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Oregon Audits Division report calls for more coordinated strategy to better combat domestic violence

(Update: adding video, comments from Oregon Audits Division)

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) — Oregon needs a more integrated, over-arching strategy to better combat domestic violence, according to the state Audits Division, which just released an advisory report assessing the state's role in addressing this issue and offering suggestions for improvement.

"We chose to do this as an advisory review, mainly because there isn't really one state agency that's out there that has governance over this concern." Audit Manager Andrew Love explained to NewsChannel 21 Friday.

The report’s issuance this week is timely, as October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Domestic violence is behavior that one partner uses to control the other. It can include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as threats and economic control. Nationwide, 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 4 men, have been physically abused by an intimate partner. In Oregon, over a third of adults experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.


“Domestic violence is pervasive, immensely harmful, and often fatal,” said Audits Director Kip Memmott. “This is an area where state government can do more to help. As auditors, we are uniquely positioned to provide state leaders with information and offer potential solutions on critical issues of public health and safety.”

According to their report, Oregon saw 532 deaths from a total of almost 400 domestic violence incidents between 2009 to 2019.

"That number is amazing to me. It's huge, and totally unacceptable." Principal Auditor Krystine McCants said.

"What we sort of found in this advisory report is that while there's a lot of individual agencies and people down in the local communities doing a lot of really amazing work here, it's a very fragmented and complex system." Memmott said.

Because domestic violence seeps into every aspect of a victim’s life, services to help must be similarly wide-ranging: emergency housing, assistance navigating the legal system, childcare, mental health care, and more. Best practices say addressing domestic violence requires an integrated approach.

Auditors say there are many incidents of domestic violence are underreported to police and may not show up in official statistics.

"There's fear, there's stigma in some small towns, for example, it may be impossible to hide that you're making a report from your abuser or from friends and family. Some people may just not feel comfortable to put somebody that they've been in a relationship with in a into the criminal justice system." McCants said.

Services to prevent domestic violence in the first place are critical. It is equally important victims and survivors are able to protect themselves from abuse that has already occurred by quickly and easily accessing the wide-ranging services that are available. However, multiple barriers stand in the way of access:

  • Some barriers are inherent to the nature of domestic violence: fear, isolation, shame, and stigma, as well as financial, mental health, and cultural challenges. Other barriers are functional, like capacity of resource providers and emergency responders or lack of transportation, childcare, and translation services.
  • A lack of available housing is a principal reason victims and survivors feel unable to leave or choose to return to their partners.
  • Victim and survivor needs have grown increasingly complex. Advocates say they are seeing increased trauma and risk factors like isolation and violence during COVID-19. Victims and survivors may need mental health, counseling, or addiction services.
  • Criminal justice interventions are more successful when victims are active participants, but victims may be unable or unwilling to navigate the complex legal system, including having to face their abuser in court.

"Some social issues like housing, lack of child care, lack of mental health care are contributors to incidents of domestic violence. They make it worse and more prevalent, and they also make it much, much more difficult for a survivor to seek out legal or community based services and protections.” McCants said.

Oregon’s role when it comes to addressing domestic violence is largely administrative and financial. State agencies pass through federal funds, including funding from the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act, and administer grants like the Oregon Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Services Fund, aimed at community-based organizations providing these critical services.

But the reliance on grants comes with substantial challenges. Advocates say direct funding to victims is often most helpful, but those types of grants are limited. Rigid grant requirements, including dictating what the money can be spent on and reporting on outcomes, can stifle efforts of resource-strapped organizations.

For example, federally funded temporary domestic violence assistance grants, a primary source of direct victim funding, only provide up to $1,200 over a 90-day period. They are also only available for individuals who qualify for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and who are either taking care of a minor child or currently pregnant. The grant was originally intended to help pay emergency rent, but the amount hasn’t increased since 1997, making it insufficient to cover most current rent payments.


Because addressing domestic violence requires an integrated approach, Oregon needs a similar over-arching strategy to be successful. Currently, many state agencies have roles to play. Unfortunately, there is no single state agency or entity responsible for coordinating a comprehensive statewide response or measuring the overall impact of ongoing efforts.

Auditors have offered some suggested solutions. Policymakers in the state should consider developing a statewide strategy to centralize resources and gather data. Legislators could add stability by making flexible state funds permanent budget items, including adjusting them for inflation, rather than addressing needs through one-time funding.

Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade issued this statement about the Audits Division’s advisory report on domestic violence:

“I am horrified at the numbers in this report showing how pervasive and dangerous domestic violence is, both nationwide and in Oregon. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time to recognize and reflect on what we can do to address this violence, and the auditors have done just that with this report. I would like to express my gratitude to the Oregon Audits Division staff for their work, and I encourage state leaders to read the report and consider the actions suggested.”

Read the full report on the Secretary of State website.

If you or a loved one are suffering from domestic violence, the national domestic violence hotline is 800-799-7233.

A distinction important to the Audits Division is that Tuesday’s report is not an audit, but an advisory report. Because there is no one state agency responsible for addressing domestic violence, auditors did not have an “auditee” to which they could address recommendations.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts

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Jillian Fortner

Jillian Fortner is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jillian here.

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