I go over my list again and again in my head. Is my gas tank filled up with gas? Do I have my emergency resources binder? Is my crisis cell phone charged? Did I put a change of clothes for an adult and a child in my trunk? This is the checklist that many who work in domestic violence crisis response go over when it’s our turn to be “on-call.” We have to make sure that we’re ready to respond at the drop of a hat, no matter the time of day or night. We are trained to make the first statement to the caller, “If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.” I have worked with hundreds of clients, all of whom were seeking safety from abusive partners. Their safety has always been at the center of my advocacy.
Recently, I learned that an area non-profit working in domestic violence discouraged, in the name of “defunding the police,” women of color from calling 911. Nothing could be more harmful to their interests. Yet that’s where today’s progressive ideology seems to have taken us.
Those working in the field of domestic violence are tasked with listening to clients, letting them take the lead on their decisions, all the while keeping them informed of their rights, possible impacts, and available resources. Victim and survivor advocates have to be flexible, knowledgeable, and empathetic to each caller while being acutely aware of the dangers they face. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence hotlines receive more than 20,000 phone calls every day in the United States. Sometimes callers are seeking information and resources so they are better able to assess their options. Many times, however, they are looking for immediate support to extricate themselves from a violent and dangerous situation.
Everyone working in the field knows that it is our duty to inform victims to call 911 immediately if they are in danger. We rely on law enforcement for their immediate physical safety.
But the defund the police mantra has apparently gotten a segment of our field off track and off mission. As someone who has direct professional experience working with nonprofits focused on assisting those impacted by domestic violence in the Philadelphia metro region, I was astounded to read that a major domestic violence nonprofit was engaging in divisive race ideology that negatively impacts the ability of employees to engage in this highly stressful work. Forcing staff to sign statements, as this nonprofit did, that “all white people are racist and I am not the exception,” in no way furthers the cause of eliminating domestic violence or makes it so individuals no longer live in fear of family violence. Women Against Abuse claims to offer “quality, compassionate, and nonjudgmental services” to those impacted by domestic violence. Compelling staff to sign statements of racial guilt, however, only foments divisiveness and instability in a highly demanding environment for employees and clients alike.
And if that isn’t bad enough, the same nonprofit discouraged victims, specifically Black women, from contacting law enforcement when they are in danger. As a Black woman who has advocated for victims and survivors, I find that especially horrifying. When a victim of domestic violence reaches out for help, their race is not something that an advocate, attorney, or therapist should take stock of in order to do the job. Law enforcement offers some sense of safety from that violence no matter the victim’s race. The idea that clients would be told to steer clear of the police in life threatening situations is mind bogglingly dangerous and averse to their interests.
Moreover, given the less than stellar relationship between law enforcement and those working in the domestic violence prevention and response field, more, not less, funding is necessary for law enforcement. Sure, there are times when police officers do not act in a manner that respects the position they hold. There have been countless times when domestic violence victims go to the police for help and are dismissed, the danger they’re in not taken seriously. Such miscarriages of duty call for more funding for training, not less. We need law enforcement to take the dangers of domestic violence seriously and respond appropriately when a victim reaches out for help, not leave the scene.
For all of those proudly chanting “defund the police” I have one question: Who do you want to respond when a victim is locked in her bathroom, trying to escape her abuser? Who should show up at her home when her abuser has a loaded gun and is threatening to shoot her? Do you honestly believe that I, as a social worker, will be able to de-escalate a potential perpetrator who is exhibiting homicidal intention and brandishing a gun? Are you willing to put me and my fellow social workers in harm’s way just to score political points and gain social clout in progressive circles? Or are you just virtue signaling, hijacking a movement that rightfully desires police reform, in order to further your own agenda?
Have social movements toward progress gotten so shallow that they ignore the disenfranchised in favor of the privileged few who have never needed to call 911 because someone is threatening to kill their children? What I come away with is that the Defund the Police movement did not consider the impact their ideology has on victims, and organizations that claim to advocate for victims have no business going along with such dictates.