Hazel Park teams up with HAVEN to help victims of domestic violence

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 18, 2020

 Discussing the new High Risk Response Team in a Zoom call are, from top left: Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story, HAVEN First Response Court Advocate Kaitlyn Anderson, 43rd District Judge Brian Hartwell, Hazel Park Police Chief Brian Buchholz, Hazel Park Mayor Pro Tem Alissa Sullivan, Hazel Park City Attorney Melissa Schwartz and Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher.

Discussing the new High Risk Response Team in a Zoom call are, from top left: Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story, HAVEN First Response Court Advocate Kaitlyn Anderson, 43rd District Judge Brian Hartwell, Hazel Park Police Chief Brian Buchholz, Hazel Park Mayor Pro Tem Alissa Sullivan, Hazel Park City Attorney Melissa Schwartz and Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher.

Image provided by Alissa Sullivan

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HAZEL PARK — Domestic violence can happen to anyone. Oftentimes the abuser acts friendly around family to avoid suspicion, but in private they manipulate their partner through fear — degrading them, restricting access to relatives and resources, and even hitting them. The abuse can be both physical and psychological, and the abuser can become so deeply embedded in the victim’s life that the victim may feel trapped, unable to escape.

But there is always a way out — and there’s no shame in seeking help.

To empower victims of domestic violence, the city of Hazel Park has established a High Risk Response Team in collaboration with the nonprofit HAVEN. The program was started by Hazel Park Mayor Pro Tem Alissa Sullivan and Hazel Park 43rd District Judge Brian Hartwell. The team includes first responders and court officials in Hazel Park, along with domestic violence advocates and resources from HAVEN.

Now, when police and paramedics come across abusive households in Hazel Park, or when the same victims continue to appear before the court, the city will notify the advocates at HAVEN, turning over police reports and other materials. The advocates are highly trained experts in the field of domestic violence prevention who know how to intervene without compromising the victim’s safety. They can identify patterns of abuse and find opportunities to help.

“We’ve tested it with two real cases so far,” Hartwell said. “We can’t wait any longer (to roll out the program in full); the reality supersedes the formality. Domestic violence is happening now.”

“It’s about what happens in between cases,” he added. “The court only has the opportunity to intervene during the court case, and there is limited opportunity (for first responders) to intervene during responses or rescues. Now the team will fill in that gap. We’re trying to prevent death or serious injury. This team is the knock on the door, or the discrete email or text (offering help).”  

According to Melissa Sinclair, social action program director at HAVEN, the advocates usually receive a referral from its crisis line that is initiated by the victim, a police officer, hospital staff or another concerned person. If the victim calls, they can indicate the best way to reach them. If the advocate learns of the victim from police or another source, the advocate will call, briefly introduce themselves and explain how they got their information.

“We will ask if it is a safe and good time to talk to them,” Sinclair said. “If not, we suggest they save our number and call back when and if they would like to. Typically, the officers that refer clients to us will have told the victim we will be reaching out.”

The advocates prioritize the victim’s safety, with precautions to avoid retaliation by the abuser. The advocate can work with the victim to create an individual safety plan, complete with code words to avoid detection. Advocates do not identify themselves from HAVEN unless they are certain that the person who answered the phone is the victim. Also, the advocates are required by federal law to keep information about their clients strictly confidential unless they have written consent from the victim.

“So even if an abuser, attorney, cop or anyone else asked if someone was receiving services at HAVEN, without a release of information on our end, we are unable to provide that person with any information unless required by subpoena,” Sinclair said.

She said that the advocates strive to meet the victims where they’re at in life.

“We listen without judgment, provide crisis intervention, safety planning, and provide education on the criminal justice process, what to expect and possible outcomes,” Sinclair said. “We allow the survivors to guide conversations and help them identify their needs. From there, advocates can help connect to community organizations that fit their needs, or refer them to other departments within HAVEN such as counseling, shelter, crisis line and resource room. We do not force clients into participating in the criminal justice process, nor do we require that survivors report to the police.”

Sullivan, the mayor pro tem, said it takes tremendous courage to challenge an abuser, and even more courage to share something so deeply personal with strangers in law enforcement and at the court. But the members of the High Risk Response Team are there to help and understand the challenges. And at a time of pandemic, the team may be needed now more than ever, she said.  

“The rates of domestic violence during quarantine have gone up, because the reality is often people that work outside the home have some escape from that domestic violence, but when they’re stuck in the same environment 24/7, you have this escalation,” Sullivan said. “There’s the lack of resources and the lack of income, and an increase in stress, all exacerbating the issue, resulting in higher levels of assault and abuse.”

She noted that she herself has experienced domestic violence before, and she knows how harrowing it can be.

“Domestic violence isn’t exclusively physical assault. It can be psychological,” Sullivan said. “Abuse can even be the restriction of resources, controlling the financial portions of the household or limiting access to relatives, so that (the victim) can’t leave, even if they want to leave. And there’s a saying about domestic violence: ‘Abusers are the nicest people you ever met.’ In other words, abusive partners have a persona to everyone around them, and they maintain that persona to maintain control. That’s what it’s about to them — it’s about power, and it’s super toxic.

“The High Risk Response Team is literally giving victims access to experts in the field, and I can’t imagine a better way to promote the health and safety of our community. I feel like this is a win-win. It not only helps the victims, but it takes much of the responsibility off our police and EMT and Fire Department, and puts victims in contact with the people who can help them best.”

Ed Klobucher, the city manager of Hazel Park, said the program provides an essential service.

“Domestic violence is insidious, and it’s not just the victim who’s affected — sometimes the entire family can be trapped in the cycle as well, with children involved. It’s very complex and can be very dangerous, and that’s why having professionals trained in these sorts of situations will help us to resolve them,” Klobucher said. “I would like to commend both Judge Hartwell and Mayor Pro Tem Sullivan for their work on this issue. Obviously the city is supportive of this, and we look forward to this program making a difference in the lives of those affected by the tragedy of domestic violence.”

If you or someone you know is being impacted by domestic or sexual violence, call HAVEN at its confidential 24/7 crisis line: (248) 334-1274. To learn more about the High Risk Response Team, email Melissa Sinclair at msinclair@haven-oakland.org.

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