Help for DV vic­tims gets timely re­view

The News Tribune - - Opinion - BY THE NEWS TRI­BUNE ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Com­bat­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence more ef­fec­tively be­gins with frank con­ver­sa­tions among all the dif­fer­ent play­ers whose life’s work is pro­tect­ing vic­tims. So say Ta­coma Mayor Vic­to­ria Woodards, Pierce County Ex­ec­u­tive Bruce Dam­meier and County Coun­cil­man Rick Tal­bert. They met with the TNT Ed­i­to­rial Board this week to an­nounce that the city and county have launched a six-month task force to gather in­for­ma­tion from lead­ers on the lo­cal DV front.

Stronger co­or­di­na­tion of ser­vices is the goal of the re­view. Key seats at the ta­ble will be filled by the YWCA and the Crys­tal Jud­son Fam­ily Jus­tice Cen­ter. That’s ap­pro­pri­ate be­cause they’re the two big­gest ser­vice providers in the area.

The tim­ing for straight talk about preven­tion, intervention and pro­tec­tion couldn’t be bet­ter.

Last week the county said it had reached a set­tle­ment with the fam­ily of Jessica Ortega, a 27-year-old mother of two who was killed by her es­tranged boyfriend in 2016. County Coun­cil mem­bers ap­proved a $7.8 mil­lion set­tle­ment that ended the wrong­ful-death law­suit.

By all ac­counts, Ortega did ev­ery­thing she could to pro­tect her­self from her abuser, in­clud­ing con­tact­ing the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment four days be­fore her death. Still, the sys­tem failed her.

Of­fi­cials in­sist the Ortega tragedy wasn’t the im­pe­tus for the task force. But Dam­meier cited her name while cat­a­logu­ing the dev­as­ta­tion that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence has wrought on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

He men­tioned other names, too, in­clud­ing Braden and Char­lie Pow­ell. The young brothers were killed in a 2012 mur­der-sui­cide by their fa­ther, Josh, who is pre­sumed to have killed his miss­ing wife, Su­san Cox Pow­ell, two years ear­lier. Other names that were noted — Kent Mun­dell and Jake Gu­tier­rez — were law en­force­ment of­fi­cers slain while re­spond­ing to DV calls in the last decade.

“The most hor­rific things that have hap­pened in our com­mu­nity have in­volved do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” Dam­meier said. “There’s no ques­tion we need stronger fam­ily-vi­o­lence preven­tion.”

The South Sound has sev­eral non­prof­its on the front lines of this war, but the Y and the Jud­son Cen­ter carry the heav­i­est load, with more than 7,000 clients a year be­tween the two.

They du­pli­cate some ser­vices such as cri­sis hot­lines, le­gal ex­per­tise and fam­ily ther­apy. Com­mon sense says two like-minded or­ga­ni­za­tions within blocks of each other could find ways to co­op­er­ate more.

But Woodards aims to make one point clear: “This isn’t about look­ing for ways to save money; this is about in­creas­ing ser­vices. It’s about ef­fi­ciency.”

The task force will con­sist of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the city, county and lo­cal ser­vice providers; law en­force­ment will join as needed.

Miriam Bar­nett, CEO of the YWCA, told us over the phone she wel­comes the idea of a col­lab­o­ra­tion, though she says it’s too early to say what it would look like.

Un­der her lead­er­ship, the Y has se­cured $18 mil­lion of $22 mil­lion needed to build a seven-story apart­ment build­ing in Ta­coma’s St. He­lens neigh­bor­hood. It will pro­vide per­ma­nent, af­ford­able hous­ing to 54 vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. Space for ad­min­is­tra­tive and sup­port ser­vices will in­crease by 4,000 square feet.

Bar­nett says she won’t rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that the Y and the Jud­son Cen­ter, which leases its build­ing, could con­sol­i­date ser­vices and even co-lo­cate. But with bigticket projects al­ready in mo­tion, it will take open-minded di­a­logue and a spirit of com­pro­mise to avoid turf wars.

For now, Dam­meier en­cour­aged us to see the task force as part of Tal­bert’s legacy as he ends two terms on the County Coun­cil. Tal­bert has been a con­sis­tent ad­vo­cate for DV vic­tims and is chair of the Jud­son Cen­ter board.

Tal­bert says lo­cal gov­ern­ment would be derelict not to try co­or­di­nat­ing ef­forts be­tween the county’s two main providers if it means get­ting help to more peo­ple.

On be­half of Jessica Ortega and other fam­ily vi­o­lence vic­tims who’ve paid dearly, we agree.

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