March 1, 2012

Officials hope stronger laws help curb domestic violence Read more:The Daily Home - Officials hope stronger laws help curb domestic violence

by David Atchison

Feb 26, 2012

Carrie Leland, the YWCA Central Alabama Rural Domestic Violence Services coordinator, talks with St. Clair County District Court Judge Alan Furr. Misdemeanor domestic violence cases are tried in district court. Photo by David Atchison/The Daily Home<br />

St. Clair County has seen an increase in domestic violence murders committed by men against women.

“I find it disturbing we saw an increase last year,” said Carrie Leland, the YWCA Central Alabama Rural Domestic Violence Services coordinator.

She said St. Clair County logged one homicide each year resulting from domestic violence in 2009 and 2010, but that number jumped to two last year.

Leland said there have been two domestic violence murders committed against women already this year, and it is only February.

“I’m alarmed we had two in the first month of 2012,” she said.

Leland said she hopes the recent strengthening of new domestic violence laws will help curb domestic violence and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

“In September 2011, some changes were made to Alabama’s domestic violence laws, which added new felony and misdemeanor crimes and mandatory jail sentences for multiple convictions,” Leland said. “There are now mandatory jail sentences for people convicted for their second and third domestic violence offenses.”

She said domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States, and in 2010 Alabama was ranked second in the nation for women killed by men in domestic violence incidents.

Leland said since 2009, 97 women and 78 children have stayed in the YWCA confidential domestic violence shelter in St. Clair County.

“Unfortunately, we are a very busy operation, but we also know that every victim does not reach out to us for help,” she said. “Some suffer in silence and some do not know help is available.”

In 2011 alone, the YWCA St. Clair County office served 1,904 victims in courts and through crisis calls.

Court systems across the state are filled with domestic violence cases, with most cases involving the abuse of women committed by a boyfriend or husband.

“I think one of our biggest problems is that the victim refuses to cooperate,” St. Clair County Assistant District Attorney Gwendolyn Connelly said. “We try to make them understand that we are trying to get their partner help. The violence is going to increase over time unless they get help.”

She said St. Clair County contracts with outside services to help break the cycle of domestic violence against women.

Domestic violence offenders sometimes volunteer and others are ordered to the six-month domestic violence intervention program.
Connelly said the program can work.

“It seems to be really effective for first-time offenders,” she said. “It certainly gets their attention.”

She said some offenders return to court and face prosecution.

Connelly said offenders could face up to 12 months in jail for domestic violence misdemeanor convictions.

Felony convictions could mean stiffer penalties and possible prison time.

If convicted, she said, an offender could lose their right to carry a gun.

Connelly said it is not uncommon for domestic violence offenders to use alcohol or drugs.

“I have seen alcohol and drug abuse as one of the factors in the majority of domestic violence cases,” she said. “It can be a challenge to get the defender clean before you can address the domestic violence issues.”

Connelly said it’s important that women cooperate with law enforcement so their partner can get help before the violence escalates.

“They could end up being a homicide victim,” she said.

Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens said his office has and will prosecute domestic violence offenders with or without a victim’s cooperation, but he said it is a challenge for law enforcement if the victim does not cooperate.

“We tried a case three years ago where the wife refused to testify,” Giddens said. “He (her husband) hit her in the head with a hammer.”

He said the children testified in the case. Prosecutors used 911 tapes and the victim’s statements made to officers who arrived on the scene.

“She refused to testify, but we tried the case, and the guy was found guilty by a jury,” Giddens said.

He said one of the biggest changes in recent domestic violence laws that has helped law enforcement prosecute domestic violence offenders is the “probable cause law.” The law enables police to arrest a suspect of domestic violence if there is probable cause that a domestic violence crime occurred.

Giddens said the Talladega County District Attorney’s Office also employs a victim’s advocate who assists and aids victims. He said the victim advocate can assist in filing restraining orders and help the victims through the court process.

Giddens said the Domestic Violence Victim’s Advocate position is funded through a federal grant the District Attorney’s Office applied for several years ago.

He said domestic violence cases are sometimes difficult to prosecute when the witnesses refuse to testify in court or refuse to go forward with charges against the offender.

Giddens said there are many reasons a witness may refuse to testify against their husband or boyfriend, including fear.

“Sometimes they move back in with them and, of course, they (the offender) are absolutely on their best behavior,” he said.

He said the District Attorney’s Office had one case where the offender pointed a gun and attempted to shoot his wife. The gun malfunctioned.

“Instead he beat her with the gun, breaking the butt of the rifle,” Giddens said. “If that gun had operated like it should have, we would have been trying a murder case.”

The woman did not want her husband prosecuted.

He said it is important that people report domestic violence incidents.

“People need to be held accountable for what they have done,” Giddens said.

Leland agreed, saying domestic violence is not a momentary loss of temper and is inexcusable.

“It is a behavioral choice that only the batterer is responsible for and is not caused by job stress, economic stress, family stress or substance abuse,” she said. “Domestic violence is a deliberate pattern of abusive tactics by one partner in an intimate relationship to obtain and maintain power and control over the other partner.”

Leland said everyone should feel safe in their own home, which is where most domestic violence incidents occur.

“Victims of domestic violence my be isolated from friends, family and neighbors and lose their network of social support,” Leland said. “With time, the abusive partner may use increasingly severe methods to maintain control. Eventually, the violence may lead to serious injury and can result in hospitalization or death.”

Leland said the YWCA offers confidential shelter, legal services, assistance in filling out protection from abuse petitions, support groups and relocation assistance to victims of domestic violence.

“There is no excuse for domestic violence, and its costs are just too high,” Leland said.

Contact David Atchison at

Original Content

No comments:

Post a Comment