The Burden of Restraining the Restrained

Photo1How safe do you feel after going through the process of obtaining a Domestic Violence Restraining Order from your local Superior Court? Many would likely respond that they feel safer…right? After all, if a Judge/Court hears your case and finds that you’ve met your burden of proof, you have done your due diligence to demonstrate that you deserve a restraining order, the intent of which is to protect you from abuse and violence.

Would you respond differently if you were told that, in many cases, abusers are not arrested after violating a court-issued restraining order?  It may be reasonable to respond with follow-up question, why should I obtain a restraining order if there’s a high probability that it will not be enforced? This is a valid question and raises a significant concern – why are some of our local law enforcement agencies refusing to arrest or detain violators of court-ordered restraining orders?

Those atop the law enforcement chain of command often point to lack of resources, unavailability of eligible recruits to increase and fortify police forces, diminishing budgets, and even potential glitches in the local CLETS database1, preventing officers from accessing real-time, accurate information about convicted and alleged abusers.

All of these excuses are offered to deflect responsibility for either not responding to a report of a restraining order violation, or for not arresting or detaining a violator.  In short, the long list of predictable alibis given for inaction allows law enforcement to pass the proverbial ‘hot potato” around in order to avoid getting burned.

Photo 2Clients who seek services from the YWCA’s Legal Advocacy Program often report inexcusable behavior and antagonistic attitudes from law enforcement officers responding to 911 calls reporting violations of restraining orders. Client reports indicate that law enforcement officers often lack empathy and display a lofty, patronizing attitude toward victims holding restraining orders.  On numerous occasions, clients who are victims of domestic violence are told to avoid making “unjustified calls”.  Many clients allege that when officers do respond, more often than not abusers are released with nothing more than a verbal warning.

In some cases, responding officers completely disregard victims’ circumstances.  One client reported that a responding officer advised her to  “put herself in her abuser’s position.”  After all, he explained, “she doesn’t understand what the abuser is going through to commit such acts.”  This statement is not only misguided, but also dangerous.  Who cares about what the victim is experiencing?  The responsibility of an officer is to uphold and enforce the law, not to assume the role of a mediator or conciliator.  This is not only inappropriate, but up to the point at which domestic violence occurs, such options are no longer viable for either party.

Photo 3In one reported case, a YWCA client called 911 on three separate occasions after a restraining order had been granted and was subsequently violated.  On all three occasions, neither an arrest nor a detention was carried out. Deputy sheriffs responding to the calls flatly denied the victim’s request to arrest the abuser.  The abuser knew of the existence of the restraining order, willfully disobeyed it and refused to leave the victim’s home.  Despite sufficient cause to do so, no arrest was made. On each occasion the abuser was present at the victim’s residence and physical abuse and threats ensued, including one incident with a firearm.  Still, the deputy sheriffs refused to arrest the abuser because according to their account of the facts, the CLETS database did not indicated that service of process had been performed.  It should be noted that the victim showed visible signs of physical abuse, which were ignored and undocumented by the responding deputies.  The victim’s 16-year daughter also alleges to have been abused and corroborated the victim’s declaration. One that basis alone, the responding officers have sufficient cause to detain the suspect and physically remove him from the victim.  That, unfortunately, did not occur, which leads to a compelling question: If after the responding officers left the residence, the undetained abuser physically injured or killed the victim, would the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office be liable?

This victim’s statement regarding the conduct of law enforcement suggests a patronizing attitude by responding deputies, as well as a lack of empathy and regard for the victim’s safety and wellbeing and what she was experiencing.

These are actual cases that our clients have conveyed regarding less-than-helpful experiences with law enforcement officials in Monterey County. Domestic violence is a serious and pervasive issue within our community, and should be addressed with the same rigor and intention as other egregious crimes.  Victims deserve to have their concerns and allegations treated seriously, with a high level of attention and care.  They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity by law enforcement – the same individuals who purport to be the defenders of public safety.  The burden of enforcing a restraining order should not fall upon the victim.

Without enforceability, a restraining order becomes less of a figurative bulletproof shield and nothing more than a piece of official-looking paper.  It is imperative that both our community in general and law enforcement agencies specifically understand the importance of proactively responding to domestic violence calls, as well as committing to a positive change of attitude toward victim advocacy. As a domestic violence prevention and intervention agency, the YWCA is currently working closely with law enforcement agencies throughout Monterey County to assure that victims feel safer and have more trust for and confidence in their interactions with the law enforcement community. Those who work in victim support services are formidable and vocal advocates for evolving the perspective of law enforcement offers toward victims of domestic violence.  Despite the occasional obstacle along the path toward victim safety, nothing will deflect our commitment, work, and advocacy towards our clients.  The YWCA calls upon the leadership of all law enforcement agencies within Monterey County to adopt a victim-centric culture of internal operations and response interactions.

