Domestic Violence Advocates build meaningful relationships with survivors

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in observance, it is important to highlight the work King County is doing to support survivors of domestic violence in King County.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., resulting in over 10 million people each year. Here in our region, in 2020 the number of domestic violence-related felony charge referrals, the most serious legal filing, did not decrease, despite temporary court closures, the statewide stay at home orders and social distancing guidelines. A data dashboard compiled by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (PAO) and Public Health – Seattle & King County, shows that from April to August 2020 there were over 100 domestic violence protection orders filed, and the highest call volume from King County residents to the National Domestic Violence Hotline was from April to July.

To address this need, the PAO includes a Domestic Violence (DV) Unit, staffed by DV Victim Advocates, who work with individual survivors to review their cases and navigate the criminal system.

Pictured: Kimberly Altamirano

“The DV Unit holds people accountable for the crimes that are committed against family members and intimate partners,” said Kimberly Altamirano, a current DV Victim Advocate. She started with King County in 2018 working in the PAO Criminal Division, before moving into the Victim Assistance Unit, and now the DV Unit.

Kimberly shares why it is essential for King County to do this work, and advocate for the community.

“Advocacy is important for survivors of domestic violence because sometimes it’s the only support that survivors have,” she said. “Many survivors have been isolated away from friends and family and don’t know who they can turn to for help. It is important that they have someone that they can connect with for resources.”

Fellow DV Victim Advocate Graciela Hernandez also emphasizes the work to hold perpetrators of domestic violence felonies accountable. Graciela started with the County in January 2021 in the Protection Order Advocacy Program and transitioned to the DV Unit in July.

Pictured: Graciela Hernandez

“As advocates, our overall purpose is to make sure that victims feel validated and supported as they navigate the criminal system,” she said. “Experiencing domestic violence can be a traumatic and heartbreaking experience for many survivors. On top of this, navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and challenging.”

“Being an advocate for survivors is important because we are here to help people navigate this process in a way in which they feel supported and validated.”

Kimberly and Graciela are part of a team that supports survivors of felony domestic cases being reviewed for filing by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Their work includes helping survivors create safety plans and understand the process of filing a case, and offering resources and referrals.

They share how the need for DV support impacts everyone, especially in a region like King County that has so many distinct ethnic groups. Both women are also bilingual, and regularly work with Spanish speaking survivors.

“King County is very diverse in population and it is important that victim-centered advocacy is provided for the community,” Kimberly said.

“Domestic violence occurs everywhere, and it can happen to anyone,” Graciela explains. “Doing this work is especially important for survivors who are a part of marginalized communities that often face unique barriers to safety and justice.”

“I love being able to assist Spanish speaking survivors in their native language. This helps create trust and offers culturally competent services,” she added.

The work can be challenging but is also rewarding. While navigating the system can be difficult, making case outcomes confusing and intimidating to DV survivors, Kimberly and Graciela are proud to be part of a team, and office, that prioritize building meaningful relationships with survivors.

“I really enjoy being able to connect with people, especially the Spanish-speaking community,” Kimberly said. “And I make it a point to create a space that allows the survivors that I work with to be themselves without worrying about how they need to present themselves.”

“Often times, survivors feel confused and intimidated as they go through the criminal process and to see their confidence build up as the case moves along is amazing,” said Graciela. “I enjoy the collaborative process that advocates have with prosecutors. Although our roles are different and our opinions on these cases may differ, we work closely together and try our best to do right by survivors.”

Through their work with the DV Unit, Kimberly and Graciela regularly work with survivors to overcome their trauma and find resolution. This work takes great strength, and both women credit not only their colleagues but their families as inspiration and support.

“My children are what keep me going through the rough times that come up while doing this work,” said Graciela.

“My mother is a survivor of domestic violence, and I always remember how difficult it was for her to talk to an advocate,” said Kimberly. “She is a daily reminder of why I love the work that I do.”