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The Hamilton County Domestic Violence Summit: Collaborating for Safer Communities

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Guest Contributor: Professor Kristin Kalsem

Intimate partner abuse is a priority issue for the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice.  Its Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic has served more than 1400 survivors and its research and work with community partners has resulted in more than 375 judges and magistrates being trained on best practices in these cases.

Intimate partner abuse is a fact of life in too many homes.  The statistics are staggering.  Domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive more than 20,000 calls on a typical day.  Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime and one in three female murder victims are killed by intimate partners. The cost of domestic violence to the U.S. economy is between $5.8 and $12.6 billion each year.  (Stats provided by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).  In Ohio, between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, there were ninety-one domestic-violence related fatalities.   In 22 percent of those cases, children were involved at the scene and in more than 46 percent of the cases, the victim had ended or was in the process of ending the relationship.  (Ohio stats provided by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.)

Rather than being overwhelmed by the breadth and complexity of intimate partner abuse, more than 110 committed community members gathered at the University of Cincinnati College of Law on October 26, 2018 to participate in a day-long training, networking, and problem-solving event, the “Hamilton County Domestic Violence Summit: Collaborating for Safer Communities.”  The goal of this Summit was to improve systemwide responses to domestic violence issues in Hamilton County by exploring ways in which those involved in the criminal and civil justice systems and various community organizations can better communicate and collaborate.  The Summit organizers successfully brought together attendees that included law enforcement, social workers, magistrates and judges, child welfare workers and advocates, victim advocates, probation and parole officers, criminal defense, prosecutors, and domestic relations lawyers, batterer intervention program staff, professors and law students, and mediators.  Here is the Agenda for the Summit.

Summitpiccrowd.jpgThe day began with three training sessions.  Tim Boehnlein, an advocate supervisor from the Cuyahoga County Witness Victim Service Center, presented “Understanding Cases That Don’t Make Sense.”  This session focused on batterer manipulation, the systemic challenges and obstacles victims face, research on recantation, and context for why victims stay in abusive relationships and/or don’t participate in prosecutions.  Anne Murray, Director of the Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit in the Columbus City Attorney’s Office, presented “Domestic Violence and Lethality” which, among other things, discussed research on lethality factors and various assessment tools, and went over the requirements relating to these factors that are included in “Amy’s Law,” the law in Ohio relating to the use of lethality factors in setting bond and sentencing.  Finally, Julie Doepke, Probation Officer Supervisor, Victim Services Unit, Hamilton County Adult Probation Department, presented “Post-Conviction Considerations in Domestic Violence Cases” which included best practices.

Tim Boehnlein, Kristin Kalsem, Anne Murray, Julie Doepke, and Tiffanny Smith

The Keynote Address, “No One Can Do It Alone: Building a Coordinated Community Response to End Gender-Based Abuse,” was given by Kit Gruelle, a nationally recognized trainer on intimate partner abuse.  Ms. Gruelle, an advocate and survivor who was featured in the critically-acclaimed HBO Documentary Private Violence, presented models and best practices for systemwide responses to gender-based abuse based on her more than 30 years’ experience in the field and her extensive work on coordinating community responses.

A highlight of the day for many were the afternoon break-out sessions.  Ten small groups met to discuss two hypothetical situations.  By design, these groups included participants who work in different areas of the system to facilitate discussions from varying perspectives and priorities, to identify potential gaps in the system, and to encourage brainstorming on how to develop collaborative, systemwide strategies for improvement.

The last session was a plenary panel discussion, including Magistrate Kathryn Boller-Koch, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate; Natalia Harris, Chief Counsel, Prosecution Division, City of Cincinnati Law Department; Lt. Col. Michael John, Assistant Police Chief, Cincinnati Police Department; Kathy King, Director of Professional Development and Education, ProKids; and Nina E. Lewis, Multi-Systems Director, Administration, Hamilton County Department of Job & Family Services.  Each of the five panelists spoke briefly about where his or her organization fit into Hamilton County’s systems and structures for addressing and responding to domestic violence, and about that organization’s existing best practices relating to collaborating with others in the system.   The day concluded with the panel transitioning to a discussion of “next steps” that had begun to emerge from the day’s work and the panel’s and audience members’ insights.

Here are a few possible next steps that were suggested to address issues identified at the Summit.

  • Create more collaborations between law enforcement and DV advocates for early and comprehensive response (i.e., DVERT Program (CPD and Women Helping Women) and LAP Program (Colerain PD and YWCA))
  • Improve cultural competency by, for example, recruiting, hiring, and training officers who are multi-lingual, improving and increasing translation services. and hiring more community liaisons to work with and for diverse populations
  • Prosecute strangulations as felonies
  • Collect evidence so that DV cases can be prosecuted without victim participation
  • Provide community education on the impact pf batterer manipulation, why victims don’t leave abusive relationships and/or cooperate with prosecution
  • Use trauma-informed practices with victims
  • Systemwide training for better understanding of protection orders, Amy’s Law, and lethality factors
  • Identify existing resources and gaps in services for children who are abused and exposed to violence

The first post-Summit event, which will include training and opportunities for networking, will be held in January.  If you are interested in receiving information about upcoming events, please send your contact information to [add the center’s email address].  The more people collaborating to address the devastating public health issue that is intimate partner abuse, the better!

This Summit was collaboratively conceived of and organized by individuals at the Hamilton County Adult Probation Department, Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio Justice and Policy Center, University of Cincinnati College of Law Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice, Women Helping Women, and YWCA Greater Cincinnati.

DV Summit Primary Sponsors2

The Summit would not have been possible without the generous funding and support of the  Cincinnati Bar Foundation and the Stephen H. Wilder Foundation.

Kristin Kalsem is the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Co-Director, Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. 

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