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Daniel Gonzalez is the Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the YWCA Monterey County.  He is a 2014 alumnus of the Monterey College of Law.

1 CLETS is an acronym that stands for California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System.  It is a high-speed message switching system, which became operational in 1970. CLETS provides law enforcement and criminal justice agencies access to various databases and the ability to transmit and receive point-to-point administrative messages to other agencies within California or via the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) to other states and Canada

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Can Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapy technique, accelerate healing in survivors of domestic violence? After a review of current research and a little personal experience, the short answer is, yes.

EMDR 1The majority of clients that walk through our doors are victims of domestic violence (DV).  Their stories are painful and the complex symptoms that emerge following chronic interpersonal traumatization have a profound effect on their sense of self, ability to regulate moods and impulses and their ability to form and maintain healthy, secure attachments.  Many of these clients meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as currently outlined in the DSM-V(American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

All of our therapist interns at the YWCA of Monterey County are trained to provide therapeutic treatments that have been widely studied and have been proven to reduce the effects of trauma on these individuals and families.  Recently, two YWCA interns completed additional training to begin using EMDR, an evidence-based treatment technique that has proven effective for victims of trauma.   I am one of those interns and the initial feedback from my clients has been promising.

One tremendous benefit of EMDR is the ability to relieve symptoms quickly in selected clients. Research has shown that brief EMDR treatment produces substantial and sustained reduction of PTSD and depression in most victims of adult onset trauma.  In one study, researchers examined 24 subjects who had just five sessions of EMDR therapy for the treatment of PTSD. After the five-session treatment, 67% of the subjects no longer met criteria for PTSD (compared to 10% of the control group), and there were significant differences post-treatment between the groups in Global Assessment of Function (GAF) scores and Hamilton Depression scores(Högberg, Pagani, Sundin, Soares, Aberg-Wistedt, Tärnell, Hällström, 2007). I have seen positive results in two of my trauma clients after only two EMDR sessions.  The first client had a significant reduction of anxiety symptoms and increased feelings of empowerment after the initial session of EMDR and the other found that her feelings of generalized fear and worthlessness were significantly reduced following two sessions.

Clients who are victims of long-term childhood neglect and emotional abuse may take longer to prepare for the intensive emotional processing of EMDR. These clients are showing slower but significant improvement in affect regulation and self-esteem.  Trauma treatment experts have come to a general consensus that work with survivors of childhood abuse and other forms of chronic traumatization should be phase-oriented, multimodal and titrated (Korn, 2009).  With these clients, a phase-oriented EMDR model works well in combination with other forms of evidence-based psychotherapy such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), mindfulness-based therapies and psychodynamic therapy.

EMDR 2So what makes EMDR effective?

Emotional Trauma:

When disturbing events occur, they are stored in the brain as a memory, with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompanied the event.  These memories become frozen, or stuck in the brain in what is referred to as an isolated neural network.  You can think of these memory fragments as individual puzzle pieces stored in the nervous system. Usually, an individual goes through their day without consciously thinking about the past traumatic event.  However, the trauma, accompanied by negative messages about the self, remains locked in the brain.

Emotional triggers seem to bring these negative thought patterns to the surface and the individual feels the same way she did when the trauma occurred.  She might even experience the same smells and sounds that occurred during the original event.  Painful negative thought patterns such as “I am worthless”,  “I am unlovable” or “I am not safe” often accompany the feelings.

How does EMDR work?

The EMDR technique unlocks the negative memories and emotions that are stored in the brain.  EMDR helps put these memory fragments or puzzle pieces together and connects the isolated neural network to the rest of the brain network.  This new neural pathway can then eventually replace the old pathway – the one that caused the individual to feel, think and react in a negative way.

EMDR 3It is not clear to researchers precisely how EMDR works to integrate the memory, but a recent neuroimaging study measuring brain electrical signals using electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring during EMDR therapy has proven there is a neurobiological effect (Pagani, Högberg, Fernandez & Siracusano, 2013).

It is believed that the bilateral brain stimulation that occurs when an individual glances back and forth while remembering the trauma during EMDR sessions helps to reprocess the memory in a more healthy and adaptive way.  The effect may be similar to the rapid eye movement (REM) that occurs while we sleep.

The bottom line is, EMDR can enable a client to gain a new perspective and self-awareness that helps her choose her actions, rather than feeling powerless as she reacts to traumatic memories.  While EMDR techniques are not appropriate for all individuals, so far it has been an extremely useful tool to accelerate the therapeutic process for many of my clients.

