City program to combat same-sex domestic violence still strong after a decade
Victim advocate, prosecutor pairing helps increase visibility, response from victims
Published Thursday, 19-May-2005 in issue 908
In 1995 the San Diego City Attorney’s Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Unit created a team of people to specifically handle same-sex domestic violence misdemeanor cases due to a change in California law. Penal Code 273.5 was changed to include same-gender relationships.
The requirement changed because it previously referred to opposite-sex partners only. Domestic violence then became a crime regardless of the gender of the people in the relationship.
“If two men who were in a relationship were involved in domestic violence, it would only be prosecuted as a simple battery, which is much less severe in the eyes of court than domestic violence battery,” explained Stephen Marquardt, a deputy city attorney within the Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Unit, who prosecutes on behalf of same-sex domestic violence victims, as well as heterosexual victims.
Marquardt works closely with Juan Gonzalez, a victim advocate who is also assigned to the same-sex domestic violence misdemeanor cases, as well as others. Gonzalez has been working as a victim advocate for the City Attorney’s Office since 1995.
“I’m actually a survivor of domestic violence,” said Gonzalez. “In 1992 the last time my abusive partner threw me across the room and put a gun to my head, I made a vow that I would spend the rest of my life educating the LGBT community about domestic violence issues.”
Same-sex-related cases reach Marquardt and Gonzalez after a determination has been made that it is a misdemeanor or first offense and after a detective within the San Diego Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit conducts an initial investigation. The detective will contact the victim, potential witnesses, and put together an investigator’s report with all other supporting evidence and documents from the original night of the incident and then forward it to the City Attorney’s office where Gonzalez and Marquardt will take on the case.
Gonzales works with the victims from the beginning to the end of the case so they have one specific contact person. He explains the court process, helps the victim obtain important information about the case and directs them to other resource information. Marquardt prosecutes the case from the first appearance in court through to a jury trial if necessary.
“Every single stage of the process they can feel comfortable and know that there’s one person who goes though the resources and one person who prosecutes the case,” said Marquardt.
The number of cases that go to a jury trial is very small with the vast majority of cases settled out of court, Marquardt said.
Since the development of this prosecutor and advocate arrangement to handle same-sex cases, more and more incidents have been reported each year with increased visibility. Marquardt estimates he has reviewed about 100 cases in the past year, but still handles many more that are heterosexual.
“There’s definitely increased reporting. Just working on this caseload for less than two years, I’ve seen an increased amount of [same-sex] cases, especially after Pride last year,” he said.
Marquardt and Gonzalez distributed pamphlets and an informal survey at the Pride festival last year to get a sense of the GLBT community’s perception of domestic violence. Marquardt said they learned a lot of vital information.
Participants felt the greatest barriers to combating domestic violence in the community were shame, fear, a lack of education within the community, a poor response by some police officers and silence within the community about the existence of a domestic violence problem, Marquardt said. Although most respondents knew the law protected them, many thought the law would not be applied fairly, he added.
“There’s more reporting now because there is more awareness. Before 1995, people didn’t know if the officers that responded were going to be sensitive to gay people,” said Gonzalez. “They still don’t report enough because they don’t know if the officers are going to be nice to them, or if they are going to be homophobic.”
Robert Keetch, the operations manager for the San Diego Family Justice Center and a sergeant with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), said police personnel within their domestic violence unit receive specialized training.
“As a part of that training they do cover gender-based training with how to determine the primary aggressor versus dominant aggressor and different partners, whether it’s same-gender partners or whatever the situation is, there is investigation training on those particular areas,” said Keetch. “So the training on domestic violence with gay/lesbian partners is not separate and unique. It’s a part of the overall domestic violence training that the officers are required by state law to go through.”
When someone is convicted of domestic violence battery, the law in California requires that the person attend 52 weeks of the Domestic Violence Recovery Program (DVRP), which is counseling conducted in an individual or group setting.
Dr. Ellen Stein, a San Diego-based clinical and forensic psychologist has expertise in same-sex domestic violence and started the first gay and lesbian court-ordered treatment program in San Diego County when she worked at Professional Community Services in El Cajon about eight years ago.
Stein now has a private practice in Banker’s Hill and works with various public officials and private attorneys in domestic violence-related cases. Stein evaluates the perpetrator or the victim and reports her finding to the court. When called upon she will provide expert testimony in same-sex domestic violence court cases.
“Expert testimony is used where a psychologist like myself will come in and help the court understand how domestic violence is different in the gay and lesbian community versus what it looks like in the straight community,” said Stein. “We have some really unique ways that gays and lesbians experience domestic violence that straight folks do not see, so my role as a psychologist is to come in and provide testimony about that,” she said.
Domestic violence perpetrators often use a power and control scheme. The cycle of violence is a recurring behavioral pattern where the offender alternates between episodes of violence and anger with affectionate, remorseful and kind behavior. The pattern repeats itself and the abuse will typically escalate.
Added to the complexity of the cycle of domestic violence within same-sex couples are other factors like heterosexism, bi and trans homphobia, and HIV-related abuse. Outing is commonly used as a weapon by perpetrators as well as threatening to reveal a partner’s HIV status.
“I’ve had cases where the defendant will say to them [the victim], ‘if you tell anyone what I did I am going to send an e-mail to your boss and tell them that you’re gay and you’re going to lose your job’ or ‘I’m going to call your mom back in Mississippi and she’s going to disown you,’” Marquardt said.
Drug and alcohol abuse is another element added to many domestic violence situations; specifically crystal methamphetamine abuse within some of the same-sex cases Marquardt handles.
“Whether that’s related, the issues that they’re having with their sexuality, relationships with their family or other issues in their life, a lot of times that plays into the degree of violence that we see exhibited in our cases,” he said. “Crystal meth is a huge problem in the LGBT community and it often plays out in these cases, and it just adds to the level of violence,” Marquardt said.
San Diego’s entire Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Unit as well as SDPD’s Domestic Violence Unit staff works on-site at the San Diego Family Justice Center, which opened its doors in October of 2002. It’s a one-stop shop for all victims of domestic violence in San Diego. Victims can come to one location to talk to an advocate, get a restraining order, plan for their safety, talk to a police officer, meet with a prosecutor, or receive medical assistance. All services are provided at no cost.
“It’s the first place in the entire United States where every sort of domestic violence resource that somebody might need is housed in one location,” said Marquardt.
Anybody who needs resources on domestic violence can utilize the Family Justice Center at any stage of a domestic violence situation from the early warning signs to the later stages in the cycle of abuse.
“A lot of the victims that come in have not yet reported the incident to the authorities. They come in asking questions typically to find out if they qualify to get a restraining order,” Gonzalez said.
Restraining orders and all other litigation involved with domestic violence cases are handled at no cost to the victim since the state presses the charges against the offender in a domestic violence case. Once the charges have been filed, there is no way the victim can drop the charges.
“A lot of the times you have the defendant going back home saying ‘I will never hit you again if you just drop the charges,’ but they don’t have a choice, so it takes the pressure off of them,” Marquardt said.