The Lafayette Police Department is working more closely with victims’ advocates to help connect people affected by domestic abuse with support and legal options. Historically, the advocate is summoned by a police officer, but recently, the department has been trying a new approach.
Norah Ashcraft, a YWCA employee who works with domestic violence victims, has had an office inside the Lafayette Police Department since 2015, helping people file protective orders against abusers and giving them information on topics such as counseling and transitional housing.
Usually, a police officer responds to a domestic violence complaint and brings Ashcraft in after receiving permission from a victim. Now, for one night each week, she’s riding alongside an officer whenever the police receive a domestic violence call.
Ashcraft says that can make a big difference. It’s easier to gain a person’s trust when she’s standing right in front of them, she says. Otherwise, it’s not rare for a person to decline to meet with her.
“If officers don’t call me out, victims often times don’t reach out to me, even if they have my number and the officer has given it to them,” she says.
Because of the psychological damage inflicted on abuse victims, the earlier strategy meant many times she wouldn’t receive a call—either immediately or after the police officer left.
“If you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a couple years,” Ashcraft says, "you’ve been told by your abuser that no one’s going to believe you, no one’s going to listen to you.”
Having a person on-scene at the time of response can show people that’s not true.
“It’s just a real way for them to see it....This person really is here for me and they’re going to be able to help me get out of this situation.”
Ashcraft says the ride-alongs have also helped give her a better sense of the stress the police deal with on domestic violence calls. She adds that helps her communicate better with survivors about their own experiences with law enforcement.