October is domestic violence awareness month
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, domestic violence is a pervasive problem in today’s society that adversely affects all races, genders and socio-economic classes.
The number of domestic violence crimes in our nation is staggering, and millions of people are affected each year. Tennessee currently ranks fifth in the nation for the rate of women killed by men; and in 2018 alone our state saw 73,408 domestic violence and sexual assault related cases reported to law enforcement. Yet, many acts of domestic violence continue to be unreported, due in large part to barriers in reporting the abuse and obstacles in leaving the abusive relationship.
In response to these staggering statistics, the 8th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office, which serves Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties, has implemented and supported new programs to promote safety for victims, reduce the number of domestic violence related homicides and hold domestic violence offenders accountable.
One such program is the Family Justice Center. Family Justice Centers involve collaboration of public and private agencies to provide a centralized location that houses victim advocates, specially trained law enforcement officers, as well as domestic violence prosecutors and coordinators. These family justice centers provide a “one stop shop” where domestic violence victims can receive the services they need without traveling to multiple agencies.
At these centers, a person experiencing domestic violence can request an order of protection, develop a safety plan, speak with advocates and seek the assistance of specially trained law enforcement and prosecutors. Family Justice Centers have shown to reduce the number of homicides by intimate partners, improve victim safety, provide for more effective and efficient prosecution of offenders and enhance community support for victim services.
As of 2018, nine Family Justice Centers had been opened in Tennessee, including Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Jackson, Johnson City, Blountville and Huntsville. This year, Claiborne, Anderson, Haywood and Overton counties were approved to have their own Family Justice Center.
It is noteworthy that the Family Justice Center located in Huntsville, Scott County was the first rural Family Justice Center in our state. When the Claiborne County Family Justice Center opens, the 8th Judicial District will sport two of the 13 Family Justice Centers for Tennessee – a truly remarkable feat for our rural area and a testament to the stalwart desire of our local, state and federal partners to better serve domestic violence victims.
The 8th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office has also partnered with law enforcement in our five counties to help improve victim safety and reduce domestic violence. This year, the Lethality Assessment Protocol was taught to law enforcement agencies in Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union Counties. This assessment is a tool for law enforcement officers as they respond to domestic violence calls and enables them to better assess the risk of a victim being murdered by his or her intimate partner.
Further, these assessments are a powerful tool for prosecutors in evaluating cases and holding offenders accountable. The 8th Judicial District is the first rural judicial district in Tennessee to strive to implement these Lethality Assessment Protocols across the board.
In closing, we have made significant progress in combating domestic violence, but much work remains. It is my hope that Tennessee will become a place where Family Justice Centers are located in all judicial districts and that crime victims, especially those of domestic violence, are always at the forefront of any conversation concerning criminal justice. We all have a responsibility to stand up for crime victims and I hope you will join me in the days, months and years to come as we continue to fight against domestic violence.
Jared Effler is the elected District Attorney General for Tennessee’s 8th Judicial District and has been serving in this capacity since 2014.