I have never. I repeat. I have never met anyone more educated, experienced, and passionate about advocating against domestic violence in my lifetime.
Meet Dr. Kathie Mathis. She’s a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, CEO of California Cognitive Behavioral Institute. The creator of the most comprehensive 40-Hour Domestic Violence Advocacy Certification. She’s worked with several Governors of California, trained the FBI, police, & state agencies. She’s also the author of Emotional Addiction: A Bittersweet Truth. She’s appeared on Dr Phil 5 times, as well as many other television shows. She provides expert testimony in the court system and still has her hand in the trenches working one-on-one with special cases. She also has a no bull**** attitude when it comes to advocacy, which as a survivor and fellow advocate I totally agree on. But what I respect about her most of all is that she also works with “the other side”. She’s facilitated her version of Batterer’s Intervention in prisons and with people on probation because she understands our work as advocates is incomplete if we don’t also try to prevent people from reoffending. Her program holds them radically accountable while also giving them the opportunity to change their toxic core beliefs, attitudes, and abusive behaviors.
Dare I say, Dr. Kathie Mathis is the TRUTH!
At NDVC, there’s constant dialogue about the inadequacies of advocacy be it at the legislative level or with those who have their boots on the ground. The purpose of my interview with Dr. Mathis is to include her perspective on it.
We all know that in order to reimagine or create solutions, we have to first truly understand the problem. The most important thing to remember is that one person alone doesn’t have all of the answers but their insight is valuable. If we truly intend to and believe we can raise the standard of advocacy it’s going to require a diverse and collaborative approach.
Nonetheless, Dr. Kathie’s insight comes from a legacy of 36 years in the field.
Important Note: This is a 3 part series. The article below is part 1 of the series. You should also know that in the spirit of collaboration, I have turned this interview itself into more of a collaborative approach. What that means is the 3 points Dr. Kathie brought to the table will be addressed with her perspective and the perspective of several advocates we have spoken to in the past who are all echoing the same things. While we do not all agree on everything, we do agree on many things in this article.
The question I asked Dr Mathis to stimulate the conversation around the possibilities for transformation was this.
What is the problem with advocacy against domestic violence in our country?
Her response. “We have a trifecta of failure in our country.”
#1 of the Trifecta - Funding sources limit what we can do.
Money makes the world go round and when there isn’t enough it limits our ability to serve in ways that are necessary. Although domestic violence is now more widely understood to be an issue, there are still many stigmas around it that include blame and when people see the person being abused as the one who is also at fault they are less likely to put their money behind supporting them. Those who do want to support often only want to support those feel good programs like shelter.
A significant portion of funding comes from the federal government. The Department of Justice allocates the funding through the Office on Violence Against Women which is appropriated to programs through the Violence Against Women’s Act. However, Dr. Mathis believes the government lacks the knowledge of what it truly means to advocate. This is a classic case of people at the top making critical decisions for those on the ground actually doing the work and those being impacted by domestic violence. In addition, a large percentage of funding puts more money into the hands of the criminal justice system than it does any other part. In 2022, the total decided upon was $224.9 million.
