More than 12 million men and women were victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and Richmond hasn’t escaped the problem.
Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French estimated that the RPD sees 20-30 domestic violence cases a month. STAND! For Families Free of Violence, which works with victims in Contra Costa County, receives more than 15,000 clients a year, said Gloria Sandoval, the group’s CEO.
Sandoval said Richmond is one of the cities with the highest reports of domestic violence in Contra Costa County. STAND’s headquarters is located in Concord, but it has smaller offices located throughout the county, including one in Richmond, and Sandoval said she’s a proud Richmond resident.
Sandoval has worked with STAND! for 15 years, and before that led Richmond’s Rape Crisis Center. She called her fight against domestic violence a lifelong career, and said she became passionate to help others after escaping from her own domestically abusive relationship.
“To help these women is personal to me,” she said.
STAND! works through different outlets in Richmond. It has an advocate within the Richmond Police Department, provides interpreters for domestic violence cases, offers legal advocacy for victims to navigate the bureaucratic path to successfully resolving an abusive situation, and has numerous programs, such as language classes, to help victims advance out of their situation.
STAND! also has a shelter for victims, with 24 beds where victims can stay for up to 12 weeks. It also provides a longer-term housing option for victims during their transition out of the abusive situation.
STAND! works with CalWORKS to help provide career services to the victims as well, but Sandoval said sometimes the women are hesitant because they have been threatened by their significant others to prevent them from becoming financially independent.
“We’re trying to interrupt the cycle,” Sandoval said.
She said she believed Richmond’s high domestic violence reports could be attributed to factors like poverty, culture and community.
French, a former detective and sergeant in the Domestic and Sexual Violence Unit, said that addressing domestic violence is a priority for RPD.
“Domestic violence happens in every community no matter how rich you are or how poor you are,” French said.
Richmond, though, has worked to better respond to domestic violence cases.
“More women are seeing resources to help them,” French said. She said the Family Justice Center in the RPD Hilltop substation, is frequently used by domestic violence victims seeking help. Increased knowledge about domestic violence and resources to help victims has also increased the rate of reports in Richmond, Sandoval said, because more victims are willing to come to police to report violence. She said Police Chief Magnus is improving community relationships, and improving trust between the community and the justice system.
“When they realize that they’re not alone they find it easier to report,” she said. According to a survey by Lieberman Research Inc. nationally one in four women are currently or have been involved in an abusive relationship.
Sandoval said in the past police played a more inactive and passive method in handling domestic violence situations.
“Now it’s no more ‘walk and talk’,” she said, referring to the practice of police officers responding to domestic violence calls by talking to the man, seemingly decreasing the intensity of the situation, and then leaving.
French confirmed that officers are processing domestic violence calls differently, and that in accordance with California law officers called into a domestic violence situation make an arrest if evidence is present. There’s no deciding to arrest or not based on the discretion of the officer.
“We don’t want to just let them patch it up, and then go on our merry way,” French said, “we want to fix the problem.”
In a scenario in which a victim or witness calls in to report a case of domestic violence, officers arrive on the scene and if the accused perpetrator is still present he or she is arrested. French said that although the majority of perpetrators in these cases are men, RPD does receive calls regarding women.
If the perpetrator is not present the victim is issued an emergency protective order, to decrease the chances of the abuser returning and doing further harm.
Sandoval also said that Magnus helped obtained state funding for a STAND! advocate to be placed in the RPD. Many times this advocate partners up with other anti-violence groups to aid in situations involving the RPD, such as prostitution stings. The advocates speak with the women involved to determine if domestic violence played a role in connection with prostitution, and then determine which way to proceed.
Sandoval said that many of the calls STAND! receives to report domestic violence are not first timers.
“Women will leave seven to eight times before they leave permanently,” she said.
STAND! also provides a batterers treatment program for convicted domestic violence perpetrators, who can be appointed by the court to go through a program in lieu of jail time.
STAND! also has youth group programs, in which the organization works with children in elementary and high school, both girls and boys, to illustrate early the effects of domestic violence and encourage younger generations to help put a stop to it.