Madison Heights, Hazel Park continue efforts to address domestic violence

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 13, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but efforts to tackle the issue have been ongoing year-round.

Earlier this year, in March, the Madison Heights City Council authorized the restoration of city funding for HAVEN — a local agency that works to help victims of domestic violence and abuse — with a one-time donation of $3,500 from the Community Block Grant funds.

More recently, the city also began the process of establishing a partnership with HAVEN for domestic violence incidents: The Madison Heights Coordinated Community Response Team.

“The team may identify the high-risk survivors, but they strive to bring the best outcomes forward for all domestic violence survivors, and to hold offenders accountable,” said Corey Haines, the city’s police chief and deputy city manager, in an email. “The partnership and team continues to remain strong, and they continue to work in bringing all the resources available to help provide support to domestic violence survivors.”

Team participants currently include representatives from HAVEN, the Madison Heights Police, the Madison Heights 43rd District Court, city and county prosecutors, the Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence, and more. The team is chaired by Madison Police Lt. Michael Siladke, as well as Chelsea Zerwick of HAVEN. Through the collaboration, officers have received advanced training in recognizing high-risk situations and interviewing victims.

HAVEN was founded in Pontiac in 1975 as a crisis and support line for sexual assault survivors and victims of intimate partner violence, and also features other resources, such as counseling and court advocacy services. HAVEN is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, so all donations to it are tax deductible. The group is funded by federal, corporate and foundation grants, as well as by individual donors.

The group services more than 30,000 people per year through its various programs and outreach efforts. HAVEN helps victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault recover through access to safe shelter, therapy, court advocacy and more, as well as assistance with housing, financing, transportation and medical resources.

Hazel Park established a similar initiative to Madison Heights in the fall of 2020, with the formation of the Hazel Park High Risk Response Team. That program was started by Hazel Park 43rd District Judge Brian Hartwell — Madison Heights’ previous mayor — and Hazel Park City Councilmember Alissa Sullivan, also in cooperation with HAVEN. The team includes first responders and court officials in Hazel Park, along with HAVEN’s domestic violence advocates and resources.

Similar to the Madison Heights program, when police and paramedics come across abusive households in the community, or when the same victims continue to appear before the court, the city will notify HAVEN advocates, 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 opportunities to help.

Usually, HAVEN advocates 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, but if HAVEN receives the tip from police or another source, the advocate will discreetly call and briefly introduce themselves, explaining how they got their information. The advocate first asks if it’s safe and a good time to talk, and if it’s not a good time, they suggest saving their number and talking later.

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 as being from HAVEN unless they are certain that the person who answered the phone is the victim. Also, advocates are required by federal law to keep information about their clients confidential unless they have the victim’s written consent.

Domestic violence is complicated in that oftentimes the abuser acts friendly around the victim’s family to avoid suspicion, while in private manipulating 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.

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said in an email that it’s a complex problem requiring complex solutions. She said she was inspired by a similar program that Farmington Hills started back in 2012, and that she reached out to HAVEN in the fall of 2020 looking to start something similar in Madison Heights.

“The first meeting was in the spring, and there have been monthly meetings since then,” she said. “Because of the complexities of domestic abuse, a specialized team with proper training is vital to the response we have for victims. … (And due) to the manipulative nature of domestic abuse, victims may be too scared to report their abuser. We need to ensure that everyone recognizes the signs of abuse, and that the supports are there for victims to come forward and receive help.”

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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