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Domestic Violence Prevention Fund (2016)

Domestic Violence Prevention Fund


In 2016, the RI General Assembly passed legislation to establish a Domestic Violence Prevention Fund—Rhode Island's first dedicated state funding that will support strategies for stopping the cycle of domestic violence before it starts.

The Prevention Fund was created through an additional $200,000 in the state budget (rather than the proposed increase to the state's marriage license fee).

Report: Domestic Violence Homicides in RI (2016)


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In February 2016, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) released Domestic Violence Homicides in Rhode Island, 2006-2015, a first-of-its-kind report for the State of Rhode Island.

The report contains key findings, homicide incident descriptions, and recommendations for preventing future domestic violence homicides in Rhode Island.

For more information and to access the full report, click here.

Court Advocacy Funding Restored (2013)


In 2013, our primary focus was addressing the funding cuts to the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program.

 

  • The Victory

  • Media Advocacy

After years of budget cuts to state services, the program, which serves over 8,000 victims annually, had endured a 70% decrease in funding by 2013 and was forced to close its offices on Mondays. This closure was the first time in the program's 25-year history that advocates were not available when court was in session.

The RICADV led our member agencies, SOAR, allied organizations and community supporters in the effort to convince our legislators to restore funding.

It was an amazing victory when the Rhode Island legislature agreed to restore $100,000 to the program, a much-needed lifeline for domestic violence victims. Special thanks are due to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senator Maryellen Goodwin, and former Representative Elaine A. Coderre for their support.

Through our media advocacy efforts for the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, we were able to help restore funding to vital services that save lives.

Our press event outside of the Garrahy Courthouse was well-attended by supporters, public officials, and survivors. Rhode Island's major news stations featured the issue, as did The Providence Journal with a top-fold cover story.

The RICADV created this graphic featuring a SOAR member standing in front of the Garrahy Courthouse to mobilize our supporters through a simple yet powerful message – don't let domestic violence victims stand alone.

 

Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program

Anti-Strangulation Bill (2012)

The Anti-Strangulation Bill was one of the RICADV's main legislative priorities in 2012 after the large number of homicides that occurred in Rhode Island in 2010.

When an abuser strangles their victim, they are showing that they have the victim's life in their hands and that they have the power to end it.

Injuries caused by strangulation assaults are themselves very dangerous, such as neurological damage sustained from lack of oxygen to the brain. Furthermore, a victim who is strangled by their abuser is 9.9 times more likely to be killed than one who is not. To learn more about strangulation and domestic violence, view our fact sheet here.

Strangulation assaults are one of the top five lethality indicators for domestic violence homicides. Yet despite their lethal nature, strangulation assaults are generally charged as misdemeanor simple assaults (§11-5-3) under current Rhode Island law.

By elevating these dangerous, damaging crimes to a felony level, police officers, prosecutors and advocates will be able to better protect the lives of domestic violence victims and children and help stop domestic violence homicides. This important bill provides police officers and prosecutors with a much-needed tool to hold the most dangerous batterers accountable and protect the lives of Rhode Islanders.

Domestic Violence & Firearms Protocol (2011)

Domestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol

Firearms Report & ProtocolIn the summer of 2005, the Homicide Prevention Act became law (R.I.G.L. §8-8.1-3 and §15-15-3), and Rhode Island became the 41st state to restrict the possession of firearms when a restraining order has been issued.

In September 2006, the RICADV had the opportunity to bring together representatives from the criminal justice field and domestic violence advocates to attend a national summit addressing the issue of firearms and domestic violence.

The group returned from the conference and established the Firearms and Domestic Violence Taskforce (FADVTF). Their goal was to develop and recommend policies, protocols and procedures that would strengthen the judicial, law enforcement and advocate response for cases of domestic abuse involving firearms.

Their first project was to create a uniform model protocol for law enforcement agencies to use when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms, which resulted in the report Domestic Violence and Firearms: A Model Protocol.

The information presented in this report explains the research process and findings and provides recommendations to ensure that the protections provided by R.I.G.L. §8-8.1-3 and §15-15-3 will help save the lives of those victims whose abusers own firearms.

For more information about domestic violence and firearms, view our fact sheet here.

 

  • Process

  • Findings

  • Recommendations

Before writing the protocol, the FADVTF first needed to identify the current practices that police departments were utilizing and the challenges they were facing with these types of cases. To do so, they decided to conduct a statewide survey of all police departments.

