Collaboration and Innovation

Let’s be honest.  When you do domestic violence work, you don’t get a lot of wins.  Sometimes it seems like we take two steps forward one week, only to go three steps back the next week.

Last week, in Louisville, we had a BIG win.  Marta Miranda, President and CEO of the Center for Women and Families, announced a collaborative, innovative effort with the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) called the Lethality Assessment Project.  This project has significantly reduced domestic violence homicides in every community where it exists.  It is already connecting Louisville’s most high risk domestic violence victims with services at the time they most need them – when they are in crisis.

First, a little background on how this program came to Louisville.  At the Mary Byron Project, we believe that one of the keys to ending domestic violence is finding innovative programs in communities across the country that are making an impact.  We believe that if these programs can be replicated in other communities, real change will take place.  Through our Celebrating Solutions Program, we find these innovations, reward them with a cash grant, and encourage replication in other communities.

In 2010, one of our Celebrating Solutions award winners was the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program.  This program trains police officers responding to domestic violence crisis calls to give victims at the scene and 11 question lethality risk assessment.  Those that score high on the assessment (meaning they are high risk of serious assault or death), are connected with the local shelter through the police officer immediately.  Research shows the 96% of domestic violence homicide victims have NEVER had contact with services.  Finding a way to connect these high risk victims with services is a key to reducing homicides.  Since its inception, the Maryland program has seen a 40%-50% reduction in domestic violence homicides.  The 12 other communities that have replicated the Maryland program have seen similar, equally dramatic, reductions in domestic violence homicides. 

Through the dedication of the Center for Women and Families and the LMPD, this program is now in our community.  The Center has committed a 24 hour telephone line to be used only for officers to call and connect high risk victims with services.  They have also dedicated space to house these high risk victims, even when the shelter is full.  LMPD has committed to training its officers to use the lethality assessment tools to help save victims’ lives.  In the first three months of operation, officers identified over 200 victims that were at high risk of assault or death.  Of those, 175 received services from the Center for Women and Families. 

At the Mary Byron Project, we are proud that we were able to help bring this innovative program to our own community.  We’re also proud that our community partners saw this as an opportunity collaborate with one another to make a real impact in the lives of domestic violence victims.

Collaboration and innovation equals a big win for Louisville.


The Color Purple

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Ask anyone the color of breast cancer awareness and they will tell you pink.  Pink is everywhere this month.  There are breast cancer walks in nearly every community with survivors, friends, family members all wearing pink.  The American Institute for Cancer Research has a website dedicated to getting “pink on purpose.”  There’s a pink store that sells pink items and even a collection of pink recipes. 

October is a month awash in pink, and, rightly so.  Everyone knows someone, a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance, which has battled breast cancer.  That is why we care so much, why we walk to raise awareness and why we fund prevention and treatment.  Breast cancer is a horrific disease, affecting one in eight women.  Hopefully, awareness, funding, and research will eliminate this monster before the next generation suffers.

 Domestic violence affects twice as many women as breast cancer.  One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime.  Homicide is the number one cause of death for women on the job and, far too often, it is the result of intimate partner violence.  Whether we realize it or not, we all know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence.  One in four.  Take any group of four women – at your workplace, in your family, at your church, in the supermarket.  One of them has been a victim of violence at the hands of a person she loved and trusted.  Like breast cancer, domestic violence causes immeasurable suffering for the victim and her family and, like breast cancer, all too often it causes death.

 The color for domestic violence awareness month is purple.  Why don’t we see domestic violence awareness walks in every community this month, with survivors and their loved ones all wearing purple?  Why is there no purple store or a collection of purple recipes?  Is it because we care less?  Is it because we don’t know what to do?  Is it because violence against women has been accepted, even sanctioned, for generations?  Is it because victims still feel shame and embarrassment?  There’s no shame in getting breast cancer; such a diagnosis is a viewed as a random act of fate.  But we still blame victims of domestic violence, for causing the violence and for staying in the relationship.  If we can give domestic violence survivors the same support we give to breast cancer survivors, this scourge that injures and kills one in four of our sisters, mothers, nieces, aunts, and friends can be eradicated before it takes yet another generation of people we love.

 So what can you do?  First, give.  Give to shelters, and then, stretch and give to  programs that make it their mission to end this crime in our lifetime.  Why isn’t it enough to give to shelters?   Shelters do terrific work and they always need money.  Their mission is crisis intervention.  But we know that intimate partner violence is a generational crime, one learned at home.  If all we do is intervene, what will change?  How will this crime be ended?  Giving only to shelters is the same as giving only to fund breast cancer treatment and not also supporting prevention.  Organizations like the Mary Byron Project are dedicated to ending domestic violence so that crisis intervention will no longer be necessary. 

Second, start the conversation about domestic violence with friends, loved ones, co-workers, anyone you meet.  Understand that each and every day you are coming in contact with victims of domestic violence and the attitudes you express can and will impact whether or not they seek help.  If victims hear other victims being blamed, how do they think they will be treated if they come forward to try and escape the violence in their own lives?  Domestic violence affects all of us, whether we know it or not.  What we say and do impacts victims each and every day.

 And, at least for the month of October, put a little more purple in your life.