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Domestic Violence Reduction Unit

On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. In our own community, Portland police officers respond to domestic violence calls every day. Those calls are then turned over to a specialized unit.

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Announcer:
Welcome to Talking Beat, the podcast for the Portland Police Bureau. We're focusing on thoughtful conversations that we hope will inform and provide you with a small glimpse of work performed by Portland police officers as well as issues affecting public safety in our city. Here's what's on today's show.

Emi Martinez:
When we think about domestic violence relationships, they're intimate relationships. It's not just about the abuse, but it's somebody that you share your life with. So it's really hard for people to break away from that because it's not always bad, and some people still hold on to that hope that the person can change or that things will get easier because love exist. Love is real. The abuse is not okay. Love shouldn't hurt, but at the same time, being able to separate that for some people it can be very difficult.

Host:
On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. In our own community, Portland police officers respond to domestic violence calls every day. Those calls are then turned over to a specialized unit. Today, we'll talk to Officer Lisa Fort of the domestic violence reduction unit as well as Emi Martinez who works for Multnomah County as a victim advocate.

Host:
In talking about domestic violence, generally we talk about the abuser in terms of “he”, and the victim as “she”. While using these generalities makes it easier for the conversation to flow, it does not detract from the fact that domestic violence happens among all groups of people. Lisa, let's start with you. Before we can talk about domestic violence, we need to probably define what it is, and what does the law say?

Ofc. Fort:
Domestic abuse, violence, whatever word you want to use, could fall under any number of various crimes, obviously assault, but it could also be strangulation, criminal mischief, which is where somebody destroys or breaks property of another. In the eyes of the law, some are going to be easier to prove than others. It could be nothing physical, just all verbal where the mom or wife is constantly being berated by husband and the kids are witnessing that, talking down to them, calling them stupid, fat, et cetera, et cetera. Over the course of a 20 year marriage, that's going to impact somebody mentally. And it's teaching the kids. They see that happening. Whether it's a male or female child, they're picking up on how dad treats mom, and they're internalizing that, and that's becoming their norm. The cycle potentially could continue. Verbal abuse is going to be more difficult to prove. I mean, we'd have to have some kind of audio recordings to really prove that.

Ofc. Fort:
It is one of the most dangerous police calls that we take for responding officers to go to a domestic violence call. There's so many unknowns. We don't know if there's any weapons involved. Emotions are at the pinnacle. I mean, that's the reason that this victim has finally called the police even though this abuse has probably been going on several times before for who knows how many years or months or weeks or whatever. Pretty much guaranteed this isn't the first time that something that's happened between these two. It's just reached that level where she's scared enough that she finally is intervening and calling the police. And a lot of times, that gets interrupted by the perpetrator grabbing the phone, breaking the phone. Now there's no means of communication for her to reach out to which sometimes leads to running out of the apartment and banging on the next door neighbor's apartment or trying to reach anybody who can contact the police.

Host:
I should say to our listeners that we'll probably refer to DVRU during this podcast. We love acronyms at the Portland Police Bureau, and that actually stands for Domestic Violence Reduction Unit. Lisa, tell us a little bit more about the team.

Ofc. Fort:
DVRU is a collection of officers and Multnomah County detectives. We work on domestic violence cases and try to hold the offender accountable based on the victim's wishes.

Host:
How do you get the cases? I mean, how do they come to you?

Ofc. Fort:
So any call that comes into dispatch that's coded as a domestic violence, officers are required to write a report even if it turns out to be a movie that was playing that was yelling and screaming and the neighbor heard it and thought it was a fight. They're required to do at least a quick supplemental report to indicate what it was. So no domestic violence call that comes in to dispatch is cleared without writing a report. All the cases come into our office and are screened by the sergeants, and then they're assigned out to the officers.

Ofc. Fort:
And once they're assigned to the officers, we contact the victim and first off, determine if they're in a safe place and speak with them about what their wishes are, or do they want to pursue charges, do they not want to pursue charges but they want a restraining order, apply for a restraining order, or do they not want to do either of those but they would like to have some advocacy and speak with one of our advocates who can provide various resources for them to either help them get out of that situation or develop a safety plan if they planning on staying in the relationship.

Host:
Talking about advocates, that brings you in Emi. Tell me a little bit about a typical day for you. What would you do?

Emi Martinez:
My job specifically, I reach out to people that have made a police report that's domestic violence focused, and so I will reach out to them and figure out how they want to proceed. And we work very closely with the officers in our unit. We all sit in the same office space, and so we're there to help each other on what the case is that we get assigned. For my caseload specifically, it is more of a general population that will report domestic violence to a patrol officer, so then I will make follow-up contact that way.

Host:
I think there's a lot of stereotypes, Lisa, about domestic violence, and I think we all have in our head the typical male abuser, the husband or the boyfriend. And I know that could be a large part of your cases but tell me a little bit about the people DVRU comes across as abusers.

Ofc. Fort:
It is typical a man will be there, but we do see cases quite frequently where it's a woman abuser against her husband or her boyfriend. We have cases from the LGBTQ community, all kinds of different socioeconomic status, super high income earners to low income earners to unemployed to those that are sleeping on the street. So it really runs the gamut from all races, sexes, financial status.