In February 2008, Professor Daniel J. Knight from Salve Regina University’s Criminal Justice Program agreed to direct the survey project.

Professor Knight’s graduate student research team conducted a statewide survey of local law enforcement agencies and the Rhode Island State Police. The research team used three data collection methods:

  • Surveying local law enforcement agencies to determine their current practices and protocols when responding to domestic violence calls involving firearms
  • Conducting three key informant interviews to gain further insight on the issue from state and federal perspectives
  • Reviewing and analyzing state and federal laws relating to firearms and domestic violence

The research team completed their data collection in January 2009.

The key informant interviews revealed that nearly all of Rhode Island’s law enforcement agencies have common practices for assessing the presence of weapons at a scene and for the removal of firearms when an incident results in an arrest or when a protective order exists.

However, according to the survey results, the practices among police departments differ when they encounter non-arrest situations, which occur when there is no probable cause for arrest or when there is a question regarding the existence of a valid restraining order. Under these circumstances, police departments utilize an assortment of practices to determine if firearm seizure is warranted.

In addition, the research team concluded that law enforcement officers have different interpretations of Rhode Island General Law §15-15-3 (5) and that the statewide database, RONCO (Restraining Orders No Contact Orders), is not a reliable tool to validate the existence of a restraining order or No Contact Order.

After reviewing the results of the survey, key informant interviews, analysis of state and federal laws and policies from other jurisdictions, the FADVTF proposed the following recommendations:

Legislative Recommendations

  • Prohibit the possession of firearms by a third party residing in the same household or building as the defendant

Law Enforcement Recommendations

  • Conduct follow-up investigations whenever the defendant does not surrender firearms in compliance with a restraining order
  • Revoke any existing gun license and forward the information to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Division Counsel, since federal law prohibits possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a domestic violence-related offense
  • Develop, create and distribute a model uniform policy for the police response to domestic violence calls involving firearms (see the “Model Law Enforcement Policy” that begins on page 11 in the report)

Training Recommendations

  • Address RONCO data entry issues to improve the accuracy and timeliness of information
  • Educate third parties who agree to take possession of firearms for defendants on their obligations under state and federal law; prosecute those who fail to comply
  • Offer key stakeholders training on firearm laws
Report: Safety for Children (2010)

Safety for Children
A report on the impact of Rhode Island's custody system on victims of domestic violence and their children

Safety for Children ReportEven when victims of domestic violence attempt to build violence-free lives and protect their children, they too often continue to suffer injustice and abuse throughout the child custody and visitation process. As a result of this issue surfacing as a priority concern for its members, SOAR, with the support of the RICADV, launched the Child Custody and Visitation Solutions (CCVS) Project in 2007.

The objective of the project was to assess the effects of the custody and visitation process on domestic violence victims and their children and to create solutions to improve the system.

The importance of a collaborative process and community leadership led to the creation of the Child Custody and Visitation Advisory Committee (CCVAC). The role of the Advisory Committee was to guide the process and to facilitate the examination of the system’s response to victims and their children.

From May to October 2008, data was gathered through different methods, including surveys of survivors, focus groups, key informant interviews, case reviews, and research. The data was reviewed by members of the CCVAC, who then crafted the final recommendations.

This work resulted in the Safety for Children report, which was published in 2010 and can be read in full here.

 

 

  • Findings

  • Recommendations

SOAR and the Child Custody and Visitation Advisory Committee (CCVAC) examined the strengths and gaps of the child custody and visitation process in cases involving domestic violence.

In addition to meeting with attorneys and judges, SOAR held numerous focus groups and collected 101 surveys from domestic violence survivors who had gone through, or were currently going through, the Rhode Island child custody and visitation process.

From the information gathered, the committee identified some of the key problems of the Rhode Island family court system’s child custody and visitation process:

Children continue to suffer violence and abuse during the child custody and visitation process.

Violence continued to be a part of children’s lives, even as their victimized parent sought safety, in an overwhelming majority of the cases reviewed.

  • 89% of the survey respondents stated that their children witnessed domestic violence before and/or during the custody and visitation process.
  • According to survey respondents, 71% of their children were also abused by the abusive parent, and many of these children suffered from more than one type of abuse (Figure 1).
  • Moreover, 53% of the survey respondents reported that the child abuse occurred during visitation.
  • In spite of this reality, 58% of the participants’ cases where abuse was present were decided in favor of joint custody.
  • According to the survey results, the majority of children suffered some negative emotional and/or psychological consequences from the process (Figure 3). At least two parents in the survey commented on suicidal behavior by their children: “(My) five-year-old said she didn’t want to live, life was 'too difficult.'"

