Domestic Violence: Crystal Judson Center, created in the wake of a tragedy, offers hope to victims
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on services for victims of abuse and violence in Pierce County. Other stories include:
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Health and Wellness stories are made possible in part by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, a proud sponsor of Gig Harbor Now.
- One woman’s story of escaping an abusive relationship
- Other resources available to help people escape abusive relationships
- How the Gig Harbor Police Department handles these cases, and resources for navigating the legal system
Warning: This story includes some descriptions of violence and abuse.
Recognizing the signs of potential abuse in a relationship can be difficult. Some abusers hide who they really are until they have the victim in a vulnerable position, cut off from family and friends or financially dependent.
For some victims, the abuse starts soon after a relationship begins. For others, the abuse begins after marriage.
Various agencies in Pierce County help current abuse victims and those who suffered relationship violence in the past.
A tragedy and what came of it
In the 1990s, Pierce County combined its Domestic Violence Unit with the Clerk’s Office, which processes domestic violence protection orders. By 2003, Pierce was eyeing a new family justice center in San Diego as a possible model for combatting abuse.
That’s when a tragedy occurred in Gig Harbor. Crystal Judson was murdered by her husband, then-Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, in a Gig Harbor parking lot. The family sued the city of Tacoma, and the resulting settlement required that the new Pierce County family justice center be named for Judson. The center opened in 2005.
“That tragedy brought to light domestic violence in the community in a different way, and it brought the players together who were already trying to get a justice center up and running,” said Nadia Van Atter, assistant director at Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.
The family justice center designation means the center houses a variety of services for abuse victims in a single location, Van Atter said. At the Crystal Judson Center, that includes everything from victim advocates to representatives from the prosecutor’s office.
“The idea behind that is that if someone is working with a community advocate and they decide that they want to engage with law enforcement (to file a report) we can facilitate that. It is all confidential,” she said. “We are mandated reporters, so if there is child abuse, elder abuse, or someone threatens to harm themselves, we have to report it. But anyone walking in and talking about abuse that has been done to them by an abuser, that is confidential.”
Victims who report abuse have access to an advocate through the CJFJC. That person will listen and has immediate access to multiple systems housed in the same hallway, she said.
Seven such advocates work at the center, some representing the CJFJC and others community partners. Six advocates are full-time. More than 38 professionals provide services through the center, Van Atter said.
Last year, the center served 1,700 clients. A total of 15,000 people visited, called or received follow-up care, she said.
The center specifically deals with intimate partner violence. The CJFJC includes eight programs designed to disrupt the spokes of power and control of an abuser, she said.
The eight spokes
Advocates “will talk about what resources and options look like, what housing is available, food banks they can access, and counseling. Advocates create a space for them to talk freely,” Van Atter said.
If victims are not ready to think about leaving, the advocate will help them come up with a safety plan so that when they do decide to leave, they can do it as safely as possible, she said.
This programs is two-pronged.
“All advocates are cross-trained in filing domestic violence protection orders, and they will talk to the victim about the scope of that order, what the process looks like, and if they want to file, the advocate can walk them through that process,” Van Atter said.
The center also partners with Tacoma Pro Bono, which offers legal clinics for the clients of the center. If the victim wants to begin a family law case, that help is available. For some, the abuse is not physical, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t abuse.
“The domestic violence definition was rewritten to better encapsulate the experience of abuse,” said Andrea Saunders, managing attorney of the Family Safety Project at Tacoma Pro Bono. “The coercive control that is meant to make their life smaller, to take away choices, that is in the definition. That can be grounds for a protection order.”
The CJFJC domestic violence help line has been in place longer than the center has been open. Operators provide information to callers, who are sometimes family members of victims, and sometimes medical or social service professionals asking how to refer a patient. The help line number is 253-798-4166.
Once a domestic abuse survivor has connected with CJFJC, the well being program helps survivors take the next steps. Two support groups are available via Zoom. One focuses on domestic violence in general, Van Atter said, and the other deals with the overlap of domestic violence and substance use disorder.
“We know that those survivors may face different barriers,” Van Atter said, “and often abusers will use that against a survivor.”
The center also hosts a monthly meeting of survivors. “We talk to them about our programs, and incorporate their feedback so we are keeping survivors at the center of what we do.”
CJFJC sets up tables at events throughout the county and reaches out directly to victims. “We screen domestic violence reports, and cold call out to the listed survivor on the report to ask if they need help connecting with domestic violence services.”
The sixth component of the program provides financial services information. “The Department of Social Health Services is on site and a community partner,” Van Atter said. “They come once a week to talk folks through the different state assistance programs, and help them sign up for those. We can also help them enroll in crime victim compensation.” That helps cover medical bills if the client is the victim of a crime, and acts as insurance.
Emergency victim support
This program provides toiletries, diapers, wipes and other desperately needed items. At Christmas, clients can shop for donated gifts to give their children, Van Atter said.
Emergency pet supplies
Kindred Souls helps with emergency pet supplies.
All of these services are confidential, and free, she said.
Some clients served through the CJFJC have overlap needs, which means they are getting help from other organizations in Pierce County, including many government agencies that partner with CJFJC, Van Atter said.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse or violence, you can reach the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center at 253-798-4166 or online at familyjusticecenter.us