Sharon Wie, the chair of the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) Chief’s Women’s Advisory Group, speaks at a recent city council meeting. Photos courtesy of LBPD.
While the month of October may be Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a small group of Long Beach advocates are taking it a step further. In fact, such residents are working to raise awareness of the issue in the city with Break the Silence Long Beach Awareness Day.
“We started a day in October—always third Wednesday of October—to encourage the community to join us by wearing purple, like a purple ribbon, to help us break the silence on domestic violence,” said Sharon Wie, who chairs the Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) Chief’s Women’s Advisory Group and works as director of programs at Interval House. The house provides shelter and services to domestic violence victims.
“Domestic violence is often a very, very private issue,” she said. “Victims are often reluctant to call police, call for help, because they are in a situation where they are being threatened that they'll be killed or hurt or their children being taken away if they call police.”
Wie—who in her childhood witnessed domestic violence between her mother and father—said the day is important to let victims know of the resources available to them.
Created in 1979, Interval House works to provide programs and services to domestic violence victims in the counties of Los Angeles and Orange in more than 70 different languages. Wie said more than 98 percent of Interval House advocates grew up experiencing domestic violence and two-thirds of the residents in its shelter program are children.
“I was born in Seoul and I came to the U.S. when I was 4, and in my childhood there was domestic violence between my parents and so it's one of those things that as a child [...] they are often the silent victims in these homes and situations that don't have a way out,” she said.
In addition to the Interval House, victims can also look to authority figures in the community for help.
At the same meeting, the mayor presented a proclamation to a group comprised of DV advocates and LBPD personnel.
The LBPD’s Domestic Violence Unit has a program called the Domestic Violence Response Team that allows for a detective to be on call 24/7, every day of the year, and to be available when patrol officers notify them of certain circumstances. Such circumstances might include a victim being sent to a hospital due to a serious injury, or multiple casescases with the same parties, according to Sgt. Curtis Yee, who oversees the unit.
“They may respond to the scene or hospital to assist and lay the groundwork and provide resources to the victim and give them the opportunity to get them out of harm's way,” Yee said. “Provide that extra layer of service. If they need contact in getting shelter we can help facilitate that with housing.”
While victims are always encouraged to call 9-1-1 for immediate assistance and/or need help exiting violent relationships, they can also call the LBPD at (562) 570-7253, where police can provide a variety of resources for issues such as housing. Yee said this is a resource that does not necessarily lead to criminal prosecution, because in some cases there are victims who do not want to prosecute, but need to get to safety.
Yee said days like today are huge in educating the community on just how prevalent the issue is and can help others who are involved in this type of situation realize the possible courses of action they have, be it prosecution or therapy.
“There's not really a typical domestic violence scenario because it crosses all socio-economic barriers,” Yee said, emphasizing that situations affect the elderly and teenagers, as well as the rich and poor.
According to Yee, police receive domestic violence calls every day. However, not all of them can lead to prosecutions, as Long Beach Prosecutor Doug Haubert noted.
“Witnesses will often change their story because they believe they are trying to help someone or to avoid a negative consequence,” Haubert said. “In reality, unfortunately problems persist when abusers are not made accountable for causing harm. One of the dynamics we see over and over again is a victim will believe that the abuser can change and they lack the confidence to leave the person who's abusing them. That's why I especially appreciate the advocacy groups who stand with victims and support them when they need help the most.”
The Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office handles about 900 domestic violence cases a year out of 14,000 total cases—a pace that has neither increased nor decreased over the years, according Haubert. In addition, the office houses a victim’s advocate, as well as several attorneys on staff who handle domestic violence cases. These staff members also have a specialized background and expertise in handling these types of cases.
“I very much appreciate days like this to put a spotlight on the problem of domestic violence, because it's only by focusing on the problem are we going to be able to address it and reduce the prevalence of domestic violence in the future,” Haubert said. “Bringing awareness to the problem is only one step but it's a critical step and the beginning to the process of reducing violence.”