SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Chatham County Family Violence Center opened Monday with fanfare and celebration. But it has been a project that local officials and advocates have been working on since 2015.
“A number of my Assistant District Attorneys came to me saying we need a facility like this,” said Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap.
This is the first of its kind facility in Georgia but it was modeled after other Family Justice Centers in a few other states that already have the program.
“I think it shouts loud and clear we’re not doing enough for victims and it’s time we step up and they are,” said Cheryl Branch from Safe Shelter which serves domestic violence victims with emergency shelter.
The Family Justice Center is bringing groups together like Safe Shelter, Rape Crisis Center, Coastal Children’s Advocacy Center along with police and prosecutors.
“So far this year we’ve had nine domestic violence homicides and looking at other places that have Family Justice Centers, you see a dramatic reduction in those crimes,” says Heap.
Laurel Crawford who will serve as the executive director of the Chatham County Justice Center says “instead of sending a victim to a dozen different places to tell their story to a dozen people, a victim can come here and tell it once. We give them the resources that they need.”
Crawford says studies continue to conclude that in communities where centers like this operate, domestic violence victims feel more support and that in turn, helps victims finally leave a domestic violence situation. We’re told that results in domestic violence crimes and murders declining.
Heap says the purpose of the center is to help victims and their children in terms of finding out the resources they need. “Do they have money to get out of the marriage or the relationship? Do they need assistance in getting a job? Do their children need counseling?
Crawford says helping children navigate the emotions and issues that happen as a result of living in an abusive home are an important part of the work here.
“A lot of times children get into a cycle and they think that because of what they have seen – this is the behavior that I’m supposed to have and that’s not the case,” said Crawford. “We want to break the cycle of abuse.”
“So our hope is by this ‘One Stop Shop’, the victim can you know, leave that domestic violence situation for her (or him) and for the children,” said Heap.