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Help heal families: Fund domestic violence intervention programs

With studies showing intimate partner violence in the U.S. has dramatically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it’s time our state Legislature fully funds court-required domestic violence intervention programs.

As a Seattle Municipal Court judge assigned to a DV caseload, I observe the impact intimate partner violence has on abusers, survivors, their children and extended families.

Seattle and other Washington courts are developing new interventions as alternatives to jail. While health insurance covers substance-abuse and mental-health disorders, it does not cover DV treatment. Consequently, often the biggest hurdle to the successful completion of any program is the cost. This inability to pay also directly impacts the dwindling number of treatment providers in our state who cannot afford to keep treating nonpaying participants.

I had the privilege last year of serving as a member of a statewide work group convened by the Legislature and the state Supreme Court’s Gender & Justice Commission. At the table were judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, victim advocates, treatment providers, social workers, probation counselors and research scientists reflecting concerns from across the state. We issued a report in October 2020 that urged the Legislature to “fully fund treatment, including state-certified remote treatment and culturally competent treatment options, to promote greater access.”

So far, the Legislature has not acted on our recommendation.

In Seattle, we’re piloting the Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DVIP), a program that provides individualized treatment to address the root causes of a person’s violence. In addition to DV, participants are screened for substance-abuse and mental-health disorders, and their cases are monitored by a multidisciplinary team that includes the treatment providers, a probation counselor, and an advocate to provide a victim perspective.

The intervention project is a collaborative effort involving criminal legal system members, community-based programs and experts. Partners include Refugee Women’s Alliance, Salvation Army, Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, YWCA, Anger Counseling Treatment & Therapies, Asian Counseling & Referral Service, the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Harborview Medical Center and Seattle Municipal Court.

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