Host:
While we're talking about abusers and characteristics of abusers, let's talk about, I guess, some warning signs. If you're just getting into a relationship, what would be some warning signs that this person may have a tendency to be an abuser?

Emi Martinez:
Well, we know that domestic violence is about power and control, so a person can gain power and control various ways. When somebody is in a relationship, warning signs that could help would be taking notice of that person's attitude and behavior towards you, if they're really jealous, if they're trying to isolate you from specific systems, unrealistic expectations, blaming others for their mistakes. There's really a long list of what we would call red flags, and they're power and control driven. It's any way that somebody can gain that power and control over an individual.

Host:
So I think that a lot of people just wonder why the victim doesn't leave, and it seems really straightforward. Somebody's hurting you or somebody is not treating you right, why don't you just leave?

Emi Martinez:
That is a very common question, and I feel like it is a little victim blaming driven because it puts the responsibility on the person that's being hurt and not the perpetrator. There are a lot of different barriers that somebody faces when they decide to leave a relationship. And often even when a person makes a police report, the entire story isn't being told even at that time. To get to the point where somebody calls the police, they're in an extreme crisis driven situation where they feel like that is what's best for them in that situation. So there really is a lot of different barriers. And when somebody calls the police, that is a perfect place for us to intervene, and that may look very different for many different people.

Ofc. Fort:
We know from statistics that when people do call police during a domestic violence situation, that's not the first time that they have been abused or beaten. It's just like Emi said, it's reached that point where they feel they need intervention to be safe. We also know that statistically speaking, it takes seven or eight attempted leaves or leaves to go back and then attempts again before they actually make that final hurdle and leave the perpetrator for good.

Host:
So actually, I didn't mean to be flip when I asked that, but I think that there are barriers as we've talked about. So give me a example of some of the barriers that might prevent somebody from leaving.

Emi Martinez:
Language, immigration status is one of the big ones that I have... Because I work with bilingual population, with the Latino community, and so sometimes language and immigration is one of the reasons it could hold somebody in a situation where it's unsafe because they fear for their life and the life of their children. I worked with this woman recently where she told me that she had all her important documentation set aside even months prior to her leaving because she was preparing. So she was safety planning in a way that was safe for her and her children to be able to leave whenever that time was right. So when she saw a little window of opportunity to leave, she was able to quickly grab the things that she had set aside and leave with her children in that instance. So it wasn't like something that she knew an exact time and day of when she would leave, but she was already preparing it to make it a little easier for her to leave when that perfect window of opportunity came up.

Ofc. Fort:
Another example would be financial. Maybe the victim has not worked in quite a while and they're not sure what their job skill level is so they stay in the relationship because they know that they at least have a roof over their head and they have food on their table. Another example would be because of the kids. Either their kids are the perpetrator's kids or they're from another relationship, but they don't want to uproot the kids and not knowing where they're going to sleep or live. So they stay because it's a known factor, and they feel that they can at least somewhat control what the perpetrator's going to do versus the unknown of leaving and not knowing where you're going to live, where you're going to eat.

Emi Martinez:
When we think about domestic violence relationships, they're intimate relationships. It's not just about the abuse, but it's somebody that you share your life with. So it's really hard for people to break away from that because it's not always bad. And some people still hold on to that hope that the person can change or that things will get easier because their love exist. Love is real. The abuse is not okay. Love shouldn't hurt, but at the same time, being able to separate that for some people can be very difficult. I have people tell me all the time even after they left that they feel guilty for still loving the person. And I let them know that that's a very normal feeling because you can't completely detach yourself from a person who you spent a long time with.

Emi Martinez:
But that hope that that person will change or not wanting that person to get in trouble, when the police is involved, there's a lot of other systems that come into place, like the person gets arrested. They get charges. That scares people to think that it can get to that point. So sometimes even when they make reports, they may not follow through because it's a scary system. It's a scary outcome for many people.

Host:
So that leads to my next question. An officer writes a report regarding a domestic violence call, and it's sent to DVRU for follow-up. What happens next?

Ofc. Fort:
My first thing I do is contact the victim and preferably in person if we can locate them. Sometimes, that is a hurdle right there, just trying to find a good phone number or a good address for the victim to see what their wishes are. Do they want to press charges against this person, or do they not want to press charges but they do want to get a restraining order, which they can petition for the court and the judge will review that and grant that restraining order? Sometimes, they don't want to press charges. They don't want a restraining order, but they do want advocacy from Emi or another advocate in our office who can provide resources for them and help navigate through that, developing a safety plan.

Ofc. Fort:
But sometimes, they don't want any of that. They just want to be out of the relationship and start over and put it behind them. Other times, they want to stay with a relationship and deny that anything happened or what the officer wrote in the report is not true. So there's all levels of where it goes once it hits my desk. But my first step is to contact the victim in the case and see where she's at. Is she safe? Initially, is it even a good time to talk right now? Because sometimes, the perpetrator is in the house. And as we touched on earlier, they monitor phone calls. They want to know who the victim is talking to. Just checking in very first to see if it's a good time to talk, and sometimes, it's not, and I'll make contact at a different date and time.

