by Shena Kitt, InVEST Program Coordinator and Cynthia Rubenstein, MS, LMHC, CCR Specialist Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Navigating criminal justice, legal and social services systems can be a daunting task for survivors of intimate partner violence. However, certified domestic violence centers, social service providers, and legal, criminal justice, and other allied community partners can assist survivors in finding safety and justice through the implementation of proactive strategies that hold perpetrators accountable for their violence. A coordinated community response, such as the Intimate Partner Violence Services Team (InVEST), emphasizes perpetrator responsibility through enhanced criminal justice response and increased support services available to survivors.
InVEST began in Jacksonville, Florida, as a partnership between the local certified domestic violence center, Hubbard House, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and the City of Jacksonville. Between 2006 and 2009, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Office of the Attorney General identified 11 Florida counties with the highest rates of domestic violence homicide to provide funding for the expansion of InVEST in those communities. Since that time, InVEST partnerships have implemented batterer accountability measures and provided enhanced advocacy for more than 3,000 survivors per year who are identified as a high risk of being murdered by their intimate partner. Since the program's inception, there have not been any homicides of InVEST participants. This is particularly notable since InVEST participants enter the program based on their experience of evidence-based, high-risk behaviors perpetrated against them by their partner or ex-partner.
Despite programs such as InVEST, domestic violence homicides continue to occur in alarming numbers in Florida. The Annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics released in May 2018 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reflected a 9.5 percent decrease in domestic violence murders in 2017 from the previous year. However, domestic violence manslaughter deaths increased by 28.6 percent during the same time period. There were a total of 180 domestic violence-related homicides in Florida in 2017.1
It is essential that communities engaged in the work to end domestic violence are familiar with batterer behaviors that have been identified as high-risk indicators for the escalation of violence and lethality. Examples of these indicators include:2
2 Campbell, J. C., Webster, D., Koziol-McLain, J., Block, C., Campbell, D., Curry, M. A., Laughon, K. (2003). Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case-Control Study. American Journal of Public Health, 93(7), 1089 1097.
Survivors are often the most aware of the danger the perpetrator presents to their safety. They experience the threats and violence first hand and understand the perpetrator's capacity for escalation. Survivors who express that their partner will kill them need to be believed and validated. The fear of ongoing violence and death often contributes to why survivors stay in an abusive relationship.
A perpetrator's violence does not simply end when the survivor leaves the relationship but is instead likely to escalate. 3 Leaving or preparing to leave the relationship can be the most dangerous time for a survivor of intimate partner violence. A survivor may only leave when she believes the circumstances are safe to do so or because she believes she will be killed if she stays. Additionally, survivors often stay to protect their children since abusive partners are frequently granted joint custody of children in common when the couple separates. When this occurs, children may be at an increased risk of harm since they spend time with the perpetrator without the survivor there to protect them.
Florida's 42 certified domestic violence centers provide free and confidential services to survivors of domestic violence, including supportive counseling, advocacy, emergency shelter, access to a 24-hour crisis hotline, safety planning, information, and referrals. The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline connects survivors, their friends, family members, and community partners to the certified domestic violence centers in their area. The Florida Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-500-1119 (TDD 1-800-622-4202/ Florida Relay 711). In addition, attorneys are available on the Florida Legal Hotline to answer survivor's legal questions regarding injunctions for protection, divorce, custody, housing, immigration, and other legal matters at no cost. The Legal Hotline may be reached through prompt three on the statewide hotline. Interpreter services are available for survivors with limited English proficiency on both hotlines.
3 United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Crime Victimization Survey, 2015.