As we enter a new year, a new decade, I am entering my 26th year with the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center.

What began as a small grassroots organization largely run by volunteers has evolved into an organization that works across 15 communities helping 1,400 adult and child survivors each year move from crisis to safety and long-term independence.

At the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, we work to end domestic violence by employing broad and diverse strategies to address the issue.

We provide counseling, advocacy and legal services to families impacted by violence, and we run a court-ordered treatment program for men who use violence.

We work in area schools to change the culture of violence through Youth Empowerment Services, including bystander education, teen dating violence prevention and the empowerment of young girls through the Girls Inc. of the Seacoast Area program.

We understand that survivors need a broad range of services to recover and heal from abuse and to that end, we have had the privilege to innovate and create programs to fill those gaps.

One of our major milestones was the creation of the Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT) model, which started right here in Newburyport in 2005.

The Greater Newburyport Domestic Violence High Risk Team was the first high risk team in the country and was developed in response to a homicide in Amesbury in 2002.

This tragic event made us re-examine the ways that cases were handled. The standard response had failed, and we realized that each part of the system, whether it was the center or the police or the courts, was acting in isolation when evaluating a case, resulting in a lack of communication about a survivor’s history and putting them in even greater danger.

Not only that, the existing assessment was not properly identifying whether someone was at risk of being killed by their abusive partner.

These systemic gaps didn’t exist in just our community, they were everywhere.

The team works to fill these gaps by together assessing the risk of each case.

Research has shown that many intimate partner homicides are predictable, and we believe that if they are predictable, they are preventable.

A DVHRT uses risk assessment to identify the most dangerous cases, then incorporates that information into a community’s response to domestic violence.

The team meets regularly to monitor cases, share case information and put into action a coordinated plan to mitigate the danger. The model focuses on increasing both survivor safety and offender accountability.

The success of the Greater Newburyport DVHRT inspired other communities to begin knocking on our door to find out how they could adopt the practice, at first elsewhere in Massachusetts, and then in areas throughout the country.

This community’s DVHRT has been nationally recognized and named by the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, a “leading promising practice” in intimate partner homicide prevention.

Today, 26 teams exist throughout Massachusetts and the model has been implemented in over 100 jurisdictions throughout the U.S.

Members of the Greater Newburyport DVHRT include representatives from the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, Amesbury Police Department, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office, Essex County Sheriff’s Department, Massachusetts Parole Board, Newbury Police Department, Newburyport Police Department, Newburyport District Court Probation and Salisbury Police Department.

We are incredibly proud of the results from the Greater Newburyport DVHRT. Between 2005 and today, the team has monitored 189 high-risk cases with zero domestic violence-related homicides.

In comparison, in the 10 years prior to the implementation of the DVHRT, there were eight domestic violence-related deaths.

Nationally, intimate partner homicides are on the rise, increasing each year between 2014 and 2017. In Massachusetts, Jane Doe Inc., the statewide coalition of sexual and domestic violence providers, identified 15 domestic violence homicides during 2019.

Please tune in this week to watch a story on NBC Boston’s new segment, “Solutions!” as reporter Ally Donnelly reports on the DVHRT model and the success of this promising approach in reducing domestic violence homicide.

I am filled with gratitude for the support of this community and for our local partners.

We have made significant inroads but there is much work still to be done.

The importance of community involvement and partnership to address this work together cannot be overstated. In order to further our mission to empower individuals and engage communities to end domestic violence, and to prevent senseless deaths due to domestic violence homicide, we feel a responsibility to take what we have learned in our own backyard and share it with new communities near and far.

Wishing you all a safe and happy 2020.

Suzanne Dubus is CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. More online: https://jeannegeigercrisiscenter.org/. To view the NBC Boston story: www.nbcboston.com/investigations/domestic-violence-high-risk-team-newburyport/2065423/.

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