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Awareness grows among county youth, police, courts

March 08, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

See also: Reforms since '94 have helped women, jailed abusers

Despite the problem's complexity, positive actions have been taken in Washington County to ensure better outcomes in domestic violence cases.

Corporations are educating the public about domestic violence through employee programs and public service announcements, said Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director of CASA, or Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused in Hagerstown.

CASA created bumper stickers that read, "Domestic Violence is no private matter...It's a crime," to be placed on such high visibility sites as bathroom stall doors at Washington County Hospital, Sadehvandi said.

Area Girl Scouts now work on a domestic violence badge, and local schools are starting to discuss dating violence and relationships, she said.

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Such educational programs- though limited- might be convincing younger victims that domestic violence is a real crime, Sadehvandi said.

It usually takes six to eight violent episodes before a victim will seek help, but Sadehvandi said younger women seem to be leaving their abusers sooner.

The courts are ordering more abusers to certified counselors, and to alternatives to jail, such as the Catoctin Counseling Center's 18-month batterers' program.

Training seminars have made Washington County judges and court clerks more sensitivite to the problem, said Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright.

The parole and probation department is "doing a tremendous job" on following up on abusers who are on probation, and sharing information with CASA, Sadehvandi said.

Lawmakers' attitudes toward domestic violence have changed within the last five years, as illustrated by state laws aimed at fighting domestic violence, said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington/Frederick.

Lawmakers are realizing that domestic violence "just comes down to the very core of our structure of who we are as a society," Hecht said.

Policy changes like the pro-prosecution and pro-arrest initiatives have made police handling of domestic calls more effective, said Hagerstown Police Officer Randy Rourke.

City police were often frustrated by victims who returned to abusers, but laws that broadened crimes that fall under the umbrella of domestic violence have led to greater police satisfaction, Rourke said.

County and state police are making increased referrals to service providers, Sadehvandi said.

And the community is beginning to pool its resources.

The Washington County Family Violence Council - a group of citizens, service providers, legislators, prosecutors, court officers, school board members and police - formed in July to develop a strategic plan for the county, said chairperson Carrol Springer.

The Council coordinates services, serves as an advocacy group in the community, and furthers education on the issue, she said.

"We thought we'd get a bigger bang for our buck if we joined forces," Springer said.

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