A new group of victims now has access to free counseling and legal advocacy, thanks to a federal grant that was awarded in partnership to Family Haven of Forsyth County and the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office.
Family Haven, a domestic violence shelter for women and their children, will use the $77,706 to place a trauma counselor in the courtroom, where they will be able to advise victims of domestic violence on their legal and other options.
“Women that are fearful and in crisis, they’re not recognizing those things. We want to be able to educate them that there is a place they can talk to someone to know what their rights are and what services they can seek out that are free for their families,” said Shandra Dawkins, executive director of the nonprofit.
The women who are poised to benefit most from this funding are those who enter first appearance with their abuser and often do not know they can press charges or that there are avenues for them to do so safely.
According to data collected by the District Attorney’s Office, 992 victims were served through the court system from Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 31, 2015 — none of whom received services from Family Haven.
Between Oct. 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, 751 victims went through the court system.
“This under-served population, without counseling and supportive services, will go untreated for the psychological effects of experiencing and/or witnessing an act of crime, leading to further victimization,” Dawkins said.
Increasing access to supportive services for domestic violence victims can also increase the likelihood of the victims actually following through with the court process against their assailants, instead of allowing them to get away with a misdemeanor — requiring them to face real consequences or enter a program if convicted.
Of those total victims served last year, 350 were domestic violence victims, said Beth Ready, director of the Victim, Witness Assistance Program at the District Attorney’s Office.
She said one main aspect of the counseling that will be provided will be to tell these victims that the behavior they see in their abuser is wrong, because many may not have ever experienced anything different.
“It’s not just for those who are ready to leave, but those who are forced into making a decision. They may be on the verge of leaving or undecided,” Ready said, “and this initial counselor that can reach these victims will be instrumental in them making a decision.”