As a legal advocate for the Redmond Police Department (RPD), Lena Johnson does not have an easy job.
From dealing with the court system to the police, her work focuses on domestic violence victims.
The Minnesota native came to the City of Redmond in January 2009 after working at a nonprofit domestic violence agency as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and volunteering at a crisis helpline.
In her current position, Johnson, who has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington, said one of her largest roles is providing domestic violence victims with information such as court dates and other legal action that may be taken.
“Not every police department (in King County) has an advocate,” Johnson said. “I feel like Redmond really utilizes that position well.”
She said her first priority is to contact victims, assess their safety. Johnson said she must also assess the lethality risk of a situation.
“It’s a reality of my job,” she said. “The reality is that domestic violence kills.”
Johnson will also refer clients to alternative housing if and when necessary. This is not always easy as shelters are often full.
“It might take some creative thinking,” she said. “It’s extremely difficult, especially in this economy to find that kind of housing.”
She said in Redmond, where some residents are more affluent, staying in a hotel is also an option.
However, Johnson said sometimes victims are financially dependent on their abuser, which adds to the difficulties. In these cases she will work with victims to figure out how to get temporary financial relief such as from family or friends.
THE BIG PICTURE
Johnson said she takes a holistic approach when working with victims because safety is more than “getting new locks on the door and a protection order.” It means giving people back the control that has been taken away by their abusers.
As part of her holistic approach to her job, Johnson also works closely with the RPD.
Police officer Julie Beard, who has been with the department for about eight years, said Johnson makes sure to keep everyone updated on cases. This includes arresting officers, who Beard said usually don’t attend court hearings or other proceedings unless they are subpoenaed. As a neighborhood resource officer (NRO) for the department she no longer responds to calls, but Beard said Johnson’s role really helped her do her job better when she was a patrol officer. Beard said if she was responding to a call from a house with a history of domestic violence, knowing whether or not a suspect was in jail helped because that person may be in the house and the officers can approach the situation accordingly.
“(Johnson) takes officer safety seriously,” Beard said. “She’s also proactive and we appreciate that.”
Beard also said having Johnson on board also helps because sometimes victims find it easier to trust someone who is not a police officer.
Now as an NRO for RPD, Beard said her job now focuses more on long-term problem solving and the help she gets from Johnson is valuable. This often involves working with repeat situations and providing people with the right resources.
She admits that the repeat cases are a challenge and dealing with victims who don’t know a way out can be frustrating because a history of abuse can lead a person to believe they deserve it.
Johnson said there is a misconception that domestic violence usually happens in low-income situations with people who are unemployed, but that is not always the case. She said domestic violence comes in all shapes and sizes.
“I’ve worked with women who are high-paid executives. I’ve worked with women who have only been with their abuser,” she said.
While Johnson and Beard said most of the victims they see are women being abused by men, both women said they have seen the situation reversed. Johnson said she also sees cases with domestic partners and same-sex relationships.
Johnson added that many of her cases unfortunately involve children, but when the children are the victims — not just witnesses — she will usually turn the cases over to Child Protective Services, depending on the age.
Another challenge Johnson faces is just the lack of awareness when it comes to domestic violence because it happens behind closed doors and it has been a quarter of a century since there was a big push in how domestic violence is criminalized.
“Even though it’s been 25 years, there are still gaps in how we as society understand domestic violence,” she said.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the RPD — in collaboration with Bellevue and Kirkland police departments and the Eastside Domestic Violence Program (EDVP) — is encouraging people to become educated.
This includes recognizing signs of domestic violence, which include: physical harm, stalking, financial abuse, sexual abuse, isolation and manipulation. Redmond police are also encouraging people to contact the police or advocacy programs such as EDVP if someone they or someone they know is being abused.
Additionally, Beard said some of her work has included talking to teens so they can recognize signs of abusive relationships.
“We see domestic violence in the high schools,” she said.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
While both Johnson and Beard said they face challenges in their work with domestic violence victims, they said there are good moments.
Beard said she once ran into a woman who she initially met on a domestic violence call. Beard had spoken with the victim about what she deserved and the woman took it to heart. Beard said the woman told her that her husband received treatment and got sober and now their relationship was in a much better place.
Johnson said this was one of the best parts of what she does. She said this happens when people have a reliable support system and understand it’s not their fault and they are not alone.
“One of the most amazing things about working in my job is seeing people change,” Johnson said.