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Cindy Mangiola, M.A., MFTI

Marriage and Family Therapist Intern

YWCA of Monterey County

 

References

American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Högberg G, Pagani M, Sundin O, Soares J, Aberg-Wistedt A, Tärnell B, Hällström T. (2007). On treatment with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder in public transportation workers–a randomized controlled trial. Nord Journal of Psychiatry, 61(1): 54-61.

Korn, D. (2009). EMDR and the treatment of complex PTSD: A review.  Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 3(4): 264-278.

Pagani, M., Högberg, G., Fernandez, I., & Siracusano, A. (2013). Correlates of EMDR Therapy in Functional and Structural Neuroimaging: A Critical Summary of Recent Findings. Journal Of EMDR Practice And Research, 7(1), 29-38.

A Response to Derek Medina: Social Media and Intervention Strategies as a Domestic Violence Resource in Our Community.

Mass Media 1In this day and age, violence is everywhere – in movies, cartoons, reality TV, magazines, video games, music, etc. All platforms share the same social media off of which we base our own individual culture … Or do we?

Since around the 1960s and the birth of rock-n’-roll (or even track back to the 1920s’ evolution of jazz and blues), America has had moral input into that with which we surround ourselves and listen to, output by media moguls. Thus, the idea of censorship has always tagged along with our first amendment rights. What is appropriate and inappropriate is eventually controlled by FCC once an individual sense of expression is introduced to a public forum. This begs the question, to whom are we expressing ourselves? Perhaps more importantly, from whom are we getting these ideas in the first place? Is it really individual thought or even rebellion posed as expression, or just a subliminal message introduced to us by these public forums that are restricting the very right and art form we are supposed to be encouraged to displaying?

Media conglomerates define us as ‘individuals’, while undermining our freedoms to individual success by masking our life ambitions with materialism, stereotypes, and tunnel vision. This may explain increased rates of violent incidents such as mass shootings, bullying, and domestic violence. When stress occurs, we become reduced to looking to public figures rather than our own local resources, which are readily available, because our vision and standard of living is restricted by a larger, unseen force.

This perplexity is explained in the 2012 documentary film, Miss Representation, “It has been proved in the field of advertising that sex sells, and companies race their commercials and magazine advertisements to an invisible finish line to see who can be more daring and provocative”  (Steve Pulaski, IMDB). This can easily be compared to the media and violence as well.

Flash forward to August 8th, 2013.  Posted as an update with social networking mogul, Facebook, internet trend sharing company BuzzFeed revealed gruesome details of the murder of South Florida resident Jennifer Alfonso by her husband, Derek Medina. The author of the piece warned the audience of “graphic images”.  That said, nothing could have prepared me for the shock and alarm I experience when I scrolled through the text and was confronted with a mobile phone picture of Jennifer Alfonso, dead – shot several time and slumped backward in a kitchen corner. It was horrifying to see a once-vibrant human being now lifeless and dead.  Even more shocking was that this execution-style murder was allowed to be distributed among trending sites and subsequently to a global audience (daring not to refer to it as “journalism). Facebook was a prime sharing platform for the horrible image.  Perhaps even more shocking was the accompanying link to Derek Medina’s Facebook profile link, where the image was originally posted.

Mass Media 3What was the point of this public exhibition of gore?

I have argued that contemporary media – filled with vulgar sexual and violent content – has only served to push proverbial buttons and activate “hotspots” in the social-psychological areas of our brains.  Yet, people forget that the content with which we’re presented in the media is all relative to how we perceive our own realities. Looking to outside sources to channel our emotions has surpassed what most would consider healthy levels.

What happened to having a meaningful conversation with someone, in good times or bad? When was the last time you, as a consumer, took the time out of your day to physically relieve stress in a positive way? When was the last time you were without your phone and weren’t worried about it? We’ve become so dependent on mass media to meet our emotional and social needs that we don’t seem to be able to recall what life is like without it.  Anything that is fed to us through music, TV, video games, movies, magazines, and so-called “news” becomes our reality. We manifest this projection of “reality” in our actions, without self-evaluation and sense of identity.

This is what is lacking . . . a sense of individual worth.

This is what creates stress and unrealistic perception of others, as well as ourselves. It’s what fuels anger and loneliness. It’s what promotes violence, bloodshed, and death. The mental switch that regulates empathy and morality becomes broken.  As a society, we must act with unity and intent to ‘fix it’; after all, we got into this mess together . . .

