Independent Advocates marks third year helping domestic violence victimsWritten by Kristen Criswell | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For the past three years, Independent Advocates (IA) has worked as a proponent for domestic violence victims and education in Lucas County.
While working for another agency, IA co-founders and co-directors Rebecca Facey and Rachel Richardson believed they were limited in the services they could provide, so they decided to create a new organization.
In November 2007, the pair founded IA to meet the community’s need for more extensive domestic violence advocacy.
“We felt there was a need for comprehensive court advocacy services for victims of domestic violence and we generally felt that the community response to domestic violence needed to be improved drastically,” Facey said. “We want to try to bring domestic violence to the forefront of community members’ minds and the courts’ minds.”
IA, a nonprofit agency with a two-member staff, focuses on three main programs: comprehensive court advocacy, community education and court watch, Richardson said.
The comprehensive court advocacy program pairs a domestic violence victim with a court advocate to accompany him or her through the legal process. Since its inception, IA has helped 200 to 250 individuals with this program, Richardson said.
“An advocate would follow a woman’s, or a victim of domestic violence’s, case throughout the entire court process,” Richardson said. “So, if she has to be in Toledo Municipal Court, we’ll go with her to that hearing. If she has to go to domestic relations court, we’ll go with her there.”
The court advocate provides emotional support for the victim and assists the victim in understanding the court process. In addition to attending court cases with a victim, a court advocate attends interviews with prosecutors and lawyers to make sure the victim’s voice is being heard, Facey said.
“If it’s a criminal case, we connect victims with the prosecutors and sit in on prosecutor interviews,” Facey said. “We make sure, first of all, the victims are prepared for that, what kind of information they’re supposed to be reporting to the prosecutor. In a criminal case, they can only be concerned with this incident in which a criminal charge resulted, not the entire history, which is obviously still important to us and we as advocates can hear that, but the prosecutors aren’t going to listen to that.”
The advocate would provide the same assistance for a civil case, she said.
The community education program spreads the message that it’s everyone’s responsibility to stop domestic violence, said Richardson, who contributes a column about arts and advocacy to Toledo Free Press Star.
Facey and Richardson speak with groups about domestic violence and IA developed a public service announcement that ran on TV during the spring, Richardson said. IA has also placed purple ribbons, the color of domestic violence awareness, on trees for local domestic violence awareness month.
“We’re a very small grassroots organization with extremely limited funds, but we think it’s a ripple effect. We have to engage other people and get other people to pick up the ball and be willing to recognize their role in stopping domestic violence as well,” Facey said.
Another component of the community education message is to stop blaming victims, Richardson said.
“We insist on accountability for the people who are doing the crime, which is domestic violence. We insist on abuser accountability,” Richardson said. “Let’s not ask, ‘Why does she stay?’ Let’s ask, ‘Why does he beat her?’”
The third program IA focuses on is court watch. Volunteers observe and document different things that are happening during arraignments, the first time a defendant goes before a judge.
Since January, more than 50 volunteers have donated time to record what bonds are being set, what is taking place in protection order hearings and if the judge is addressing whether firearms are being removed from the defendant’s possession, Richardson said.
The volunteers will continue documenting arraignments until IA believes it has sufficient data to present to the court system. The goal is to eventually create a separate domestic violence court in Lucas County to change the way potentially fatal crimes of domestic violence are handled, Richardson said.
“We’re meeting with some resistance to that, so we need to make a convincing report,” she said.
While IA has the goal of setting up domestic violence court in Lucas County, the ultimate goal would be to end domestic violence and no longer need domestic violence advocates, Facey and Richardson said.
“Domestic violence is an issue that needs to be considered all the time. It doesn’t go away until the community decides it, as a community, doesn’t tolerate it,” Richardson said. “We hope to get that message into everybody’s heads, that we do not tolerate it. If you see a person disrespecting their partner on the street — disrespecting them verbally, grabbing them, putting their hands on them — you’re allowed to say, ‘Hey, that’s not cool.’ That’s your neighbor, that’s your community member and you might be the only person who’s sticking up for them. So be that person.”
As the end of domestic violence has yet to come, IA hopes to employ more advocates to accompany victims in court. Eventually, IA would like at least 10 advocates with one in each court, Richardson said.
In addition, Facey is attending law school at the University of Toledo to eventually serve domestic violence victims in Toledo, expanding the services IA can offer.
“As advocates, we’re very aware of our limitations. We cannot practice law without a license,” Richardson said. “We don’t have a lot of power in the courtroom. We’re there as emotional support for our clients. Once [Facey is] able to practice law, it’s going to change the whole game.”
Independent Action Party
To celebrate its third birthday, IA will host the second annual Independent Action Party on Nov. 20.
“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate Toledo and all we have to offer, while joining the local movement to stop domestic violence,” Facey said. “It’s the chance to recognize that, whether you think you know someone affected by domestic violence or not, you do. One in three women will be affected by domestic violence in their life and that affects us all.”
The fundraising event features food from local restaurants, a silent auction with pieces from area artists, a tarot card reader, henna tattoo artist and caricatures. In addition, music will be provided by DJs Mattimoe and Tina G, as well as live bands, The Faux Paus and Cheap Celebz.
The Independent Action Party is the group’s largest fundraising event of the year, but IA hosts other fundraising events throughout the year with the support of local businesses.
“We’re doing this work for the community and we very much need the support of the community to continue to be able to do this work,” Facey said.
The fundraiser is from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Secor Building, 425 Jefferson Ave. Tickets are $25 by Nov. 17 and $30 at the door.
For more information on Independent Advocates’ assistance or the Independent Action Party, visit the website www.iatoledo.org.