Out of that $224.9 million, $140,466,152 went to the criminal justice system. That’s roughly 61-62%. While only 73 grants totaling $36,195,932 went towards providing housing and related wrap-around-services to survivors and their children. That’s roughly 16% of the $224.9 million. There is also additional funding that is allocated through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). 1.7 billion to be exact. A small portion provides a Victims Advocate to survivors and funds the Crime Victims Compensation, (see Texas 2020 Report) which is supposed to cover things like medical bills, lost wages, relocation, funerals for those who die and a few other things. It caps out at $50,000 for “catastrophic injuries.” I (Audrey) can tell you many people are never even notified that these benefits exist and those who are aware are either denied benefits or are given an embarrassing amount to help them. I (Audrey) had over $100,000 in medical bills after being set on fire by my ex-husband because despite having medical insurance most of my doctors were out of network. I also was rendered disabled due to my injuries and never received anything for lost wages. Myself and my children were homeless and did not receive anything for relocation. I also did not receive any restitution. But restitution is a revenue stream for the Crime Victims Compensation Act. In addition, I could not sue my ex-husband in Civil court because his NYPD pension was protected by the state of New York. That's a whole story on its own. That’s not to say that Crime Victims Compensation doesn’t help some people. When my personal angel, Megan, was set on fire by her husband, her family received funds to bury her. But it came well after her funeral. What paid for her funeral was the $10k we raised for her while she was still alive. This funding is also not specific to survivors of domestic violence but is meant for anyone who experienced a violent crime. It also pays for people to travel to watch the person who harmed their family member be executed on death row. Here’s the thing, if we could incarcerate ourselves into safety wouldn’t we already be there? Criminal punishment alone does not work. How could an attempt to resolve violence by only locking people up in a more violent environment make them more accountable, compassionate, and peaceful?
Fun Fact. Well not fun but it's a fact. Historically, prisons and courts don’t have to prove that incarceration actually works as a deterrent. Yet, they continue to get the mass majority of the funding. Perpetrators definitely need to be held criminally accountable but when recidivism rates don’t back up or prove success then we need to rethink how we allocate our resources. We would never continue to pay for a cell phone service that rarely worked when we picked up the phone to call someone. So why do we continue to fund a failing criminal justice system and still believe it’s our best hope of getting a real grip on this issue.
Not to mention that there is little to no funding at all in the Family Court system. Tina Swithin said it best in our interview with her last year. “There is a huge disconnect between domestic violence (DV) advocacy groups and the reality of the family court system. We are telling survivors of DV to ‘be brave’ and to leave the abuse but we aren’t preparing them for the new chapter of abuse they are walking into.
Lastly, there is a TON of red tape that comes with federal funding. This can be a positive and negative thing. On the positive side, agencies are required to report their results on their funded programs. On the negative side, there is a monopoly for large agencies to be funded rather than grass roots programs that are community specific. Plus, agencies are required to cooperate with local police departments and State Attorney's offices, which wouldn’t be a problem if we were all on the same page but we’re not. So what is an agency supposed to do when those entities aren’t doing their jobs? Raising a red flag could also mean that you’re then biting the hand that feeds you. So instead, the very same agencies that advocate for survivors to break their silence end up being silenced themselves for the sake of the economic stability of their programs and salaries. All of that red tape also limits the services a DV agency can provide in the first place, regardless of the needs or the data on what actually works.
So what’s the solution?
While domestic violence impacts women, men, children, and LGBTQ communities, we cannot change our world until we change our men. We also need to cultivate a culture that understands that the dangerousness of domestic violence reaches from behind the curtains of someone’s home and family, straight into our schools, the work place, our churches, the healthcare system, other federally funded programs, and more. We need more funding for community programs that focus on prevention and long-term success. What would it look like if 61% of the funding was invested into community prevention programs? I (Audrey) imagine that it would be radically transformational. Much like if we took a preventative approach to our healthcare. Imagine a healthcare system that focused its efforts on preventing disease vs. treating it.
The 60-day shelter model also needs to be extended into a transitional holistic & communal model. They have much higher long-term success rates. How can we expect survivors to get back on solid ground in 2 months. Anybody in the mental health field will tell you nobody overcomes trauma in 2 months. It took 10 years to rebuild Freedom Tower after 9/11. Not to mention that we already have the data to prove that a woman and her children are in the most potential danger of homicide in the first 6 months after she leaves an abusive relationship so why aren’t shelter programs longer and more robust?
We need programs that address all life domains for healing: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, professional, relational, educational, and economical because domestic violence impacts them all. Lastly, we need more freedom for the advocates on the ground to creatively and collaboratively serve in the ways they need to.
There is no doubt that we need to reimagine how we fund ending domestic violence in our country. We need more advocates that will advocate for radical change.
Stay tuned for part 2 in this series.