- Adam Hartzell
Interact is a nonprofit that provides services at no cost to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Wake County. Its programs include a 24-hour crisis line, a residential shelter, and court and hospital advocacy. As a variety of legislation relating to domestic violence makes its way through the legislature, we asked how it would affect agencies and the clients they serve.
Two bills have already been ratified. One instructs the court system to set up safe areas for victims while they wait to hear their court cases. Have any of your clients experienced a confrontation at the courthouse?
Yes. There is always the danger in these situations of a batterer and a victim meeting at the courthouse, and this can re-traumatize the victim significantly. Domestic violence is about power and control, and intimidating the victim is one of the ways that the abuser obtains control over them. So any way that we can decrease the amount of contact and potential opportunity that the batterer has to intimidate the victim is beneficial.
The other bill that's been ratified requires domestic violence homicide reporting. Do you think this will be helpful?
Overall, I think it's extremely important for people to realize how many women are being killed by abusive husbands. I think better reporting would make our communities more aware of just how big an issue this is and how we need to do more to help women and children living in abusive homes.
I think the legislation would have to be very specific about what is and is not a domestic violence homicide, because in different counties across the state, some would look at the same incident differently. For example, if a victim leaves an abusive situation and goes to a friend's house, and then the batterer shows up at the friend's house and murders the friend, some might say that's not a domestic violence homicide because there's no relationship between the batterer and the friend. Teenage boys who murder their fathers—or who murder, period—a lot of them are actually murdering their mother's abuser. Those situations are a result of domestic violence.
There are three similar bills sitting with the judiciary committee. One would prohibit a person subject to a domestic violence protective order from purchasing a firearm. Another would make it a felony to violate a protective order while armed with a deadly weapon. And another would make it a felony to violate a protective order for the second time, whereas before there had to be three previous violations.
I'm most familiar with the last one you mentioned. That's an important piece of legislation, because it recognizes that if a batterer is so aggressive and obsessed with taking control of a victim that they ignore the orders of a judge and contact or harass that person, you're dealing with a much more dangerous person. In most situations, the protective order is effective at halting an abuser from continuing to harass a victim. So when you have a situation in which the order is not effective, that should be a huge red flag.
What else should the legislature do?
Additional funding would be extremely helpful. Interact has 18 beds for domestic violence victims, which means we have the lowest number of domestic violence beds per capita of all 100 counties in North Carolina. We've looked at comparable-sized cities across the country, and we've yet to find one that has fewer beds than Wake County. We have a goal of increasing the number of beds to about 45, and additional funding from the state would greatly enhance our ability to achieve that goal. We're in the midst of a capital campaign for $5 million, and we've raised about half the money so far.
There are approximately 14 district courtrooms in downtown Raleigh, and two of them are doing nothing but domestic violence cases five days a week. Domestic violence is the No. 1 crime that people are charged with. I think people would be stunned to find that out. Just think about how many resources, as a community, we're pouring into this, and wouldn't it be much better to try and stop it on the front end before it ever gets to the criminal justice system?