OCTOBER IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH

In October, we wear purple ribbons for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The recently released security video circulated of NFL running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée showed us the brutal reality of a problem that many times goes unseen and unheard. According to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV), the most current national studies on domestic violence suggest that from 22 to 25 percent of all women will experience domestic violence at some point during their lives. Victims often refuse to report domestic violence incidents or are reluctant to follow through with the justice system due to the fear of retribution from the abuser. Unfortunately, domestic violence cases that do not get resolved have a higher likelihood of ending in homicide. At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we are committed to changing these statistics.

BSO is the only law enforcement agency in Broward County with an Intimate Violence Enhanced Service Team (InVEST). InVEST is sponsored through a grant funded by the FCADV and specifically addresses intimate partner violence (IPV) to decrease homicides. The greater the support a victim receives from InVEST, the greater the chance that the victim will not feel discouraged by the criminal justice system, then drop charges or go back to the abuser.

A BSO InVEST detective is assigned to the Special Victims Unit (SVU) in Criminal Investigations Division (CID), handling 30 to 40 IPV cases per month. Within 24 hours of an incident being filed and submitted to InVEST, the victim is contacted and immediately referred to social services within the community. Often, the victim does not know there are free services available through local nonprofits, such as Women in Distress, to pay for rent, food and legal aid. There are also safe houses and shelters, counseling and job placement options to allow the victim to reclaim his or her life. BSO partners with nonprofits and the State Attorney’s Office to ensure the victim receives the help he or she needs.
Our InVEST detective also works to hold abusers accountable for their actions. After charges are filed, the perpetrators often urge victims to drop the charges. Any form of contact, even if the abuser asks a friend or family member to intervene, violates the No Contact order that a judge serves during the perpetrator’s first appearance hearing. If an abuser is in jail, more charges are added. If the abuser is stalking or harassing the victim while out on bond, another warrant is filed for arrest. Since the majority of deputy injuries and deaths occur from responding to domestic violence calls, we take every precaution. In some cases, BSO’s Fugitive, Violence Intervention Proactive Enforcement Response (V.I.P.E.R.) and SWAT units assist InVEST and SVU to track down and arrest the perpetrator.

InVEST is also involved in agency-wide proactive awareness. Over the course of InVEST’s two-year grant program, our detective will train at least 600 deputies about risk assessment to know how to ask the right questions when responding to domestic violence calls. InVEST supplies our deputies with domestic violence reference cards with applicable state statutes and 24-hour hotline numbers, as well as investigative kits containing cameras and digital recorders to document evidence while on scene. This evidence is then used in court to increase the likelihood of successful prosecution. Deputy risk assessment training for domestic violence will be written into BSO policy and procedures before the InVEST grant program ends in July 2015. I want every deputy to be a better responder when it comes to matters of domestic violence. My goal is also to educate other agencies in Broward County on the benefits of InVEST.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on the community at large. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous emotional, social and physical problems, but it also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life, which increases their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.

As sheriff of Broward County, I want every resident to know that domestic violence will not be tolerated. Help is here and you are not alone. Our deputies are on your side, and we’ll do all we can to keep you safe. For more information about InVEST, please visit www.sheriff.org and click on the purple ribbon.

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