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Wed, Oct. 16

Resources lacking for domestic violence victims

Courier/Jo. L. Keener

Stepping stones outside the women's shelter.

If their shelter is full and they have a family that needs to stay somewhere, they will ask Catholic Social Services or St. Vincent de Paul, for example, to pay for a family to stay in a motel for day or two.

If the family can't stay in the area because the abuser is after them, "we will access other shelters to see if we can find a place for them," he said.

Often local charity organizations assist with transportation costs, he said.

In 1998, the Arizona Governor's Office received money from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish task force agencies around the state that would strategize a plan to reduce family and domestic violence.

Wiebusch, who was the head of local task force, said the objective was to get all the social service and governmental agencies to work together to make the process for the victims more efficient and expedient.

He said the victims were able to obtain orders of protection, for example, much faster because they had someone to help them out with it.

A year ago, however, DOJ cut the financial support and the task force went away, Wiebusch said.

Wiebusch said his agency works very closely with Arizona Women's Education and Employment (AWEE), which not only offers to women job-readiness training, but also professional clothing for interviews. In addition, when the agency places a woman in the work force, they have minimum pay standards that enable her to provide for herself and her family, he said.

He said the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) also offers job training. If clients need counseling, they refer them to licensed agencies such as West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, Wiebusch said.

Stepping Stones refers its clients to the Victim Witness Office if they have filed or are going to file a police report on a domestic violence incident.

"We work with domestic violence victims in the justice court precinct of Yavapai County because it is a misdemeanor charge and if they become a felony," victim advocate Pam Martin said.

"The city has their own cases," she said, adding that is one of the reasons why it is hard to track down statistically domestic violence cases.

Advocates often give the victims impact and financial loss statements to fill out and inform them about resources that are available in the area, she said. She said advocates can ask the judge to issue no contact orders or orders of protection against the abuser so that the victim can feel safer, she said.

Martin said the victims can get orders of protection without reporting the incident to law enforcement. Any court in the county can issue order of protection and they are good anywhere in the country, she said.

Martin said the Crime System Compensation Fund is available for the victims if they need to cover medical costs that are a direct result of the crime, or financial assistance for lost wages and counseling.

"It is provided by the federal government," she said. "And they do have had to report the crime for that to kick in."

Martin said that they refer their clients to agencies that can help them with legal matters.

"Sometimes we refer them to Community Legal Services if they are trying to get a divorce or custody of their children or to see what their rights are with any kind of family issues," she said.

"We also refer them to the Arizona Coalition against Domestic Violence, which is a statewide agency that has a really good information about legal rights," she said. "They'll intervene with the employers, creditors and landlords because domestic violence overlaps. It goes into the work place and the victim ends up losing her/his job from being severely abused."

Martin said that the biggest problem is that the victims of domestic violence still do not report incidents as often as they should.

"Domestic violence is a crime and I think people are ashamed about it and don't feel they can report it and ask for help," she said. "I do not know that there is enough awareness that there is help available."

She added that often the abuser convinces the victim that she is worthless and makes her believe that she can't make it on her own, she said.

"They feel they are stuck in that relationship," she said.

Wiebusch said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that only 30 percent of domestic violence cases get reported.

Nearly one-third of American women report that a husband or boyfriend physically or sexually abused them at some point in their lives, according to the Commonwealth Fund, Survey of Woman's Health from 1999.

Arizona has the second highest domestic violence murder rate in the country and domestic violence is the number one call for services among law enforcement agencies in Arizona, according to the Breaking the Cycle booklet by the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.

In 2001, for example, Yavapai County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to 1,317 calls related to domestic violence, That number decreased by about 60 calls in 2002.

Other tri-city law enforcement agencies measured a slight increase in calls for services on domestic violence. However, in 2001 and 2002, Prescott Valley Police responded to twice as many calls as Prescott Police. Prescott Valley figures were about 640 and 710 and Prescott's at about 335 each year.

Wiebusch said his agency received about 2,000 calls in 2000 and that figure jumped to more than 3,100 calls in 2002.

Victim Witness has volunteers who respond to the crime scene when law enforcement calls them, Martin said. They are on call 24/7, she added.

"Law enforcement can call us and we can respond to the scene of the crime or make a telephone contact with the victims of domestic violence and help support them through the immediate crises," she said.

In addition to emotional support, volunteers lay out for them what options they have, she said.

If a victim has to leave everything behind to make an escape without giving her abuser any clue, staying with relatives or friends would be an option, Martin said.

"If they do not have family and they need to get away, then we need to find them a shelter in another state or another area," she said.

"It is not easy," she said. "I think that is one of the problems with people staying in their relationship because it is easier to stay then it is to get away because there are limited resources."

Contact the reporter at mburicadam@prescottaz.com

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