New program connects victims and services

When Danyette Smith realized she was in an abusive relationship in 2012, the mother-of-two began to research.

She knew that a man is not supposed to hit a woman, but she was unfamiliar with the cycle of domestic violence, which would allow her to better understand the unhealthy relationship she was in.

Danyette smith

Smith managed to escape the abuse two years later and get in touch with a lawyer from an Indianapolis aid group. Yet there were “very dark times … very lonely times,” said Smith, who went on to found Silent No More, a domestic violence awareness and prevention organization.

“There were so many gaps in (getting help),” Smith told IndyStar, “that if I hadn’t been aware of domestic violence beforehand and knew how difficult it would be , I would most likely be back. “

“I was able to realize the lack within our city”, she added, “whether it is about resources or just someone to contact regarding domestic violence”.

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Now Smith is set to lead a new domestic violence prevention program through the Indy Public Safety Foundation. The program, funded by the Office of Public Health and Safety, aims to serve as a liaison between victims and survivors of domestic violence and the resources they need that are already in the community.

“The overall goal,” said Smith, who started work Monday, “is to be that simple and to have this system where victims and survivors of domestic violence will have this unique agenda that they know they can get that concrete information. “

Smith, the director, will oversee three “lawyers” tasked with going out into the community to work directly with victims and survivors of domestic violence and connect them with the resources they need.

These advocates, program officials noted, will not only be experts in domestic violence, but will also have ties to service providers and aid organizations in Indianapolis that provide services such as temporary housing, jobs. , legal services and advice.

The initiative comes largely in response to the surge in reports of domestic violence in Indianapolis and across the United States that coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, the number of domestic violence cases attributed to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police detectives nearly doubled, from 2,601 to 5,016, according to department data. In 2021, detectives were assigned to 5,524 such cases.

Those numbers, police said, do not include cases where someone was shot, which tend to be investigated as aggravated assaults or homicides. But there have been a number of homicides that started out as domestic disputes over the past year. In one case in August, a man shot a woman, an 11-year-old girl and a police officer before killing himself in an apartment complex. The woman later died in hospital.

Danyette Smith holds two phones to record the Domestic Violence Network's annual memorial service honoring the lives of those lost to domestic violence on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, at Meridian Street United Methodist Church, Indianapolis.

Connect services

While there are a number of groups in Indianapolis working in domestic violence prevention, experts in the field told IndyStar that these resources tend to be “fragmented,” leaving people to sort out the services themselves. to find what they need.

“This is what survivors will say is incredibly frustrating for them: trying to navigate a complex system where people are not answering the phones right now during COVID or they are packed,” said Laura Berry, executive director of the ‘Indiana Coalition Against Domestic. Violence.

Berry’s organization has a statewide reach, providing legal services to survivors, coordinating policy initiatives, and supporting the vast network of prevention groups, often with financial assistance. There is the 2-1-1 phone service, Berry noted, which directs people with questions about domestic violence resources. But this hotline deals with a wide range of issues. It is not focused on domestic violence, and there are no advocates on the ground in the community with contact with people in need.

“We don’t have a central place where one person can help (victims) navigate all the resources available to them, especially here in central Indiana,” Berry said. “So having someone to help them navigate could be incredibly beneficial.”

Jeffrey Edleson, professor at the Berkeley School of Social Welfare at the University of California, stressed that a program like Smith’s should make improving access to services a “top priority.” To do this, he said, program workers should be “very closely linked to battered women’s services” in the community.

Contacted by IndyStar, a number of domestic violence prevention groups in Indianapolis said they were unaware of the new city-funded effort. Program officials noted that the initiative is still in its early stages and stressed that collaboration with the community will be an integral part of its functioning. They have been in contact with churches that have their own domestic violence programs and said they will contact other organizations in the Indianapolis area.

The group also plans to do community engagement and outreach in neighborhoods and postcodes most affected by domestic violence, which could include prospecting certain areas or organizing events with others. organizations.

“At the end of the day, one of those key factors is getting into the community and raising awareness,” Smith said.

A candle is lit during the Domestic Violence Network's annual memorial service honoring the lives of those lost to domestic violence on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, at Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis .  Each participant lit a candle for the names of those lost to domestic violence.

Looking forward

The program is funded by $ 370,000 passed by Indianapolis City Council in July as part of a larger crime prevention effort.

In December, the city donated tens of thousands of dollars to Silent No More and the Domestic Violence Network, the two organizations Smith worked with. About $ 250,000 from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, city officials said, will go to domestic violence protection services.

The Indy Foundation for Public Safety has yet to hire and train the three defenders, who are expected to start full-time in the coming months.

For Smith, “highlighting and uplifting those who are already doing the work in the community” will be an important part of his responsibilities. She said this could include advocating for more funding for these organizations.

Program officials plan to stay in contact with the police and use the data collected through the ministry and partner agencies to measure their success. As the program progresses, Smith said, they’ll be able to better see who needs help in Indianapolis.

“We just want to make sure that we connect the violence within the city as a whole and domestic violence – knowing that it’s one and the same and not a separation,” Smith said. “The violence is extremely high in Indianapolis, so bringing this program (in) would definitely help, again.”

Contact Lawrence Andrea at 317-775-4313 or [email protected] Follow him on twitter @lawrencegandrea.

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