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YWCA’s  Week Without Violence Campaign

by Michael Doucette, Lynchburg Commonwealth Attorney

 

Violence in any form undermines everyone’s quality of life…..regardless of where we live, our age, race, religion, or socio-economic background.  Violence destroys lives, destroys families and destroys communities.

 

I read with so much heartache this morning about the University of Connecticut football player who was stabbed to death only hours after his team won a huge Homecoming victory over the University of Louisville.  He was from Miami but left there because of the violence.  A fight broke out between two groups after someone pulled a fire alarm at a dance on campus.  He was stabbed once in the abdomen and died in the arms of a teammate.  He leaves behind an unborn child.  The captain of the football team promised that the child will grow up with 105 uncles.

 

I remember well the murder case I prosecuted about ten years ago.  A 25 year old man broke up a fight between a friend and some other guy who was trying to disrupt a dance at a local community center.  The guy left, found some of his buddies and a gun and came back for revenge.  The guy shot the 25 year old 13 times, including 7 shots to the back of the head at point-blank range.  At trial, his father read a goodbye letter his seven year old grandson wrote to his father in heaven.

 

I remember the “prom night” killing in Lynchburg 20 some years ago.  On the night of her junior prom, a night that should have been a fairytale come true, a sixteen year girl was raped and murdered just yards from her home.  The girl’s parents were crushed by her death and further crushed by their inability to grieve in a compatible way.

 

Just a few weeks ago, the greater Lynchburg community was devastated by the mindless killings of two of its best and brightest young people just miles from the Virginia Tech campus. 

 

Cities throughout the United States; Baltimore, Detroit, Miami; have lost or our quickly losing any semblance of community as they spiral downward in ever-escalating violence.  Chaos and anarchy are beginning to reign.  These cities are not alone; too many nights in too many Lynchburg neighborhoods, people are awakened by the sound of gunfire.

 

What’s to blame?  I wish I had the definitive answers.  Drug abuse and drug dealing come to mind; so does alcohol abuse.  Absent parents; or more importantly, absent parenting.  Children growing up with no sense of right or wrong; children growing up with no sense of pride or shame; children growing up thinking that all they need to do to atone for a mistake is push the reset button on the Playstation.

 

Most of all, though, I believe the blame has to go to the prevalence of children growing up in the culture of violence they see at home.  Children growing up with domestic violence become inured to that violence.  Domestic Violence plays a significant role in all sorts of violent crimes, including aggravated assault, simple assault, and forcible sex offenses.  Our citizens are confronted with domestic and sexual violence on a daily basis. 

 

According to the last Attorney General’s Annual Report on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia, in 2007 approximately 13% of the 22,792 violent crimes committed in Virginia and reported to law enforcement agencies were committed against family or household members, or intimate dating partners.  25% of all homicides in Virginia were related to domestic and intimate partner violence.  Locally in 2007, 1,112 domestic incidents were reported to Lynchburg Police Department.  As you all are aware, these reported figures reflect but a fraction of the real picture as many victims do not go to the police or seek assistance for fear of offender retaliation, homelessness, social stigmatism, and shame.

 

Prosecutors have the difficult task of balancing victim safety and protection with the traditional goal of ensuring that justice is served. The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Lynchburg makes victim safety a priority.  We implemented a specialized domestic violence prosecution unit in 1998.  This Unit’s mission is to improve the quality of justice and enhance victim safety through increased awareness of the dynamics of victimization and the implementation of policies, educational programs, and law enforcement training that serve to promote the identification, apprehension, and adjudication of persons who commit these violent crimes.

 

This Unit also serves as a central coordinating agency, working with other criminal justice and non-profit agencies to initiate aggressive investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases.  The Unit’s goals are to:

·      To promote a clear understanding of domestic violence as a crime;

·      To hold offenders accountable for their violent acts;

·      To work with other agencies in the community to promote a coordinated response to the victim’s needs;

·      To ensure the safety of domestic violence victims and their families; and,

·      To raise community awareness and reshape the social norms around domestic violence so that battered women receive the support and care they deserve.

Unit members review all domestic violence calls and charges initiated by the police within 24 hours as a means of assessing victim safety.  To that goal, in conjunction with the Lynchburg Police Department, the Unit has developed and implemented a mandatory arrest policy for primary aggressors. 

In 2008, 620 domestic violence related cases were opened by the Unit for prosecution.  52% of these cases resulted in conviction or were deferred to first offender 18.2-57.3 status in which the court took the case under advisement to be dismissed upon completion of noted conditions.

In an effort to prevent future homicides, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys office coordinates the Lynchburg Family Violence Fatality Review Team.  The Team was formed in 2001 in response to the growing number of family violence fatalities in Lynchburg and the concern for public safety. The Team has earned statewide recognition for its efforts to examine the circumstances preceding the family violence fatality. By looking at past cases, we hope to gain a better understanding of the events which lead up to the death, to make recommendations for improving system response, and to implement policies and interventions that will prevent future deaths. 

Domestic or intimate partner violence has become all too common. When children witness violence in their home, they have to be impacted by what they have experienced. There are implications for society as a whole, as domestic violence may and usually does cause harm to: neighbors, if only for the nuisance element, the extended family such as grandparents, and the community at large.  If we want to tackle violence in our communities, then we must address this violence which occurs in so many homes.

Because violence is a community wide problem, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney supports and participates in the development of coordinated community response strategies. As concerned citizens and active members of community service organizations, we know that the problems facing people in our communities are very complex and are oftentimes connected to circumstances in that home or neighborhood.  Circumstances such as the current economic crisis place increasing strain on families as they struggle to deal with unemployment, poverty, rising consumer costs, and diminished public assistance.  

For prevention, intervention, and support strategies to be effective, we must recognize these situations and address problems collaboratively. In partnership we can create effective solutions and end family violence.  And in ending family violence, we hope to make a huge impact on the violence we see daily on our streets.
 
YWCA Central Virginia • 626 Church Street • Lynchburg, VA 24504
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Copyright 2012