Spokane County Agencies Unite to Stop Domestic Violence
A new documentary chronicles the 'alarming' rate of domestic violence in Spokane County, Washington, as well as the cross-departmental coalition that's working to end it.
By Jared Brown
SPOKANE COUNTY, Washington -- Spokane County has the highest rate of domestic violence in Washington. And, with about 13.7 domestic violence incidents per 1,000 people in 2017, Spokane County's rate is nearly double the state average of 7.6 per 1,000.
That's according to data compiled by the state Department of Social and Health Services -- and that data is alarming, according to law enforcement, social service providers and advocates who are featured in a new documentary, "End the Violence," that is set to debut on almost every local news station Monday evening.
But it is not just the data that observers find troubling. It's also the stories the documentary tells about the victims and the ways in which domestic violence fuels crime.
"The majority of the homicides that my agency investigates are domestic-violence related," Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says in the documentary.
Throughout the film, produced by Spokane's Hamilton Studio, people who confront domestic violence each day detail the challenges they face locally, while actors recreate survivors' stories.
The all-volunteer effort to produce "End the Violence" started with a two-hour interview of a survivor named Nichole, whose story bookends the documentary.
"From that sprang, 'What can we do with this that can help so many people?' " said Lorna St. John, the film's producer.
St. John ended up interviewing more than 20 local experts over two years. Many of them are representatives of the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition, which includes the YWCA, the Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.
When Knezovich became sheriff in 2006, he said he lobbied local elected officials to fund the coalition. At that point, the mandatory arrest of domestic violence suspects was just starting to become protocol.
Around 2012, Knezovich instituted in his office what's known as the lethality assessment program, which screens victims for different risk factors at domestic violence scenes. Spokane police started using it soon after.
"The more that we advocate against (domestic violence), people will report more," Knezovich said. "We need to find a way to get there before it happens. And that only happens if we have a community that is involved."
Another initiative that has helped some victims and abusers in Spokane is the Family Justice Center partnership between the Spokane Police Department, the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office and the YWCA. In a joint location, victims can meet with counselors, officers and attorneys who can guide them through the criminal justice process.
Officers in the unit also contact domestic violence defendants in jail to educate them on no-contact orders and the gun-surrender process.
"So much of what we do here is breaking the cycle" of violence, said Jordan Ferguson, a sergeant with the domestic violence unit.
Ferguson said domestic violence can follow children who witness it growing up through adulthood, as they are more likely to become victims or abusers
What we're dealing with in our community is the smoke, and the fire in our community is the family violence that needs to be smothered," Ferguson said.
With about 10 hours of tape to pick from, Hamilton Studio editor Hannah Sander cut the footage down to a 30-minute run time, St. John said. The whole post-production process took a couple months and more than 100 hours of editing.
As the documentary came together last summer, Kim Pearman-Gillman, a senior vice president at Numerica, came on board to help organize a campaign for the film centered around awareness and fundraising.
"A lot of times we don't know what to do with domestic violence. This documentary shows people what they can do," she said. "What we realized is we needed to do some other things to help support the (domestic violence) coalition."
So she started to build a strategic plan for the coalition with a steering committee, which involved registering it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and identifying donors.
"I'm hoping that people will get involved personally," she said. "And I'm hoping that organizations will help fund the work with their time, their talent and their dollars."
Pearman-Gillman also lined up organizations and people to donate their time to the film's promotional campaign.
One of them was Russ Wheat, a partner at the Spokane advertising firm BHW1, who had worked with many of the people involved in the campaign on other causes.
He told them he didn't want to just contribute free advertising and design work from his firm.
"I said, 'But I think we can make this bigger,' " he recalled. "You need to have big impact, but you need to have sustained impact."
He started reaching out to local media who could help boost the campaign.
"They just started signing up," Wheat said. "It's touched everybody's life."
Major radio stations said they would air promotional materials for free ahead of the film's premiere. The Spokesman-Review and the Inlander agreed to run print advertising at no cost. Campaign promotions have started to pop up on local billboards.
And, perhaps the biggest get of them all, at 7 p.m. Monday, all but one major news stations in Spokane will air the documentary. KHQ, the exception, will broadcast it on SWX rather than its primary station, due to a contractual obligation to show "Jeopardy."
"We need to reach the masses," Wheat said. "All the media in town has come together to support this worthwhile cause."
Local media will continue running public service announcements for the "End the Violence" campaign after the film airs.
With more awareness, organizers hope to diminish the stigma around reporting domestic violence and get people talking about the issue.
"We hope that it turns into dialogue," said Morgan Colburn, the director of counseling, advocacy and outreach at the YWCA. "We want this to be the first step to coming together as a community to fight this issue."
Apart from awareness, the domestic violence coalition will also continue to work on advocating for gun surrender laws, sexual assault nurse examiner protocol and countywide standards for responding to domestic violence.
"I think it's an incredibly exciting time to be a part of this community with all of these partnerships coming together," said Annie Murphey, the coalition chair. "People are starting to realize we need to do something around these issues."
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