Delivery of Care

RICADV’s Lucy Rios shares strategies to combat domestic violence

‘We want all Rhode Islanders to be aware of the urgency’

Photo by Richard Asinof

Lucy Rios, executive director of the RI Coaition Against Domestic Violence, talks at the release of the R.I. Domestic Violence Homicide Report in November of 2022.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 2/20/23
Lucy Rios, executive director of the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, talks about strategies to combat domestic violence.
What kind of additional training needs to be done for law enforcement personnel in Rhode Island? Are there warning signs that high school athletes should be more aware of regarding coaches who may be exhibiting abusive behaviors? What kinds of preventative programs exist at hospital emergency rooms to help emergency physicians recognize potential domestic violence victims? If you witness abusive behavior involving friends, what is the best response?
As many folks involved in substance use prevention will talk about, there is a prevalence of alcohol abuse and drug abuse as risky behaviors to help numb the pain of domestic violence and abuse. In the same manner that peer counseling has evolved in the substance use disorder field, peer counseling has proven to be an effective strategy for survivors to talk about what happened to them in a supportive atmosphere.
Any number of women gymnasts and runners who were abused would make for a powerful conversation at the dinner table, including Lynn Jennings, an Olympic runner, and Olympic gymnasts, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. As well as Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, whose older sister was molested by a priest.

PROVIDENCE – A major undercurrent to the troubles facing Rhode Island and the nation is the increasing crescendo of domestic violence, trends that have been exacerbated by the three years of living with the pandemic.

A recent story in The Washington Post, “CDC Report on Teen Mental Health is a Red Alert,” based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, offered what the reporters called “a terrifying glimpse” of teens’ mental health, especially among teenage girls.

Some 18 percent said they’d experienced sexual violence in the past year, and 14 percent [said] they had been forced to have sex,” the story reported.

Congressman David Cicilline, in an op-ed published in The Boston Globe on Feb. 17, “Court ruling puts domestic violence survivors in peril,” wrote: “One in four women and one in nine men have experienced severe forms of physical intimate partner violence and understand what it feels like to live in true fear for their safety – especially when their abuser has a firearm.”

ConvergenceRI reached out to Lucy Rios, the executive director of the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to provide Rhode Islanders more information about the ongoing work being done to prevent domestic violence from occurring and what is being done to help survivors.

ConvergenceRI: What can the state be doing differently to combat domestic violence? Do we need a separate state domestic violence court? Where would the funding come from for that?
RIOS: We recommend that a domestic violence court be set up in Rhode Island that is specialized in handling domestic violence cases. Similar courts have been set up in other states, such as New York, and we are actively learning from the creation of these courts on how to model a similar domestic violence court in Rhode Island.

In domestic violence courts, judges, advocates, prosecutors, and other court personnel have the training and tools to better protect survivors of domestic violence and hold abusers accountable. A domestic violence court could help save lives by requiring risk assessments and lethality screenings, such as “The Danger Assessment” developed by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell of Johns Hopkins University, and other similar assessments.

Such risk assessments can help predict the likelihood of a domestic violence fatality and put further protections in place to prevent further harm to a victim of domestic abuse.

Judges need more resources to fully recognize and assess when there is a lethality threat to a victim. The impact of a dangerous case being dismissed, or a restraining order being denied, could potentially have lethal outcomes, so we want to support Rhode Island courts in having the best tools to know all the signs of domestic violence in a specialized court.

A specialized domestic violence court also allows for specific and tailored safety measures for individual survivors and better referrals, resources and supports to prevent and lower the risk of escalating violence.

These courts also provide domestic violence subject matter training in national best practices from other jurisdictions for the assigned judges and for all court personnel, attorneys, advocates, and other community partners.

To be effective, a specialized domestic violence court needs to be adequately funded by the state of Rhode Island. The RICADV is researching how other states fund their domestic violence courts so that Rhode Island legislators have all the information they need when making budgetary decisions.

ConvergenceRI: A recent news report by WPRI showed that domestic violence accounts for the largest share of felonies, and yet, according to a quote by you in the story, many incidents of domestic violence go unreported. What new data constructs are needed?
RIOS: Domestic violence is underreported for many reasons. One main reason is the dynamics of abuse itself: perpetrators threaten, harass, and intimidate victims of abuse to prevent them from telling others.

Victims also experience mental abuse and coercive control that isolates them from their families and friends that prevents them from being able to get help. Not all victims are able to or want to have law enforcement or the justice system involved, for a variety of reasons, depending on their needs and safety plans.

This is also why there is a discrepancy in data between those who reach out to our hotlines to get information and resources and those who utilize the justice system. We keep data on the volume of calls to the statewide Helpline and member agency hotlines to give us a better understanding of the needs of those who call regarding domestic violence.

There is also data available to help us understand the prevalence of domestic violence from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey [NISVS]. This data shows us that 32.6 percent of Rhode Island women experience contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking victimization by an intimate partner [lifetime

Not only are women affected by domestic abuse, but 25.4 percent of men experience domestic violence as well. However, there is a disparity between the impact of abuse on women and men.

Women experience greater impacts at 60.5 percent of women reporting impacts, versus 30.1 percent of men.