As a prevention educator for middle school and high school youth, I’ve noticed what young minds feed off of – a sense of self-worth through environmental identity. They are sponges for anything their community is feeding them, including perceptions of “normal” violent activity and “acceptable” media dependency. They are our next generation, but their faces are glued to their phones.  Should we wonder why teenage suicide rates are rising among younger age groups?  Is it any surprise that school shootings have become a rising American trend over the past decade?

MAss Media 2There is little information about Derek Medina, but while this case remains active, additional details are sure to emerge. What we do know is that he worked as a property management supervisor and was an aspiring actor and writer. His Facebook profile shows that he had an interest in martial arts and weaponry.He had a small stint as an actor and was an extra in a scene on the TV series Burn Notice. He alos published many “self-help” e-books.  In a tragic twist of fate, some of these e-books were written about saving one’s marriage.  In his horrific Facebook post, he alleges that he was being abused by his wife and that he often turned to Facebook to mitigate stress.  Medina even went so far as to apologize to his “Facebook family” after murdering his wife.  After a period of five hours, Facebook removed the gruesome image of Jennifer Alfonso’s murdered body, but not after BuzzFeed shared it with the world.

What did BuzzFeed want to prove with all this? That answer isn’t clear.

What is clear is that if we want to see change, we must start with ourselves. If we want to end violence, which ultimately affects us all, we must emulate respect, empathy, and compassion.  Violence in our culture is pervasive and unlikely to abate anytime soon. However we can choose to reach out to those closest to us, particularly in times of duress (as opposed to ignoring or actively pushing them away, or assuming that “everything is fine”). We can choose to focus on the positive contributions that others make – either to those around them, or to society in general.  We can choose to acknowledge good people who have a consistent ‘presence’ and availability for all levels of help and support (e.g., expert local community agencies) as we move forward.  Eventually, we will come to the realization that mass media only provides a very narrow slice reality – life, in all of its richness, complexity and variety – is so much more interesting than the media could ever capture.

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Germaine Caldwell

Youth Education & Advocacy Coordinator

YWCA Monterey County

Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of Abusers: The Disarming Reality

Guns and DV 1Firearms and domestic violence are a lethal combination.  About two thirds of intimate partner homicides in the U.S. are committed using guns, underscoring the fact that women face real and significant danger from guns in the hands of their intimate partners1.

According to one study of crime data from 1976-1987, more women were shot and killed by a husband or intimate partner than were murdered by strangers using firearms, knives, or any other means.2 Another study showed that when an abusive partner has access to firearms, a woman is 500 times more likely to be murdered by that abuser3.  Her risk is highest immediately after leaving her abuser, a phenomenon known as separation violence.  The act of separating is a direct challenge to an abuser’s sense of control and in response, the abuser may take extreme measures to reestablish control.  In the most extreme case of IPV during this volatile time, the result is murder.

Some research indicates that interventions such as domestic violence restraining orders (DVRO) help women separate from their abusers, reducing the risk of IPV.  Federal and state laws designed to prohibit restrained abusers from purchasing and possessing firearms can enhance the protective effects of a DVRO.  However, even where such laws exist, ineffective implementation by the civil and criminal justice system, mean that survivors of domestic violence are at continued risk of death or serious injury.

Guns and DV 2The Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and those under certain domestic violence restraining orders4 (a restraining order is a court order that limits one person’s behaviors in order to protect another).

Similarly, twenty states (including California) and the District of Columbia bar persons who are subject to a domestic violence protective order from purchasing or possessing some or all firearms. State laws fall into two categories: 1) laws authorizing police to remove firearms when responding to a domestic violence complaint (“police gun removal laws”), and 2) laws authorizing courts to order guns removed from batterers through a protective order (“court-ordered removal laws”).

Many states exceed federal law by including a broader category of victims who may apply for a domestic violence protective order prohibiting firearms.  Laws mandating the removal of firearms from abusers have substantial support from both the law enforcement community and the public, especially in those circumstances when a gun is displayed during a domestic violence incident5.  Nevertheless, impediments exist that prevent full implementation – there are loopholes in legislation; lack of supporting legislation at the state level, and spotty implementation of laws by police and judges.

In California, an abuser (i.e., the ‘restrained party’) must surrender their firearms to a local law enforcement agency or sell them to a licensed dealer within 24 hours of the restraining order being served5.

Guns and DV 3Research by Vittes and Sorenson4 found that only 7.9% of victims of intimate partner homicide (1.8% of male victims and 9.5% of female victims) in California in 2004 were protected by a restraining order at the time they were killed. An additional 1.7% of female intimate partner homicide victims had an expired restraining order. A firearm was used to kill 48.1% of those without an active restraining order, 43.5% of those with an active restraining order, and 50.0% of those with an expired restraining order.  Apparently at least some portion of restrained persons continued to have guns and to use them against their partners.

