A recent spate of high-profile domestic violence cases, culminating in the slaying of a woman last month at Cameron Village, has prompted Raleigh officials to review how police and city government respond to abuse.
The result of the discussions could be a boost in funding for Interact, a private nonprofit that partners with the city to provide critical aid to more than 8,000 victims each year.
The agency brings together law enforcement, legal services, group and individual counseling, case management, court advocacy and the city’s only emergency shelter program for women and children fleeing abuse – all under one roof on Oberlin Road.
In its current budget, the city set aside $25,000 for the 45-bed shelter at Interact, an amount that agency leaders said “does not reflect the response this issue deserves.”
“We feel that is just simply not an adequate investment for us to be able to cope with this increased demand,” said executive director Leigh Duque.
The city also provided a one-time $50,000 community enhancement grant to help pay for a new roof at Interact, a project left uncompleted when the building, previously home to the YWCA, was renovated in 2009.
With a total budget of $3.3 million, Interact relies on a mix of support from Wake County, state and federal grants and private donations from individuals and foundations.
Given that 80 percent of clients live inside the city limits, Duque said it would be “appropriate” for the city’s contribution to equal that of Wake County, which provided $125,000 this year.
The argument makes sense, says City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, chairwoman of the council’s law and public safety committee.
“There’s always this push and pull about who pays for social services,” she said. “When you look at the percentage of people who are from Raleigh, and you have us giving $25,000, it seems there’s a disparity there that we need to look at.”
Baldwin said she would lead the push for more funding: “I don’t know that there’s anything we can do in this year’s budget. Certainly next year, we need to.”
Interact serving more
Interact says its model is working. During the past year, the agency served 8,350 unduplicated victims of domestic and sexual violence – up from 6,800 in 2009. On average, 23 families walk through the doors each day – compared to seven families per day in 2009.
The issue of domestic violence burst into the spotlight Sept. 10 when Kathleen Bertrand, 41, of Cary was shot and killed by her ex-husband in the parking lot of Cameron Village shortly after she arrived to work at Pier 1 Imports. Christopher Bertrand, 42, took his own life about four hours later.
Court documents show that the threat of violence underlined the latter years of the Bertrands’ marriage. They divorced in December 2011.
The slaying marked the latest in a string of domestic cases that ended violently. Of the 14 homicides recorded in Raleigh this year, five were related to domestic violence, police said.
When Interact moved to its new location on Oberlin Road, in a space alongside other nonprofits, it “created enormous visibility” that has contributed to the uptick in cases, Duque said.
“Co-locating has allowed our partner agencies to bring more clients to us,” she said. “The good news is, more people are accessing our services than ever before.”
In addition, more women are making the choice to remove themselves from abusive situations, the agency says. National figures show that about half of all shelter residents return to their abusers. But locally, 89 percent of Interact shelter residents do not return.
The police department’s family services unit takes a proactive approach, said Capt. Norman Grodi, who oversees youth and family services. Officers are required to speak face-to-face with victims.
“To me, a phone call is not personal,” Grodi said. “I make them go to the house to try to reach that victim and get them the services they need.”
For battered women, an often daunting path through the legal system will become easier with the opening of the new Wake County Courthouse in downtown.
Currently, victims must go to at least four different offices to apply for restraining orders, speak with judges, submit paperwork and visit deputies who serve defendants with orders.
“Folks have to do a lot of running around,” said Judge Jennifer Green, who handles domestic violence cases. “We’re hoping that as we re-stack the courthouse next year, we can provide at least a little more centralized service.”
The Triangle’s growing immigrant population provides a new source of need. Kiran, a nonprofit housed in the Interact building, offers multilingual support and legal aid to South Asian women in crisis and domestic violence situations. (Kiran means “ray of light” in Hindi.)
From January to June, the nonprofit received 243 hotline calls, and the total number by December will likely be almost double the number from last year.
Asians face unique challenges because of the cultural stigma of divorce, a patriarchal family structure and the presence of in-laws and relatives in the home who can take part in the abuse, said Vandna Gill, the group’s grants coordinator.
“A lot of our work tends to be providing them with knowledge of their rights,” said Gill. “Often they don’t know domestic violence is illegal in the United States. It’s amazing how many people call and don’t realize that.”
Grodi said the city’s efforts are working, at least in terms of mobilizing to respond to victims.
“Money is not going to solve the problem,” he said. “We are fully engaged in going out to speak face-to-face with every single person who reports a problem.”
But interceding to head off a spouse bent on committing violence is all but impossible, the captain said, referring to the example of Christopher Bertrand.
“When you’ve got someone so determined that they would drive up in the middle of the parking lot...I don’t know how you’re going to stop that.”