Services to protect children are insufficient.

  • Focus group participants had very little information about the Supervised Visitation Program. The main source of information they had about this service came from other survivors or another third party.
  • Focus group participants also expressed a distrust of the Supervised Visitation Program.
  • 75% of the survey participants who accessed supervised visitation services were unsatisfied with the supervision. “Lack of proper supervision” was the most frequent explanation for this dissatisfaction.

Child custody and visitation cases drive victims of domestic violence into debt and poverty.

  • 73% of victims surveyed were employed at the beginning of the child custody case.
  • About one-third reported to have lost their jobs as a direct consequence of the custody case. Another one-third perceived that the custody case had negative consequences on their employment (Figure 5).
  • According to the case reviews conducted, most cases had a final disposition in approximately one year, although subsequent miscellaneous motions made different proceedings ongoing. One woman reported being involved in different court proceedings for about 17 years.
  • For many survivors, the court process resembled the cycle of violence in abusive relationships (Figure 6).
    • “The tension phase” manifested itself by the abuser’s escalation of conflict and tension. 
    • During “the explosion phase,” the abuser used the court, police, and attorneys as a tool to harass or harm the victim.
    • In the “honeymoon phase,” the conflict diminished.

Victims of domestic violence continue to suffer abuse and violence.

  • 76% of victims reported being abused during a visitation exchange, with most suffering more than one type of abuse (Figure 8).
  • 81% of the visitation exchanges took place in the victim’s or batterer’s home.
  • Participants in the focus groups chronicled being followed, harassed, threatened, and assaulted, even in cases where a valid restraining order was in effect. Some of this intimidation took place inside the courthouse.

Domestic violence is minimized.

  • 82% of the victims interviewed in focus groups said that domestic violence was either minimized or filtered out of their child custody and visitation case.
  • In 64% of the cases where the court took action after a domestic violence report was made, the most common action was granting a restraining order.
  • Restraining orders granted in child custody and visitation cases are treated as a civil matter and are not enforceable by the police.
  • 57% of the participants’ cases have joint custody despite the existence of domestic violence.

SOAR and the CCVAC developed the following recommendations to help victims and their children safely navigate the custody and visitation process in Rhode Island’s family court system.

However, they also recognize that the effective implementation of these proposed recommendations will require a community approach. Due to the complexity of this issue, one system alone cannot make all the changes that are needed. For this reason, the CCVAC intentionally crafted the recommendations not as mandates for one system but as an open invitation for the Rhode Island community to get involved in improving this process.

Recommendations:

  1. Coordinate court services and information-sharing strategies within the court system to reduce fragmentation and to provide continuity and consistency in cases involving domestic violence.
  2. Implement court protocols that ensure the safety of victims and their children in custody and visitation cases.
  3. Utilize statutes and policies to prevent abusers from using the court system to further victimize domestic violence victims and their children.
  4. Create programs that provide information about parental rights, education about the court process, and advocacy services to victims of domestic violence during the custody and visitation process.
  5. Recommend changes to the Rhode Island General Laws to create a clear custody standard and guidelines to be followed in domestic violence cases.
  6. Create safe visitation centers and safe exchange programs throughout the state to ensure accessibility for domestic violence victims and their children.
  7. Develop collaboration among all stakeholders to increase victims’ access to a) affordable and competent legal representation and b) guardians ad litem and other resources that benefit children who are impacted by domestic violence.
  8. Expand the Rhode Island Family Court Domestic Violence Advocacy Program and other court services to provide consistent case management, information, referrals, and assistance with investigation of child custody and visitation in all cases where domestic violence has been identified.
  9. Establish specialized domestic violence courtrooms in all counties.
  10. Educate attorneys about domestic violence to enhance representation of domestic violence victims and to protect children in divorce and child custody and visitation cases.
  11. Increase judicial awareness of the ongoing impact of domestic violence and the court process on victims of domestic violence and their children in order to increase the number of times special safety considerations are ordered in cases involving domestic violence.
  12. Strengthen domestic violence education for professionals who are involved in the custody and visitation process, including but not limited to mediators, guardians ad litem, Family Court Investigative Unit staff, supervised visitation facilitators and mental health professionals.

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