The ability of DVROs to prevent gun-related threats and assaults rests almost entirely in the implementation and enforcement of and compliance with the associated firearm purchase and possession prohibitions.

In a study recently published in Violence Against Women, Vittes et al6 found that most restraining order recipients in California wanted firearms to be removed from their abusers, and that doing so would increase their sense of safety.  In the context of DVROs, judges can be key allies in post-separation.  Unfortunately, most women in the study reported that judges neither inquired about the existence of firearms nor order their surrender.  While certainly alarming, these findings reinforce previous studies showing that in California, judges often failed to require relinquishment when issuing restraining orders.

Further confounding the issue is that police officers often lack the legal authority to remove all firearms from restrained abusers.  In some cases where victims reported that a restrained abuser was in possession of firearms and the abuser denies such claims, police officers often lacked the legal jurisdiction to conduct a search and seizure.

Is it any wonder that victims of domestic violence feel continually disempowered and scared?

Clearly, legislation is not enough. California has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation, but a lack of political will, resource limitations, and a lack of awareness about the gravity of domestic violence prevent adequate implementation and enforcement of firearm restrictions related to domestic violence.

When an offender has easy access to guns or slips through the proverbial cracks in the legal system, there is nothing more dangerous for a victim.  In a moment of rage or loss of control, a woman’s life can (and does) end in an instant.

We can do better than this… and we will.

Within the YWCA’s Legal Advocacy Program, we ensure that clients are well-informed about the firearm-related provision of protective orders and whether or not they been implemented, thus improving enforcement.

We will be stepping up our efforts to cultivate relationships with court officials to ensure that judges take every opportunity to question restrained parties about the presence or possession of firearms when issues of domestic violence are presented in court.  In cases where a DVRO petitioner is unsure if the restrained party/defendant possesses firearms, the judge should require the restrained party – under oath – to submit a list of all firearms either in his direct possession or ownership, so that all can be relinquished by law enforcement.  In cases where abusers claim to have “sold” firearms coincident at the time of domestic violence, judges should request supporting documentation proving a bon fide sale to a gun dealer (i.e., and not to a family member, friend, or acquaintance from whom the guns can be easily and quickly retrieved).

We are also working closely with the Monterey County Police Chiefs Association to identify actions that improve compliance and strike a balance between seizure, receipt, and storage of firearms from restrained abusers and the best use of limited resources.  Also, increased monitoring of relevant firearms databases will ensure that abusers don’t escape the attention of the FBI and State law enforcement agencies.

Guns and DV 4Finally, the YWCA is increasing the number and scope of its domestic violence certification and outreach programs.  Training is provided to members of the law enforcement, criminal justice, and advocacy agencies, as well as community agencies involved with domestic violence prevention and awareness.  The training is geared to address the specific needs of small towns and rural areas, which are characteristic of Monterey County.  In this way, the YWCA can directly address the lack of awareness regarding the seriousness of domestic violence with those on the proverbial front lines.

Although well-intentioned, research on the issue of firearms and the DVRO process suggests that there are significant gaps in enforcement from courts and law enforcement agencies. The result is often severe injury and even death for some women.

Firearm restrictions for known domestic violence abusers reduces violence and save lives – it’s that simple.

At the YWCA, we will do everything within our power to ensure that victims of domestic violence feel safe in our community, particularly during the volatile stage of separating from her abuser.

Sincerely,

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Cheryl M. McCormick, Ph.D.

Executive Director

YWCA Monterey County

 

Sources:

1 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Trends in the U.S., Intimate Homicide Victims by Weapon and Gender. Available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/tables/intweaptab.htm.

2Frattaroli S., 2009. Removing Guns from Domestic Violence Offenders: An Analysis of State Level Policies to Prevent Future Abuse. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

3Campbell J.C., Webster D.W., and J. Koziol-McLain, 2003. Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study. American Journal of Public Health; 93:1089-1097.

4 Vittes, K.A. and S.B. Sorenson, 2008.  Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of Abusers: Handgun Purchases and Restraining Orders, American Journal of Public Health; 98(5).

5Sorenson, S.B., 2006.  Taking Guns from Batterers: Public Support and Policy Implications.  Evaluation Review, 30:361-373.

6Vittes, K.A., Webster, D.W., Frattaroli, Claire, B.E., and G.J. Wintemute, 2013. Removing Guns from Batterers: Finders From a Pilot Survey of Domestic Violence Restraining Order Recipients in California.  Violence Against Women, 19(5):602-615.