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Domestic violence down, but problem serious

February 24, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Domestic violence down, but problem serious

The number of domestic violence deaths has decreased in Washington County, but victim advocates said that doesn't diminish the seriousness of the problem.

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director of Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown.

The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence reported no domestic violence deaths in the county during the 1997 fiscal year, which ended last June 30. There were two such deaths in the county in 1996 and six in 1995, according to the organization.

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The 1997 figures do not include Suzanne Garde, who was fatally shot outside her home near Funkstown last May. Her husband, Roland L. Garde, is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

Suzanne Garde is not included on the state list because there has not been a conviction in that case, said Jodi Finklestein, special projects associate for the Network Against Domestic Violence.

The organization held a memorial service in Annapolis Monday night in remembrance of the 79 women, men and children killed as the result of domestic violence in Maryland during 1997. There were the same number of domestic violence deaths statewide in 1996.

Finklestein said it's hard to tell if the situation has improved, pointing out that it is easier to count bodies than it is to tally the number of lives saved through education and intervention.

Sadehvandi said the good news is that domestic violence is being reported more often, and that both abusers and victims are more likely to seek help than in the past. The bad news is that the violence seems to be more severe, she said.

"I attribute it to the violence that people are around every day. It's on TV, it's everywhere," Sadehvandi said.

For more than a year, local agencies involved in the abuse problem, including CASA, police, prosecutors and the Washington County Department of Social Services, have been meeting to form a united front against domestic violence, she said.

"It's just tremendous, and I'm really glad to see this type of communication starting between agencies," Sadehvandi said.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who co-chairs the Maryland Family Violence Council, said in a statement: "It takes an organized community response to send the message that violence in the home is just as wrong and just as criminal as a mugging in the street."

Over the past few years the state has passed laws aimed at stemming the abuse problem, mainly by providing increased protection for victims.

"But even with the laws, we can't forget how volatile the situation is," said Sadehvandi, who said abuse victims are often at greatest risk after seeking court protective orders.

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