Hid­den suf­fer­ing

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence a com­mon oc­cur­rence in New­ton County

The Covington News - - Front page - By Tyler Smith

Ac­cord­ing to a Cov­ing­ton Po­lice De­part­ment re­port, Henry Arnold be­came just the latest in an in­creas­ingly large group of peo­ple charged in con­nec­tion with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in New­ton County. Thurs­day night, Arnold al­legedly punched his girl­friend in the head be­fore chok­ing and kick­ing her. Af­ter the beat­ing, Arnold re­port­edly snatched the in­jured wo­man’s keys and stole her car.

The case is not an un­com­mon one in the area.

“Close to half of all new ar­rests in New­ton County are re­lated to fam­ily vi­o­lence,” said Les­lie Smith, di­rec­tor of the Vic­tim Wit­ness As­sis­tance Pro­gram.

New­ton County Sher­iff’s Lt. Mark Mitchell said there were 668 re­ports of fam­ily vi­o­lence in 2007, which is up from 589 re­ports in 2006.

“It is preva­lent all over,” Mitchell said. “New­ton County is not im­mune to it.”

Though the NCSO has no spe­cific pro­grams to deal with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, Mitchell said deputies had the power to me­di­ate, sep­a­rate and ar­rest when nec­es­sary.

“By law as of­fi­cers we have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to make the case even if the vic­tim does not want us to,” Mitchell said. “If we see ev­i­dence of abuse, we can make an ar­rest un­der the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Act of the State of Ge­or­gia.”

If fur­ther as­sis­tance is needed, the deputies are trained to put the vic­tims in con­tact with sup­port groups or the New­ton County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

“If an ar­rest is made, the case is au­to­mat­i­cally turned over to us,” Smith said. “If there is not enough ev­i­dence for an ar­rest, the case can still be turned over to us, and we see if it is nec­es­sary to is­sue a Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Pro­tec­tive Or­der. Most peo­ple know that as a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der. We can also is­sue those in cases where an ar­rest is made.”

If an ar­rest is made, the case is turned over to Crimes Against Women and Chil­dren Pros­e­cu­tor Me­lanie McCrorey. Be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of do­mes­tic abuse cases, McCrorey faces some unique chal­lenges.

“The cases are a lot harder to pros­e­cute,” McCrorey said. “A lot of times the vic­tim will re­cant their state­ments and not want to tes­tify in the case. So we try to pros­e­cute them as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

She at­tributes some of this to what she calls the cy­cle of vi­o­lence.

“They re­vert back to the hon­ey­moon phase where he prom­ises her he will change and maybe even takes steps to change like go­ing to coun­sel­ing, but then things just get worse af­ter the case is dropped,” McCrorey said.

All par­ties in­volved agree that the num­ber of cases re­ported to the NCSO and the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice De­part­ment is just a frac­tion of the ac­tual abuse tak­ing place in the county.

Those vic­tims who do not feel they can go di­rectly to law en­force­ment for help of­ten turn to the Project Re­NeWal Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence In­ter­ven­tion Pro­gram.

The pro­gram is de­signed to help vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in New­ton, Rock­dale and Wal­ton coun­ties in variety of ways.

“We pro­vide what­ever ser­vices they need,” said Vickie Steven­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Project Re­NeWal. “That could be any­thing from in­di­vid­ual coun­sel­ing to sup­port groups. We can help them get re­strain­ing or­ders and get into touch with the right peo­ple in the DA’s of­fice.”

Vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse can call the Project Re­NeWal cri­sis hot­line at (770) 860-1666. Af­ter a short in­ter­view, Project Re­NeWal will ar­range for the per­son to be brought to a safe house in Rock­dale County. The vic­tim can then be en­tered into a 30-day pro­gram de­signed to help the per­son live an in­de­pen­dent and vi­o­lence-free life.

“Some­times peo­ple need help get­ting em­ployed and we can help with that,” Steven­son said. “They can re­ceive coun­sel­ing and par­ent­ing classes as well. We have a cook pro­vided by Gen­eral Mills who teaches them how to cook healthy meals for their chil­dren.”

Steven­son said the shel­ter is not what most peo­ple might en­vi­sion.

“Peo­ple hear the word shel­ter and they think of some big room with 20 peo­ple liv­ing on cots, but it is not like that,” she said. “It re­ally is more like an apart­ment com­plex with each fam­ily re­ceiv­ing their own room.”

In 2007, Project Re­NeWal as­sisted 1,805 peo­ple in New­ton County by pro­vid­ing 14,856 in­stances of as­sis­tance. Eightytwo of those vic­tims were men.

“It is re­ally bad in New­ton County,” Steven­son said. “And I think we are only get­ting a third of them.”

The num­ber of vic­tims in New­ton County is al­most dou­ble that of Rock­dale and Wal­ton coun­ties. Steven­son said 949 vic­tims in Rock­dale County were pro­vided 14,051 ser­vices while 999 peo­ple in Wal­ton County were pro­vided 5,239 ser­vices.

“Rock­dale County is nor­mally higher than New­ton, but not this past year,” Steven­son said.

In the com­ing months, Steven­son said Project Re­NeWal staff will be train­ing some NSCO deputies on more ef­fec­tive ways of han­dling do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases which could lead to more ar­rests and fewer re­peat of­fend­ers.

But with only six full-time and seven part-time em­ploy­ees, Project Re­NeWal is con­stantly look­ing for vol­un­teers and do­na­tions to keep the non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion go­ing.

“Peo­ple need to re­al­ize this af­fects ev­ery as­pect of the com­mu­nity,” Steven­son said. “The peo­ple that are get­ting abused are the peo­ple you see ev­ery­day. It could be the wo­man serv­ing you food or the per­son stand­ing next to you.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about Project Re­NeWal, please call (770) 860-9770.

Photo Il­lus­tra­tion by Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Bro­ken lives: Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a com­mon oc­cur­rence in New­ton County. In many cases, how­ever, the vic­tim will re­cant their state­ments be­fore trial.

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