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Domestic violence reports up, but leaders see progress

on October 28, 2008


OCT. 27 — Less than 24 hours after an Oakland woman was fatally stabbed by her estranged husband and dumped from a car near the Caldecott Tunnel, public and non-profit leaders convened for the 5th Annual Report and Forum on Domestic Violence & Sexually Exploited Minors at City Hall.

Oakland City Councilmember Jean Quan, who led the forum, said she sees “some significant progress here in Oakland, and, quite frankly, a long way still to go.”

The forum, held during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, examined domestic violence, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and elder abuse.  Besides Quan, representatives from the Family Violence Law Center, the Family Justice Center, the Institute on Aging, the Oakland Police Department, and Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth Inc. (MISSSEY), attended.  Spoken word performances from two Youth Radio interns book-ended the forum.

The panel assessed the progress of Measure Y, the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act, passed by voters four years ago.

Measure Y provides $19 million annually to eliminate fire department rotating station closures, to fund violence prevention programs, and to expand the ranks of the Oakland Community Policing program’s problem solving officers and of officers dealing with truancy enforcement, domestic violence, and special victims units.

Nola Brantley, Executive Director of MISSSEY, said Measure Y has funded advocacy for sexually exploited children and the Safe Place Alternative, or SPA, a drop-in center for exploited children. MISSSEY also holds “strategy-building” meetings with Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council groups in Oakland to address the specific needs of communities.  Brantley said MISSSEY hopes to eventually develop a comprehensive plan for the City of Oakland.

Nadia Lockyer, executive director of the Family Justice Center, credits Measure Y with helping her organization link victims into services through a streamlined referral system.  The goal is to make the “most efficient use of victims’ time, energy, and hope,” Lockyer said.

The number of reported domestic violence cases in Oakland has more than doubled since 2004.  In 2004, the OPD received 3,640 reports of domestic violence; in 2007, that number had grown to 7,521.  There have been 4,801 cases reported to date this year.

Quan acknowledged that an increase in reported cases gives Oakland a “black eye” because it looks like crime is going up, even though other crimes statistics are flat or going down.  However, she argued that the higher number of incidents don’t necessarily mean that domestic violence is increasing. What the statistics reflect is an increase in reporting, she said. The police are being trained to be more sensitive to these cases, and services such as the Family Justice Center make resources easier for victims to access.

Randy White of the Oakland Police Department

Randy White, Oakland Police Special Victims Unit officer, said that restraining orders are a tool, not a solution.

Randy White, Oakland Police Special Victims Unit officer, agreed that more domestic violence and sexual exploitation reports were a result of Measure Y’s success rather than its failure.  “When a person makes a report, the very first thing it does is empower the victim,” he said.  An increased caseload, coupled with budget constraints, however, puts a strain on police resources.  With 650 to 750 domestic violence cases reported each month, only 125 to 150 arrests are made.  “We have four investigators right now,” said White.  “We’re pretty much stretched to the limit.”

Limited resources affect what types of cases are investigated first, White said.  For example, the woman killed in yesterday’s domestic violence murder had reportedly filed a restraining order against her husband, but restraining order violations are often last on OPD’s list.  “Restraining orders are designed as a tool for law enforcement,” White said.  “They’re not going to stop a bullet, they’re not going to stop a knife, they’re not going to stop a severe beating,” he said.  “They give the police a reason to arrest a person who goes within a certain area.”

Nola Brantley cited inadequate resources as a major problem for service providers, as well.  “I feel like for the past several years we’ve been in intervention mode,” she said.  “I’d like to see us move to prevention mode.”  Organizations, Brantley said, don’t have adequate resources to address the root causes of domestic violence and sexual exploitation.  “We’re almost like hamsters running on a wheel,” she said.  “We need more staff.”  Brantley sees that support ultimately coming from the state and federal levels.

After the forum, Brantley cited another problem facing victims of sexual exploitation: commercially sexually exploited children are treated as criminals or as witnesses rather than as victims.  “In the law enforcement model, the victims get lost,” she said.  “Law enforcement’s number one priority is arresting traffickers.  They can’t take cases to court unless the child is willing to testify.”  Instead of being treated as victims in need of assistance, exploited children are “a means to an end for prosecutions,” Brantley said.

While prostitution and trafficking occur mainly in certain areas of Oakland, children all over the city are affected, according to Brantley.  “They might live in Temescal, but they can take a bus to International Boulevard and see kids their age being targeted,” she said.

Cherri Allison, executive director of the Family Violence Law Center, sees the problems of domestic violence and sexual exploitation as broader than just the victims or the agencies serving them. “This is not a City Council issue,” she said.  “It’s not a Family Justice Center issue; it’s not an Oakland Police Department issue. It’s a community issue.”||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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