Improving Victim Services
2020 Candidate for Harris County District Attorney
Carvana Cloud, 2020 candidate for office of the Harris County District Attorney, is dedicated to taking actions that will decrease domestic violence and improve victim services. For more information, read on or contact our campaign.
Decreasing Violence Against Women
A Priority for 2020 Candidate for Harris County District Attorney Carvana Cloud.
Seeking justice on behalf of victims of domestic violence is one of the most rewarding parts of my prosecutorial career. During the first twelve (12) months as the Division Chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Family Criminal Law Division, I observed critical gaps in victim services. Determined to change the status quo, I collaborated with members of the following groups to gain greater insight:
- Domestic violence agencies;
- Shelters and civil service organizations;
- Law enforcement; and
- Statewide and national organizations.
My record is proven. During my time as a senior prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, I identified key issues and developed the following solutions to support victims of interpersonal violence.
Issue #1: Domestic Violence Homicides. Domestic violence is a significant crime driver for Harris County’s murder rate. Approximately 28% of all murders in Harris County are domestic-violence related.
- Solution: Harris County Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT). The goal of the DVHRT is to align justice partners to staff high risk cases and create individualized safety plans for victims who have the highest likelihood of being harmed or killed by an intimate partner. Under my leadership in the Family Criminal Law Division, Harris County was awarded funding to create the county’s first DVHRT. I engaged with national experts to implement the DVHRT in 2018 and I will continue to make this program a priority.
Issue #2: Prevalence of High Risk Domestic Violence Offenses. From 2009-2016, approximately 47% of all strangulation cases were either dismissed or returned unindicted by a grand jury. This was significant because strangulation is a risk factor to predict domestic violence homicide.
- Solution: Harris County Strangulation Taskforce. In December 2018, I established the Harris County strangulation taskforce. This workgroup designed the Harris County strangulation supplement, which is mandated to be completed by police officers who investigate and file strangulation cases. After conducting community trainings for criminal justice partners, the county’s FELONY strangulation filings increased by approximately 50%. Early identification of strangulation is critical to determine the proper level of service needed to protect those who are at the greatest risk of homicide. The successful work of the strangulation taskforce provides a logical pivot for Harris County stakeholders to focus on homicide prevention, as our community begins to address domestic violence as a public health issue that affects thousands of Harris county residents annually.
Issue #3: Streamlining Access to Domestic Violence Services. Across the United States, survivors find it difficult to navigate the system to research and locate the providers best suited to serve them. As a result, survivors do not reach out for help and this can stall the survivor’s healing process but also reduce opportunities for the justice system to take action to hold the offender accountable and provide safety for victims. Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the nation and can serve as an exemplar for other counties in how we streamline and enhance services to domestic violence survivors.
- Solution: Harris County Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART). In partnership with the Houston Police Department, DART was launched in January 2019 as a mobile advocacy response designed to provide crisis intervention and stabilization to victims within minutes of a domestic violence incident being reported to police. DART teams are comprised of one (1) police officer and (1) one advocate. Inspired by the Los Angeles DART program, I introduced DART as an evidence-based initiative designed to inspire victims’ trust in the system. After securing an initial $1.2 Million Domestic Abuse Outreach Grant to launch the program, DART’s success gained the attention of the governor’s office and the grant was renewed in October 2019 for $2.6 million dollars. Through intentional collaboration with the Houston Police Department and other partners, DART links survivors to community-based services that promote healing and restoration after violence. By utilizing DART teams to triage high-risk domestic violence cases, our community appreciates the power of collaboration to ensure victim safety and offender accountability to prevent domestic violence homicides.
Issue #4: Disproportionate Impact of Domestic Violence in Minority Communities. According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, “2018 mark[ed] the highest number of women killed in the last decade.” In Harris County, forty-two (42) women were murdered by their intimate partner. Minority women are disproportionately affected as domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death for Black women aged 15-35 and homicides of Black and other women of color have been historically miscategorized as non-domestic violence crimes. A number of factors unique to immigrants–including social isolation, traditional and cultural attitudes and norms about gender roles, poor socioeconomic status, and lack of divorce or employment options contribute to their increased vulnerability.
- Solution: Cultural Outreach Program (COP). The goal of COP is to increase victim safety for survivors who are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence as a result of factors unique to their nationalities and cultures. COP is a protective order expansion program that co-locates caseworkers in community-based agencies who serve underrepresented minority communities where domestic violence is often unreported and/or undisclosed. Also funded by the Domestic Abuse Outreach grant, COP extends protective order services into the community and increases the accessibility of domestic violence services to culturally specific immigrant and minority populations within Harris County.