The following interview provides insight into an innovative project and partnership the Institute helped to develop and implement. Two staff persons dedicated to Erie County’s High Risk Team, sat down to share their experiences with this important work. The Erie County High Risk Advocate works out of the Institute and the High Risk Coordinator is employed through Haven House through a Department of Justice Grant and in collaboration with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
Can you define domestic violence high risk?
Mary: Utilizing a validated tool, Domestic Violence Advocates in Erie County are able to work with a survivor to determine their risk of homicide given the factors present in their intimate partner relationship.
What do some of these risk factors look like?
Kristen: A few of the risk factor signals include stalking, gun ownership, release from jail, violation of orders of protection, forced sex, or previous acts of strangulation.
What is the focus of the DV High Risk Team?
Kristen: We are a team that meets monthly and works to put interventions in place that prevent domestic violence homicide in Buffalo. While we always focus on victim safety, this team is especially concerned with increasing that safety through offender accountability.
Mary: Our team is interdisciplinary and includes members from the District Attorney’s office, local police, parole and probation offices, Child Protective Services, and non-governmental organizations like The International Institute of Buffalo and Haven House.
What services do the DV High Risk Team offer?
Mary: We serve as more of a liaison between the agencies and survivors. We work with these agencies to create and implement interventions that promote safety and empowerment for the victim while ensuring that all agencies involved in offender accountability are communicating effectively. It’s quite effective to have all parties involved in a case present in one room each month.
Kristen: Yes, we work more with the systems to prevent domestic violence homicide and less with the clients individually. We work with entities like law enforcement, security systems, counselors, and programs of economic empowerment as well as empowerment through art to help the victims.
What are some of the challenges the High Risk Team faces?
Mary: Since we work closely with many different systems there are a lot of different perspectives in the room. Communication is important when you are working with different organizations, attorneys, and advocates. However, we all have the same goal which is to increase the safety of the victim and her children
Kristen: Our different perspectives work within different guidelines and have different goals. Police provide safety in the present, while advocates work for more long-term safety. These differences in perspectives means we have differences in approaching the situation, but again we are all working to prevent violence and increase offender accountability.
What are some of the rewards of your position?
Mary: Developing important relationships in the community that work towards preventing violence. Also, hearing survivors and how they feel, that they are empowered through the resources we give them. It’s amazing to be able to tell survivors, most of whom have been controlled by perpetrators who tell them that no one will believe or help them that Western New York has a full team of experts who will believe them and work to hold their perpetrator accountable.
Kristen: A client just painted me a picture of hope that I hung in my office, working with them is a privilege and an honor, and so is working with all the systems toward our goal.
Do you have any donation drives at the moment?
Mary: We are always looking for donations of sports bras, underwear, and toiletries as those who escape violence often do so without the benefit of being able to pack a full suitcase. When there are specific needs, we utilize the Institute’s Facebook page to reach out to the community.
Do you have any other messages for the community that you would like to share?
Mary: If you or someone you know are experience violence know there are people here to help. And believe the person who shares their experience with you.
Kristen: There are resources, help, and hope for you! You are not alone and believing someone is the best thing you can do to be an .
Both hotlines are 7 days a week 24 hours
Haven House: (716) 884–6000
Erie County Domestic Violence Hotline: 716-884-6000 (for shelter) or 716-862-HELP (4357)