Md. Domestic Violence Program Goes Nationwide


WASHINGTON (Oct. 23, 2008)—One day last year was another day of abuse for "Alice" at the hands of her husband, but this time when she called the Family Crisis Center hotline, something was different.

Forty-five minutes after she hung up the phone with the counselor, Alice was at a shelter with her children. She's never gone back to her abusive partner. Not even once. Not even to collect her belongings.

The difference for Alice and hundreds of other women across Maryland has come from the Lethality Assessment Program, a set of 11 questions based on John Hopkins University School of Nursing professor Jacquelyn Campbell's study on intimate partner homicide that help determine the degree of threat an abuse victim faces.

And now, thanks to a federal grant, the Lethality Assessment Program is going nationwide, according to an announcement Wednesday by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington.

"It is the first time that anybody in the nation has tried to do this is in this way—to create a questionnaire based on research and to create a protocol," said Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, which created the questionaire. "We're doing it in every place in Maryland, which is extraordinary."

Representatives from the MNADV will travel throughout the United States developing, training and evaluating the program to adapt it to other jurisdictions.

"As far as it going nationwide, I think that's a great thing," said Lynette Irlmeier, executive director for the Family Crisis Center in Allegany County. "I've been doing this work for over 15 years and I think that this is one of the things that I've seen over that period of time that has made a difference."

The program began in 2003 in three areas, Anne Arundel County, Harford County and Frederick city.

"I know we are saving lives," said Anne Arundel Police Chief James Teare Sr. "The program is fantastic. It's simple and it works. And that's why cops love it."

Since its first inception on July 4, 2007, the Anne Arundel Police Department has decreased its annual domestic homicide rate from 2.7 to zero.

Eighty-six law enforcement agencies in Maryland are trained in the assessment program. By next year, the 24 remaining districts also should be trained. The program creators also hope to extend it to schools, health care agencies and faith-based organizations soon.

"We know that a lot of people don't call the police ... so we want make sure that wherever the person enters the system and asks for help that they're being assessed and being given good information about resources and services," Cohen said.

But the fight against domestic violence in Maryland is still far from over, according to MNADV. Because funding for domestic violence has been flat or going down since 2000, an increase in demand at the same time that programs are becoming more and more stretched is threatening the system.

"One of the concerns that we do have is that ... there's going be a greater demand in services as a result of the Lethality Assessment Program." Participants will need counseling, emergency shelter and legal services, said Cohen. "There's no doubt in my mind that these programs are grossly under-funded."

Screening and high danger victim numbers for the April to June 2008 quarter were the highest in Maryland's history, at a daily average of 17.8 screens, 5.7 victims speaking with the hotline and 1.6 victims coming in for services after a phone call, according to the MNADV.

"I think a president with a different set of priorities and getting the economy on track (will help with funding)," Mikulski said. "There's no excuse for violence, but an explanation is families are under so much stress."

Baltimore County Police report that about 30 percent of homicides result from domestic violence, yet it only has one "tiny" shelter that's "totally inadequate," according to Cohen.

With such high demand, the domestic violence agencies are having staffing trouble, with 64 percent of programs retaining fewer than 20 paid staff and 23 of those programs with fewer than 10 paid staff, according to the National Census on Domestic Violence.

"We make the case for the money but I'm sure we're all well aware it's not an easy time to be asking for money. At this point we're asking, 'Please don't cut us,'" Cohen said. "Part of it is that people are always worried about crime, substance abuse, child abuse, foster care and teen pregnancy and all these things and we want to say to them, 'Hello? Where do you think these people come from?' They come from these kind of families that have these kinds of problems."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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