New Help For Victims Of Family Violence
October 18, 2011 1:01 p.m.
Dr. Dawn Griffin is a forensic psychologist and President of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council
Caity Meader is the manager of the YWCA Becky's House Programs, which include domestic violence emergency and transitional shelter programs.
To connect with a domestic violence shelter you can call 888-DV-LINKS (888-385-4657) which is the San Diego Domestic Violence Hotline.
Related Story: Band-Aids Won't Bind The Wounds Of Domestic Violence
CAVANAUGH: San Diego has seen an unusual number of family member murders this year, sons accused of killing mothers and fathers and then themselves. People who work to prevent domestic violence are urging increased awareness of warning signs that may indicate when people are on the brink. And they are encouraging people who feel they are at risk to seek help and safety. My guests, doctor Dawn Griffin is a forensic psychologist and president of the San Diego domestic violence counsel. Welcome back to the show.
GRIFFIN: Thank you. It's good to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Caity Meader is the manager of the YWCA Becky’s house programs, which include domestic violence emergency and traditional shelter bedrooms. Caity, hello.
MEADER: Thank you. Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this year, as I say, we've seen a lot of violence, domestic violence in the headline, tragic cases. Seems to be a particularly high number of domestic violence heards, but Katie, are you seeing an increase in domestic violence cases this year at shelters?
MEADER: Absolutely. We're seeing an increase in people reaching out, trying to get help, but also an increase in family members and friends calling our hot lines and wanting to get help for their family member or friend who may be in a domestic violence situation. So our hot line at the YWCA, we take about 2,500 calls annually, we're seeing that increase, and we know that the DV links hot line, which is our county-wide hot line is also seeing an increase.
THE COURT: Are there places for everybody who needs shelter?
MEADER: I think unfortunately we don't have enough shelter. And that's part of why we're trying to speak out. Because these shelters, they save lives, and we need to make sure that they're funded and supported by the community because every day, there are 500 women and children on the streets of San Diego looking for a domestic violence program, and we need to make sure that they are also taken care of.
CAVANAUGH: Now, doctor Griffin, we hear that a bad economy is to blame for a lot of the high profile tragedies that have been in the news. How exactly does economic stress head to violence in the home?
GRIFFIN: Well, I certainly think that's one important factor. But it is just one factor. And I don't think you can point the finger at economics as being the sole issue. It's a major component, though. Because it's so stressful on your family. And when you're dealing can economic difficulties that don't want bring shelter to the family, that don't bring food to the family, that don't bring pride and what have you, that chips away at families. And there's an awful lot of shame and stigma associated with not having money, not being able to care for your family. And that in turn can with the accumulation of other issues like mental health or substance abuse or past traumas, that could contribute to families living with violence.
CAVANAUGH: Not necessarily the domestic murders that we've seen so far this year, some of which have been very unusual and tragic. I'm wondering if there also is the component if someone is already predisposed to be violent or abusive in the home, I would imagine an additional economic stress would only exacerbate that.
GRIFFIN: Sure. If individuals have grown up in violence and that's how they love, that's how they communicate, that's how they resolve issue accident I would imagine that that added stress would just perpetuate the violence. I'm not quite sure if they're predisposed, I think it's certainly both nature and nurture. It's what we learn, how we grow, how it's reinforced, and unfortunately with violence in our community, thankfully we've got people like you that continue to bring us on and bring awareness to this, making it possible for folks to reach out more. That's a good thing. But the fact of the matter is that domestic violence still lives in silence. And it's pred in isolation. That's where it lives, and that's where it thrives. And that we're trying to do is open the blinds, open the windows, and remove the shame and stigma associated with living with violence.
CAVANAUGH: And Katie, I would imagine that with everybody feeling the effects of a bad economy that that sort of shrinks the support system for somebody who's dealing -- who feeling at risk, who's dealing perhaps with domestic violence. There's not as much support from perhaps family and friends as this might be.
MEADER: Absolutely. We see that where victim may have turned to a family member.
Or friend to provide them shelter for support, those family members are also dealing with their own pressures, their own stressors and economic issues, so they're not able to bring that family in, and that's really why we want to keep the shelters open and available to as many people as we can, because they can always turn to their family and friends, and of course that isolation is part of the violence that they're dealing, that they've sort of systematically cut off from friends and family, and other supportive relationships, so the impetus is on us to get the word out, and let us know that there is a mechanism for support in place.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor Griffin, you just said very eloquently that domestic violence still lives in silence. Then how is -- are people to be able to pick up on warning signs? Following the murder suicides, we heard survivors feeling as if there might have been something that they I could have done to prevent this tragedy, something they didn't see, something that was there. And they just weren't aware. Can you tell us if there are different warning signs in.
GRIFFIN: Absolutely. And they're different for everyone, but there are common teams, if at the end of the day, you know someone, and you care about someone, and that person starts to change, whether they used to be lively and doing activities with you, and they're no longer doing that, that's a warning sign. And we as a community need to come forward and say are you all right? Is everything okay? Do you need anything? Just paying attention, listening. If people do start to isolate themselves, if their behavior -- if you notice distinct behavioral issues, reach out. Those are just some classic warning signs. If you notice the individual -- there's more than just physical violence. I think that's an important distinction. We have women and men and children who are victims of domestic violence. And the physical violence is certainly a significant issue. But there's also emotional, financial, religious, so if you have friends that are no longer going to church, reach out. You're not being nosy if you come to them sincerely concerned about who they are and what they're going through.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that recently there were two new programs announced in San Diego County. At helping victims of domestic violence. One of them is one I think that's going to begin in the beginning of next year. It's called high-risk case response team.
What will that team do?
