Sakhi’s Direct Services Department recently organized a session for survivors of domestic violence and staff entitled “Accessing the Police.” The goal of the workshop was to offer survivors an opportunity to address the barriers one faces when reporting domestic violence incidents and accessing the police system. Topics discussed that evening included: filing a Domestic Violence Incident Report (DIR), verifying the accuracy of the report by the filer, reconciling discrepancies between the DIR filed and the filer’s account of the incident, obtaining personal copies of the report, differentiating between a DIR and a general complaint report, the general complexities of the police system and the importance of advocating for yourself. In addition, survivors learned about the various types of crimes that fall under the category of domestic violence.
Several survivors who receive support through Sakhi attended this workshop hoping to become better acquainted with DIR filing protocols. The presenter, Jessica Penaranda, is a case manager from the Domestic Violence Police Program at Safe Horizon, another agency providing domestic violence services in New York City. Ms. Penaranda accompanies police officers when they are required to follow-up with survivors after a DIR has been filed; advocating within the police system on behalf of survivors. Two Sakhi staff members, J.B. and B.R, attended the session to assist in translating questions. Their presence underscored the importance of enabling language access for all individuals within the system.
The newly hired Director of Direct Services, R.C., helped clarify several discussion points for those in the audience who were new to the difficulties of navigating New York City’s Police system, and therefore, may have been hesitant to ask questions. As R.C. observed, “The workshop went well. It was geared mainly to survivors, and it was great to have advocates sitting in to speak on behalf of survivors (to be their voice, when necessary). It created an environment of empowerment.” The presence of other survivors and their active participation was also critical. After one survivor began to describe her experience when filing a DIR, it encouraged others to bring their questions to the group. As R.C. observed, “the voice of this one survivor, who is much farther along in her healing, helped to encourage other survivors to speak.”
Sakhi volunteer, Neeta Singh was also present to learn and engage in scenarios related directly to her work supporting survivors. The diversity of those who attended created an opportunity not only for survivors but for Sakhi staff to be more cognizant of the barriers faced by survivors and to develop their understanding. The importance of advocating was a theme throughout the session; self-advocating and knowing one’s rights are essential to accessing justice. New York City law, for example, theoretically ensures that interpretation services must be available at all precincts. Yet, as Sakhi staff member B.R. pointed out, survivors are routinely turned away at precincts and asked to return with an interpreter when trying to file a police report. Thus emphasizing laws can easily be bypassed by individual police officers.
We also heard various ways in which the system breaks down for survivors. The difference between the written law and the law as it is practiced can be astounding. One survivor noted that after calling the police, she signed a DIR written by a police officer which was an incorrect version of the events as she had reported. Though her signature is meant to ensure the filing of the facts are accurate and she reviewed and approved what the office had reported, her state of distress after the domestic violence incident precluded that possibility.
The important role played by advocates was emphasized time and time again. Ms. Penaranda explained that discrepancies can be corrected, albeit through a formal process, which often requires the assistance of agencies like Sakhi for South Asian Women. As each survivor becomes familiar with her rights and hears the stories of others, she realizes that the police system, though meant to protect her, may not automatically ensure that her rights will be respected throughout the many steps she must take on her journey to justice. Advocacy is key and at the Sakhi office the staff provides advocacy as well as empowerment for survivors at every juncture.