Some of the most heinous and troubling crimes are those involving family violence, which is broadly defined as domestic violence, child and elder abuse, making threats of violence and stalking, as well as sexual assault when the perpetrator is a known family member. When the perpetrator of these types of crimes is a family member, the emotional impact of an apparent loved one causing this harm can elicit its own unique traumas.
Care Goes Beyond the Case File
It is because of this trauma — which can easily last a lifetime — that criminal justice system representatives and social service providers should take all steps possible to quickly and professionally respond to reports of these crimes. Not only should they swiftly respond, but these individuals need to focus on victims and their needs, not just in the time it takes to process a criminal case or provide immediate care, but in the long term as well.
My own personal experience indicates that one of the best ways to support those affected by family violence, while still meeting the needs of the criminal justice system, is to bring together local law enforcement representatives, their partner prosecuting attorney’s office, county social service agency staff members and other appropriate non-profit service providers so they may collectively and closely work in tandem from the beginning. In fact, coming together in a literal sense — all representatives working in a single physical location on a full-time basis — is the ideal approach. Such multi-agency centers often have names like Family Violence Center or Family Justice Center, and their focus is on providing ongoing, comprehensive services to family violence victims that are best delivered in a “one-stop shop.”
Specifically, these centers allow family violence victims to visit a single location in order to provide information about the crime. This permits those who need to interact with the victim(s) the ability to do so in a single interview, which may include information regarding a follow-up criminal investigation and prosecution and any emotional and temporary assistance the victim needs. Requiring those affected to relive their ordeal over and over through multiple interviews, even when conducted by well-meaning law enforcement officials and social service representatives, is often an unnecessary and grueling experience for them.
Moreover, those working together at multi-agency offices come to understand the needs of each other’s agencies better as they work together for victims, which goes a long way in professionalizing the eventual care a victim receives. For law enforcement agencies specifically, it may be the best way to practice progressive community policing and doing the right things for the right reasons.
Alternatives to Multi-Agency Centers
While leading our firm’s assessments of dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, I have personally encountered few multi-agency centers. While it may be difficult for agencies to provide a full-time representative, due to a variety of factors like budgetary or administrative constraints, many use innovative methods to find the resources needed for establishing operations; for example, agencies can access grants from local, state and federal resources to help fund the initiative.
Smaller agencies and communities also found success by rotating various agencies’ personnel through the center, keeping it consistently fully staffed without losing manpower at the respective agencies.
3 Agencies with Strong Family Violence Centers
I believe one element to these organizations’ success is locating facilities away from the police department, which removes some of the stigma or danger when a victim needs to meet with law enforcement. Furthermore, interview rooms and other meeting areas are both private and comfortable for those affected, and include special areas for children, youth and adults. In contrast to the sterile rooms most often seen in police departments, these welcoming spaces can help victims begin the healing process during time spent in the center.
If you are working at a criminal justice or social services organization, I hope you will consider working toward establishing family violence centers so those affected by these crimes know individuals care about their long-term well-being beyond simply processing their case.
Further information about family violence and prevention can be found at the website for the Family Violence Prevention and Services, which is part of the federal Family and Youth Services Bureau.