Host:
Emi, what kind of resources are available?

Emi Martinez:
We have many resources, connections to community-based agencies, so community agencies that are focused on helping domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, anything from counseling to possible housing resources depending on funding, if they need food, if they need some clothing. Sometimes, when people call the police and they do decide to leave at that instant, they often leave without food, without any clothes. And so as advocates, we step in, and we help to make sure that they have the things that they need in that moment to keep them safe. That could be vouchering them into a hotel for a few nights. People will often leave with very little.

Ofc. Fort:
A lot of times, victims won't leave because of their pets. They don't want to leave their pets in the house with the perpetrator for fear that they will hurt or kill the dog or the cat. So that's another resource that they provide is pet food so that they can bring their pet and keep the pet safe as well.

Emi Martinez:
Transportation, if getting to the gateway center, the one-stop domestic violence center, if getting there is a hardship for them, we will help with transportation. They can get a restraining order there as opposed to having to come all the way into downtown to get that.

Host:
That's good to know because I think that a lot of people think about a restraining order, going to court, standing in front of a judge, maybe their abuser in the room, and it being a very intimidating process.

Emi Martinez:
And we help through through that whole process. Even the process of if they do choose to follow through with pressing criminal charges and prosecution, as advocates, we will help support them through that process as well.

Host:
You mentioned a safety plan, tell me a little bit about what that entails.

Emi Martinez:
Safety plan can look different for many people. When you think about a safety plan of leaving an abusive situation, just making sure that you have all the things that are necessary, like birth certificates, passports, things like that in a safe spot.

Ofc. Fort:
So that could include having a place to go to, a friend's house or family member's house, preferably a location that the perpetrator does not know the address or the phone number so they can't continue to follow them to that new location.

Host:
So if I'm listening to this and I'm in an abusive relationship, what would you tell me to do?

Emi Martinez:
Getting information I think would be a first step. We really do try to meet people where they're at. We don't push somebody one way or the other, especially as advocates, because we're non-sworn and we do work closely with officers. But if they are hesitant to go all the way through with prosecution, we want to make sure that we respect that. So we want to make sure that they have the power. Because a domestic violence relationship is all about power and control, and the last thing that we want to do is to continue that pattern for them. So we really want to make sure that they have all the information.

Emi Martinez:
So if somebody is listening to this, I would say that you can reach out in a very confidential and safe way to even a community partner agency. There's Call to Safety. There's Proyecto UNICA. There's a lot of different agencies that somebody can get that information and start that safety planning process at an early stage and then just go at your own pace, whatever feels safe for you and your family.

Ofc. Fort:
So if you're in a domestic violence situation right now, there's two organizations that are 24/7. One is Call to Safety, and their number is (888) 235-5333.

Emi Martinez:
And Proyecto UNICA, they're a bilingual 24/7 crisis line, and their number is (503) 232-4448.

Host:
So you probably want to be careful though. We want to warn those listeners to be careful on their phone or their computer about, I guess, Googling things and leaving the history up, correct?

Emi Martinez:
Yes. Many of these domestic violence and sexual assault websites have that one quick click button so people can safely leave the website.

Host:
So if you have a friend or a loved one who's in a domestic violence situation, what kind of things can you do to help them or say to them?

Ofc. Fort:
I would say listen, listen to what they have to say, give them a voice. Again, as we've mentioned, it's about power and control. So not judging them, just listening, giving them an ounce of control back in their life. You can ask if they want your help and how you can help them.

Emi Martinez:
And also just to remember that support and listening does go a very long way because we are not here to rescue anybody. We can't necessarily save them. It's a choice that they have to make for themselves. So really being that supportive person that is going to listen to them with a nonjudgmental ear but still caring for them and giving them maybe the information that they need to make an informed decision.

Host:
Lisa, you could work anywhere in the bureau. Why do you work for DVRU?

Ofc. Fort:
I like to have the opportunity to give women their life back I guess I would say. A portion of their life has been taken from them, and they don't necessarily always see it until they have left and start having their self esteem, self confidence put back into them. So it's nice to see that change in somebody's personality to where they become happy again about life in general, not scared all the time wondering, "Where is he? Is he watching me? Is he hearing what I'm saying? Is he monitoring my text messages?"

Host:
What is success, for lack of a better term, look like in the cases that you work on?

Ofc. Fort:
I mean, there's just so many factors. I mean, success for one person could be he's prosecuted and now he's in jail, but success for another person could be no charges were filed, no RO was obtained, but she got out of the relationship, and she's moved to a new town and has familial support. So it's hard to judge success on our end. I think it's more how they view it as success.

Host:
We'll put it in the show's notes the resources we mentioned today. Thanks for being here today.

Ofc. Fort:
Thank you.

Emi Martinez:
Thanks for having us.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to the Talking Beat. Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave us a message on our dedicated voicemail line at (971) 339-8868 or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov. If you've enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website, portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast.