On average an abused woman will leave her significant other five to seven times before she finally leaves for good.
Which means law enforcement officers may be called out to the same residence and deal with the same victim and perpetrator, with the same set of circumstances, many times through out a period of weeks, months or even years. It’s a frustrating cycle, but one Jennifer Thomas hopes officers and deputies will remain vigilant about.
“It’s a process and not just a one time event,” said Thomas. “Sometimes there are barriers to leaving: finances, lack of employable skills, lack of transportation or fear of leaving. We encourage local law enforcement to have a palm card to give victims with emergency numbers on them … I want them to know a local number to a local domestic violence program and put it in their phone, and know the name of a local advocate.”
Thomas is the program manager with the Georgia Commission on Family Violence. Her office is educating law enforcement agencies across the state of Georgia on the dynamics of domestic violence and the appropriate response when answering a call. She said typically victims will reach out to law enforcement for help before any other agency.
“At every call (law enforcement officers) need to provide resources to a victim and write a report - every time,” she said. “There are resources … leaving is dangerous, but connecting with local resources will help them leave safely.”
Resources like Harmony House, a United Way agency and state-certified shelter in Troup County that serves victims of domestic violence 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We need to have collaborative partners to make sure we’re on the same page,” said Harmony House Executive Director Michele Bedingfield. “And to better serve our clients.”
Advocates with Harmony House, LaGrange police officers and investigators, Troup County sheriff’s deputies and investigators, Department of Family and Children Services, plus agencies from Meriwether, Heard and Coweta counties all took part in Friday’s session at the LaGrange Police training center.
Bedingfield said Harmony House has about 100 residents living in its shelter throughout the year and the organization helps 100 more victims through their outreach programs. However, the calls to its emergency crisis line reach into the thousands every year. Bedingfield hopes law enforcement officers personalize their approach when dealing with potential domestic violence victims.
“When they go out on calls say, ‘I know an advocate named Amanda at the Harmony House. Here’s her number.’ Instead of just giving out the general crisis hotline number,” she said.
Bedingfield said Friday’s domestic violence training class was also a chance for her group to learn more about what law enforcement does when handling those calls. Mike Mertz, the owner of CM consulting, also went over policies and regulations in regards to the family violence law and on-scene investigation.
“First responding officers are there when the evidence is fresh; people are mad, kids are crying, there might be blood on the walls,” said Mertz. “Unfortunately, victims will usually recant their stories 85 percent of the time. So officers need to document the scene … take pictures and record interviews while the scene is still fresh.”
According to Mertz, each time a domestic violence situation is documented, it builds a stronger case down the line for the prosecution.
Friday’s training session gave law enforcement officers six hours of post-certified credit, at no cost to their departments.
Ultimately, it may provide law enforcement officers with more tools to help settle a very unsettling situation.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and would like to get help or just talk to someone, call the Harmony House 24 Hour crisis line at 706-885-1525.