GRIFFIN: That actually that team has just begun. And what it is, it's a high-risk team looking at those cases that are at risk for heath at, that teams run out of the District Attorney's office. Katie sits on that team, and she's there as a representative of the council, as well as many other agencies that will look at cases using a risk assess. Tool and assess them to find out if they are at risk for lethality. If they are, they will have an immediate response out to that particular case and with the sole intent of preventing another fatality.
CAVANAUGH: Katie, that sounds like a tremendous responsibility. How do you make an assess. Like that? What tools do you use?
MEADER: We are using the Jacky Campbell danger assess. Which is a validated tool. And we provide that as a partnership with the victim to understand from them and their self-report where their risk factors are.
CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you. Jacky Campbell. Is that the name of a victim or the doctor who --
MEADER: The doctor who developed the tool.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. And so what are some of the questions that might be on this assess. Tool?
MEADER: Well, we're looking at if the perpetrator is unemployed, do they have access to weapons? Have they made threats to kill that victim in the past? We're looking at if there's a history of threats of suicide or -- or the homicide. So in those 20 questions that we're asking, we're rating, and there's a waited scoring. Then and we then look at a number, and then it's given in a range. So it's not a predictor of violence, but it's certainly a way for us to assess the level of someone's risk, and then communicate with them and in turn with doing that, we do a calendar with them to plot the dates of the aren't violence so they can identify patterns for themselves. And we use that scoring as a way to recommend to the team in terms of where this victim is at and what more our agencies can do collaboratively together to respond to that victim and family.
CAVANAUGH: If a victim scores high on this high risk assess. Tool, what happens? What resources are brought to bare for this particular individual?
MEADER: There are many members on the team. So we're -- there's so many represented, law enforcement, the Courts, child welfare services. So when we're sharing, we're not just looking at the assess. We're looking at this person's individual history as presented by all of these agencies that have, you know, a bit of this story. So we're trying to create a whole picture to understand the whole person because that's how -- how we're going to make a difference. And we all look at what resources can we bring to the table and coordinate those resources in a better way in order to try to offer a security to that victim, and a level of protection that might not have been there if we all only had our individual piece of the story.
CAVANAUGH: And I've read that this high-risk task force is available 247? ; is that right?
MEADER: Yeah. We meet weekly. We're meeting every week, but we can all come together if needed at any time, we have the technology to do that. And of course we're also relying on the -- excuse me the agencies that already exist, such as shelters, and hot lines who provide those 24-hour services to have a more immediate response, which we already do with a 24/7 hot lines and services.
CAVANAUGH: And Dawn Griffin, I want to talk a little bit about the other new program. This is a really different approach. I think it's known as the thrive program. And it's going to be working with perpetrators of domestic violence.
GRIFFIN: We're going to be working with the entire family, actually. This is the thrive team out of the city attorney's office, that was a joint venture between the probation and the city attorney, who both came further and said at the end of the day, we have to do more with less. So let's not reinvent the wheel, let's not create new programs, but we know that we have to approach the families from a trauma informed lens, which means we're moving away from asking the question what's wrong with you to what's happened to you. Still holding individuals accountable for their behavior, but looking more at just the single behavior, looking at the totality of that individual, and what we call that is from the ecological viewpoint, which means we're looking at the individual, are the family, the community, and society.
CAVANAUGH: This is a very different approach I think we've been hearing for years that offenders will just escalate. They're very, very hard to treat. And law enforcement has been urged to come in, stop in at the earliest possible time, and basically sort of get the awareness out of this situation, especially if there are children involved.
CAVANAUGH: Is this different?
GRIFFIN: It is indeed. At the end of the day, this is a pilot project as is the heart team because we realize that both of these teams are not silver bullets, they're not the answer. But it is a protective step forward in each response. This team looking at the thrive team looks at the victim, the offender, and children in common 0 to 5. And at the end of the day, we see that a lot of these families. To stay together. But staying together in violence is doing more harm than good to each other, to their children, and we don't claim to have the answers. In fact, I think the beauty of this team is we recognize we need the victims, and the offenders to partner with us. They are the experts of their own lives. We need to understand that. Doesn't mean we don't hold folks accountable, but we're not just looking at the behavior or the diagnosis or the penal code in isolation of everything else that makes them a human being.
CAVANAUGH: And is this coordinated with law enforcement?
GRIFFIN: Oh, indeed.
CAVANAUGH: In other words do abusers still get punished?
GRIFFIN: Yes, yes. Absolutely. We have representatives from the sheriff, from all police departments, we have public defender, we have the Court, we have child welfare. We have everyone that's a part of this team that at the end of the day, we realize we can do more than one thing at a time. And right now, some of our solutions look hike putting a Band-Aid on someone who's submerged in water. Not to say that folks aren't doing the best they can. The programs we have out there are doing great. But we can always do more. So simultaneously, we will hold people accountable for their behaviors while looking at the underlying issuing in this family living in violence.
CAVANAUGH: If people are victims in San Diego, or feel at risk, what are some of the steps they should take to protect themselves?
GRIFFIN: Number one, reach out. Reach out for help. There are several numbers, certainly 88 DV links, which I realize doesn't translate to a lot of the local languages associate that number is 8883854657. If you're in immediate trouble, call 911. Reach out. If you need resources for yourself or for your friend, reach out to 211. Easy numbers. Reach out is the first step. The shelters, the service providers, all of our agencies, we don't always have the answers but we do have well trained people who care. And we're mindful of the fact that the stigma and shame needs to go away.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you very much. I've been speaking with Dawn Griffin, president of the San Diego domestic violence council. And Katie meter, Becky's house programs. Thank you both so much.
MEADER: Thank you.
GRIFFIN: Thank you.