and sexual assault cases, earning a 95 percent conviction rate. With the addition of these new positions, 36 members of Mike O’Connell’s staff will be involved with domestic violence cases on a daily basis.

About VOCA funding

The Crime Victims Fund (the Fund), established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), is a major funding source for victim services throughout the nation. Millions of dollars have been deposited into the Fund annually from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys' Offices, federal U.S. courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. To date, Fund dollars have always come from offenders convicted of federal crimes, not from taxpayers. For more information, visit http://ojp.gov/ovc/