Story by: Molly Sullivan
In the three years that Dajha Richards was in a troubled relationship with her boyfriend, she kept silent, rarely asking for help and never seeking out resources, her family said.
She tried to go it alone, to get out and start over. But she lost her life before she got the chance, allegedly shot and killed by her boyfriend.
Now, some Sacramento domestic violence service providers are targeting neighborhoods, like Richards’ in south Sacramento, in hopes of interrupting that cycle.
Since her death in January, WEAVE, the primary provider of domestic violence services in Sacramento County, announced $400,000 in grant funding for south Sacramento over two years. The funding will be poured into the Meadowview and Valley Hi neighborhoods, areas of the city that have received renewed focus since the police shooting death of Stephon Clark in south Sacramento last year.
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While the plans are still in their infancy, WEAVE CEO Beth Hassett said the grant money will be used to bring service providers into those neighborhoods and collect data on what they find.
“Just creating this group that’s looking deeply at those two neighborhoods and what do people need to be safe,” Hassett said. “What are they even identifying as domestic violence? Not just WEAVE going in and providing services but what do we need to do to change the actual culture in these neighborhoods?”
Hassett said an integral part of interrupting the pattern of domestic violence is talking to teens about their relationships and what a healthy relationship looks like.
“A lot of times, especially in African-American communities, but in all communities, sometimes this abusive behavior is normalized because that’s maybe all they’ve seen or that is what they have known,” said Gina Roberson, chief program officer of advocacy and intervention efforts at WEAVE. “And so showing a different way of what is healthy, what is respect, what is safety, all of that provides another lens and another opportunity for them.”
“We need to stop talking about domestic violence and start talking about healthy relationships because that is what youth are interested in,” Hassett added. “And when they’re coming from homes where they’re not seeing a healthy relationship modeled, they look at us blankly and go, ‘I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like, tell me.’ ”
WEAVE isn’t the only domestic violence service provider increasing its efforts in south Sacramento. The Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center, the county’s domestic violence resource hub, is looking to expand in areas where they know there is a need, said Joyce Bilyeu, client services director at the family justice center.
The Family Justice Center, housed in a county building at 3701 Power Inn Rd., has outgrown its space since it opened in 2016, Bilyeu said, and is now looking to expand into Fruitridge and Oak Park.
After it’s opening, the Sacramento area experienced a particularly deadly year for domestic violence victims. In 2017, there were eight fatal domestic violence encounters in the Sacramento area involving the deaths of 14 victims – eight of whom were children, authorities said. All of the adult victims that year in Sacramento were women and most were women of color.
Two of the attacks were in Meadowview, claiming the lives of three.
In the first, Deandre Chaney Jr., 25, is charged with three felonies for attacking his ex-girlfriend, her 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son with a hammer. The boy died at a local hospital six days later. Chaney fled but was caught in Nevada and is currently being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail awaiting his next court date on April 12.
Court records show he had recently been released from jail after a parole violation and had pleaded no contest to failure to register as a sex offender in a 2016 case.
Also that day, Erica Wallace and her 17-year-old developmentally disabled daughter Kiara were found dead with their bodies partially burned in the bathtub of Wallace’s home on Janrick Avenue in Meadowview. A few days later, police killed the suspect – Wallace’s live-in boyfriend Eric Dwan Arnold – in a shootout.
Sacramento had never lost so many children to domestic violence, authorities said. For Bilyeu, it set off “alarm bells.”
The Family Justice Center organizes the county’s domestic violence resources into one hub “so victims only have to tell their story once,” Bilyeu said. It houses counseling services, case managers, law enforcement and legal professionals under one roof, and connects victims with services such as WEAVE, My Sister’s House and a Community for Peace, among others.
“So for example, someone might come in thinking they need a restraining order and they probably do, but they might have a broken jaw and need medical attention so we want to make sure that they get the medical attention first,” Bilyeu explained. “They might have been strangled and haven’t had an exam done there, so we want to do that. They might need shelter that night, so we’ll get them connected with My Sister’s House or Community for Peace by the local shelter programs.”
Victims can also get assistance filing police reports, restraining orders and get transportation for court dates and other important appointments, Bilyeu said.
Residents of Parkway in south Sacramento County have visited the Family Justice Center more than any other Sacramento area neighborhood. Del Paso Heights and South Land Park residents had the second and third highest use of the center, according to data.
Since its opening, the Family Justice Center has served more than 5,000 domestic violence victims, with 3,000 of those being children of victims, according to data collected by the justice center.
Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Durenberger, who heads the domestic violence prosecution team and is on the board for the Family Justice Center, emphasized the importance of programming for children who are abused or witness violence in their home.
“When trauma comes out, usually if it’s untreated, it often comes out in violence,” he said. “And if it’s violence inside of a home, that’s going to impact the next generation. So I think that one of the key things that we need to do as a community is to accept that there are parts of this community that suffer more trauma than others and that we need to be responsive to that.”
One of the ways the Family Justice Center addresses child trauma from domestic violence is by sending them to Camp Hope, a week-long summer camp that focuses on mentoring and trauma-informed programming for kids.
Durenberger attends the camp every year and recalled the experience of one little girl who’d been in a bad domestic violence situation. He described her as “shut down” and “timid.” She was often too afraid to try any of the activities at camp, such as the ropes course, he said, “because she had no self-esteem at all that she could accomplish anything.”
But by the next year, when she arrived at camp, she was a “leader,” cheering on other kids.
“She was like ‘you can do it!’ ” Durenberger said. “ ‘I used to be afraid, don’t be afraid.’ And she attacked the ropes course like nobody’s business the second year. It’s amazing, it’s amazing.”
Changing the culture that engulfs domestic violence is also the aim of Berry Accius’ She Could Be My Daughter, a domestic violence resource program for African Americans.
Accius said he founded the program in 2017 after seeing news stories about missing girls in Washington, D.C., and noticing a trend of violence in his community that no one talked about.
“Getting into some domestic abuse, it always becomes normal, per say, in the black community,” Accius said. You don’t talk about it; ‘what happens in the house, stays in a house.’ Talking about sexual abuse and domestic violence, that’s like a ‘white game.’ You don’t do that. You don’t get no help because we’re going to handle it from the inside. But it never gets handled. So victims become voiceless.”
Accius’s program focuses on breaking down patterns of abuse, he said, talking about abuse and “being a support system for the young women to build them up.” The program encourages women to share their stories in the hope that it helps someone else who might be experiencing the same thing, he added.
She Could Be My Daughter also hosts self-defense classes and workshops that focus on healing.
At a workshop held in Richards’ honor last month, men and women talked about their experiences of abuse, sharing painful details with the group.
“We need to keep on, keeping on,” Accius said to the group.
“None of us are immune from the tragedy, but I do believe every single one of us have the ability and the capability to do something about it. We must fight together.”