Nineteen out of 21 D.C. government agencies received a failing grade for not having a specific policy in place to adequately respond to domestic violence experienced by members of the public or their employees in a report card released last month by the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In addition to the failing grades for the 19 agencies under the jurisdiction of the D.C. mayor, the report card gave failing grades to the D.C. City Council for not having a policy in place to address domestic violence and to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, known as Metro, for having what it considers an inadequate policy in place.
The two D.C. agencies surveyed in the report card that received a passing grade were the Metropolitan Police Department and the Child & Family Service Agency.
Both of those agencies had a policy for addressing domestic violence that, while not as far reaching as the Coalition would like, are enabling police officers and CSFA staff to provide important assistance to victims of domestic violence throughout the city, according to a 23-page report released by the Coalition.
The report, entitled Surviving D.C.: A Domestic Violence Report, says domestic violence “impacts hundreds of thousands of District residents each year” and the large number of such cases “outpaces the availability of services for survivors” offered by non-government organizations like the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its 16 component groups.
“With this in mind, local government agencies must be prepared to respond to the needs of survivors,” the report says. “Residents who are desperately trying to navigate the perils of abusive relationships often turn to District government agencies for life-saving assistance such as housing, protection, medical care, and more.”
Dawn Dalton, the Coalition’s policy director, told the Washington Blade that experts on domestic violence know that such violence is known to take place in the LGBT community. Officials with the D.C. police department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, for example, have said calls for assistance for LGBT-related domestic violence make up the largest number of calls they receive each year.
“Any survivor of domestic violence deserves to have the same experiences however their sexual orientation guides them,” Dalton said. “So in our recommendation to government agencies they would need to be thoughtful and inclusive to all different survivors and their needs,” she said.
In a statement released in response to the Coalition’s report card, Kevin Donahue, Deputy D.C. Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, said the mayor’s office was in the process of updating what he called a far-reaching ongoing domestic violence program.
“Over the past four years Mayor Bowser has invested more than $43 million in domestic violence programs across the District – a historic investment,” Donahue said. “These programs have provided domestic violence survivors with critical services, such as emergency and transitional housing, legal advocacy and assistance, and counseling and mental health care.”
Donahue added that Bowser has directed his office to create a citywide domestic violence policy based on “established best practices” that focus on the needs of survivors.
“This policy will go into effect January 1, 2019, and be applicable to all 35,000 District government employees,” he said. “It is vital that we ensure the District government provides domestic violence survivors with all the support they need and we are committed to doing so.”
The report released by the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence says Donahue and other city officials informed the Coalition of these D.C. government actions and plans at the time the report and report card were being prepared.
“We commend this effort and offer our full support and expertise,” the report says. “However, as the organization that represents our 16 member programs that work directly with survivors of domestic violence, DCCADV advocates for a more comprehensive response from the city that includes policies for staff that formalize how the agencies support District residents who reach out for help,” the report says.
It notes that in its survey and report card, only two participating D.C. agencies – the police and the Child and Family Services Agency – had such a policy in place to guide their staff and officers on how best to respond to domestic violence incidents involving members of the public.
In response to a question from the Blade, Coalition official Dalton said that there are no LGBT organizations involved with domestic violence issues that are among the coalition’s 16-member groups. She said the coalition has an application process for adding groups and LGBT organizations would be welcome to apply.
One D.C.-based LGBT group that has addressed the issue of domestic violence – the Rainbow Response Coalition – did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the report card released by the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Rainbow Response Coalition director June Crenshaw could not immediately be reached.
The D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s report and D.C. government agency report card can be accessed at dccadv.org.