These impacts include being fearful, concerned for safety, any PTSD symptoms, injury, need for medical care, need for housing services, need for victim advocate services, need for legal services, missed at least one day of school, and contacting a crisis hotline.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the entity that collects data on population-level domestic violence victimization, invests resources in the NISVS survey, and they improve the quality of the data they collect each time the survey is put in the field by improving their methods.

Such improvements include reaching out to more people via cell phones [versus land lines] and by creating the best rapport possible between the people conducting the surveys and the survey participants, with the folks conducting the survey getting training on trauma-informed data collection, so that people feel as comfortable as possible reporting on this very difficult topic.

Other future improvements that CDC is aware need to happen include collecting more accurate gender and sexual orientation data so that we better understand how people of all genders and sexual orientations are impacted by domestic violence.

Given the nature of the problem of domestic violence, the issue of domestic violence will likely continue
to be underreported. However, with improvements to data collection, we will hopefully more accurately
learn from the NISVS survey about who is impacted and to what extent, and where the disparities lie, so that we can address the disparities and prevent domestic abuse from happening in the first place.

Another form of data is qualitative and takes the form of the feedback we hear from survivors such as from the RICADV taskforce, SOAR [Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships], and other victims who share about their experiences. This helps us understand the context in which domestic violence is taking place.

A commonly cited limitation of public health data is that it is often difficult to get reliable community-level data. Currently, the local, community-level domestic violence data is domestic violence arrests by municipality. A limitation of the local Rhode Island domestic violence data is that it only captures cases of domestic violence to which the police have responded, and as stated earlier, we know that domestic violence is often unreported.

Having more comprehensive local-level domestic violence data would help us better tailor prevention and intervention strategies within our communities. Currently, the most reliable domestic violence data we have is the gold standard, state-level NISVS data.

The RICADV participates in local, state, and national communities of practice in which similar local level data limitations are common. We will continue to participate in these communities of practice as professionals in the field of domestic violence seek ways in which the collection and use of local level domestic violence data can be improved.

We want all Rhode Islanders to be aware of the urgency of the issue and understand why it is so important that we work together to prevent domestic violence. Knowing that domestic violence felonies account for the highest felonies in Rhode Island is yet another warning sign that the issue needs our attention, and we need to continue to support funding to prevent and stop intimate partner violence in our communities.

ConvergenceRI: How are guns related to domestic violence?
RIOS: The presence of firearms can play a role in escalating domestic violence to a lethal level. Not only are guns used to kill victims of domestic violence, but they are also used to threaten and intimidate victims from leaving the relationship. Women who are being abused are five times more likely to be killed if their abusive partner has access to firearms.

In addition, women who are threatened or assaulted with a gun are 20 times more likely to be killed by their abusive partner. When we released the Domestic Violence Homicides in RI: 2016 -2020 report, the data showed that 43 percent of intimate partner homicides in Rhode Island during this five-year period were committed with firearms. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story,.]

There are important gun safety laws in Rhode Island that can help prevent domestic violence homicides. One of these laws passed in 2017 called the Protect RI Families Act, requires anyone convicted of domestic violence misdemeanor crimes or subject to a restraining order to surrender their firearms.

Although there are laws in place to protect victims and keep them safe, more can be done. For instance, we need to work together across systems to make sure guns are removed from the homes and hands of abusers. The courts, law enforcement and gun dealers must do more to ensure domestic violence defendants surrender their firearms to prevent gun-related homicides.

More information can be found in the Domestic Violence Homicides in Rhode Island: 2016-2020 report, available for review and download on our website at

ConvergenceRI: A recent report by the CDC, which made the front page of the Washington Post found that teenagers and young women are being assaulted in greater frequency: More than 1 in 10 (14 percent) had ever been forced to have sex – up 27 percent since 2019, and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure. Are there similar data for Rhode Island that are available? What is the best strategy to prevent such assaults?
RIOS: This is a question that we recommend you connect with Day One. They provide sexual assault services in Rhode Island.

ConvergenceRI: What are the best educational tools to deploy in classrooms to talk about intimate partner violence?
RIOS: Rhode Island passed a law in 2007 called the Lindsay Ann Burke Act that requires every middle and high school in our state to teach students and staff about the dynamics of abuse and to have a policy on how to respond to incidents of dating violence.

We released a report in 2017 that outlines our recommendations for the implementation of the Lindsay Ann Burke Act to educate students and staff about teen dating violence.

We share the full report on our website on our Prevention page, but the following recommendations highlight how we can work together as a whole to best talk about intimate partner violence and teen dating violence in Rhode Island:

•  Educational leaders should support school climate initiatives that promote student well-being and connected school communities.

•  Schools should convene cross-disciplinary planning teams to develop units across the disciplines that address multiple forms of violence.

•  Districts should include teen dating violence when revising their strategic plans.

•  Health and Wellness Committees of local school districts should engage parents and community members on the issue of teen dating violence and its intersections with multiple forms of violence.

ConvergenceRI: How can Rhode Islanders get involved to help prevent or stop domestic violence in our state?
RIOS: If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call the confidential 24/7 statewide Helpline at 1-800-494-8100. For more information, resources, and direct service contact information of our member agencies visit our website at


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.