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D.C. Victim Services Programs Provide a Vital Service, Advocates Say

James Wright | 2/16/2011, 10:48 p.m.
William Kellibrew IV talked about the importance of victim services programs in reference to the tumultuous childhood that he endured. Photo courtesy of the William Kellibrew Foundation.  

Provide a Vital Service, Advocates Say

Programs that are designed to assist crime and domestic abuse victims need to be spared from the District of Columbia's budget axe in order to help those that need them. That was the overriding theme of a briefing on public safety that dealt with victim services in the city co-sponsored by the D.C. Fair Budget Coalition and D.C. Council members Michael Brown (I-At-Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) on Fri., Feb. 11 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest.

Washington faces a budget deficit of $600 million for the fiscal year 2012 budget, which begins on Oct. 1, 2011 and lasts to Sept. 30, 2012. However, the daunting numbers will not deter activists and non-profit leaders who want more money from the city to continue their work.

"The dollars are not available for us to continue to serve our people at the level they expect," said Karma Cottman, the executive director of the DC Coalition against Domestic Violence in Northwest.

"We want to thank the members of the D.C. Council that have supported us in the past but we say that there is a lot of work to be done and we need their help in order to do it."

Cottman's organization is part of the DC Victim Services Alliance, which is an umbrella group that works to get money and resources from the public and private sectors to aid crime and victims of domestic violence. The Alliance released data stating that the city's Victim Assistance Fund and the Domestic

Violence Shelter Fund will be depleted if the D.C. Council does not replenish the funds.

The primary agency charged with matters concerning victims is the Office of Victim Services, which is led by Melissa Hook. Hook's office is funded by a combination of city and federal funds and deals with a wide range of issues such as housing, financial and employment assistance and education.

The D.C. Council is called upon to create a dedicated revenue stream for victim services of about $9 million for the 2012 budget and reject cuts to victim services, according to leaders of the Alliance.

Domestic violence is a serious problem in the District, according to data compiled by Cottman's organization. Last year, the two domestic violence intake center locations served 5,465 people, an increase of approximately 15 percent from 2009. The D.C. Superior Court location served 3,709 clients and its satellite office in Southeast served 1,756.

Ward 8 had the highest percentage of city residents who visited the centers -- 40 percent --followed by 18 percent in Ward 7, both areas located primarily east of the Anacostia River. Ten percent of the victims who visited the centers in 2010 identified themselves as non-heterosexual.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department received more than 31,000 domestic-related calls --one every 17 minutes.

Assistant Police Chief Alfred Durham said that the police department takes crime and domestic victims' situations seriously.

"We are the first responders," Durham, 47, said. "We have changed the culture in the way in which we deal with crime victims."

Durham said that his officers are trained to refer victims to community services. He said that the city's dire financial situation will not help.

"The budget will be cut and we cannot do it alone," Durham, said in reference to the need for the city to fund victims programs as much as possible.
D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Jose Lopez, who leads the court's Domestic Violence Unit, said that the judiciary supports victims programs but "cannot operate in a vacuum."

Lopez said that judges issue civil protection orders to separate the abuser from the victim. The protection orders are helpful, the judge said, but it does not solve the problems of the victim in the legal system.

"Eighty percent of the victims do not have the means to hire an attorney," he said. "Plus, many victims cannot focus on legal remedies with the protection orders when they are dealing with meeting the daily needs of living."

Lopez said that "victim services programs fill the gaps."

The District's children are often the victims of abuse. Michelle Cole, executive director of Safe Shores: The DC Children's Advocacy Center stated some disturbing statistics during the briefing.

"One in four girls will be sexually abused in the District by the age of 18," Cole, 45, said.

"One in seven boys will be sexually abused in the District by the age of 18. The District of Columbia is number one in the nation with regards to child mistreatment, according to the Department of Health and Human Services."

Cole said that victim programs are needed because "child abuse is underreported in the District of Columbia."

William Kellibrew IV, the president and spokesperson for the William Kellibrew Foundation in Northwest, captivated both participants and the audience during the briefing with a story about his tumultuous childhood.

"I grew up in the cycle of violence," said Kellibrew, the former president of the University of the District of Columbia's student government association.

He said that when he was 10, he watched his mother and brother get shot, but the killer spared his life. He said the next day he saw his grandfather shoot a neighbor over a minor dispute.

Kellibrew, who said he was part-African American and part-Puerto Rican, said that he was raped by a family friend when he was six and considered committing suicide when he was 12 by jumping off the bridge on North Capitol and Rhode Island in Northeast.

Kellibrew said that victim programs help individuals in "ways that people may never know."

Lynn Rosenthal, the advisor on Domestic Violence, said that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and 1 in 33 men will face the same trauma.

She said that the best way to combat domestic violence is have strong victim services programs.

"Victim services works, said Rosenthal, a resident of Northeast. "They work best when there is a robust, high-level coordination of government and community organizations."

Denise Synder, the executive director of the DC Rape Crisis Center in Northwest, said that victim services should be fully funded.

"Funding is harder and harder to find," Synder, 54, said. "We of course look to other means but 60 percent of our funding comes from the Office of Victim Services. We need them to do our work."