Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hope Place

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Hope Place in Huntsville, Alabama, provides services to victims of domestic violence and their children in a five county area in north Alabama. The program provides a 4-hour hotline and a residential shelter to the victims of domestic violence in Jackson, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, and Morgan counties. Hope Place provides victims’ advocates in each county area, and has counselors in some of the law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices in its service areas. Good contacts with the police departments in these areas, some of which have separate domestic violence units, have improved the ease with which battered individuals can receive assistance in the service area. Hope Place is also in the process of creating the state’s first domestic violence satellite shelter, which will be located in Marshall County.


Kathy Wells, the director of Hope Place, explains that she has developed a very good working relationship with the Huntsville Police Department, the largest city police department in Hope Place’s service area. The police department has a domestic violence unit that responds to all felony domestic violence incidents except homicide. An advocate from Hope Place works in conjunction with the special unit, and responds to domestic violence calls with the police to provide victim services at the scene.


The Huntsville Police Department provides hours of in-service domestic violence response training to all of its officers, and has specific written policies in place to deal with domestic violence incidents. It provides an extraordinary cooperation and access to the representatives of Hope Place, and is willing to listen to the needs and concerns of its staff. The relationship between the police department and the domestic violence center is based on trust and a mutual desire to focus on the needs of the victim.


The warm relationship that exists between the Huntsville Police Department and Hope Place has assisted in paving the way for Hope Place to develop better communications with other police departments and sheriffs’ offices in its service area. The Huntsville Police Department has provided assistance to Hope Place whenever possible by breaking the ice between other law enforcement agencies and the center, and has set an example for other agencies in the service area. The District Attorney’s office also provides space to Hope Place advocates and has a special domestic violence unit.


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Although Hope Place enjoys an extraordinary relationship with the law enforcement agencies in its service area, there are always some agencies that do not communicate well with the domestic violence center. A large portion of Hope Place’s service area is rural, with small, predominately male police departments and attitudes from the 50’s, Kathy Wells explains. In some rural areas there are also problems with the judges who hear domestic violence cases.


Hope Place staffers contend that one of the problems with domestic violence situations is that the victim sometimes doesn’t want to take responsibility for her own safety. This is especially frustrating to the staffers when children are involved. The victim is in denial, minimizing the situation and accepting it as a way of life while she and her children suffer. Counselors at Hope Place believe the interests of the child should take priority in domestic situations.


What happens in a community when all that can be done for victims of domestic violence is being done and victims still refuse to leave abusive situations? The police department, the victims’ advocates, and the district attorneys’ office are all working in cooperation to protect the victim and punish the offender, and yet the victim still has reservations about leaving an abusive relationship.


Hope Place still has to deal with factors that are simply out of its control attitudes of victims’, lack of financial freedom for victims, and the lack of low-cost housing and transportation in rural areas. Education may help change attitudes about domestic violence in rural areas. Hope Place placed several billboards throughout its service area in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The billboards read He Beat Her 150 Times… She Only Got Flower Once and featured a picture of a flower-draped coffin. Hope Place’s hotline number was listed below the message. Local law enforcement will soon be adding a bumper sticker to all of its police cars that says that domestic violence is a crime that will not be tolerated.


Perhaps these public gestures of support for the victims of domestic violence will embolden some victims who have remained hidden to come forward. Another factor that would help victims of domestic violence in all areas of the state would be the passage of a bill that provided longer minimum mandatory sentences for persons convicted of domestic violence offenses. Kathy Wells has worked in conjunction with the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence to write legislation that would improve services for victims, and victims who have utilized Hope Place’s services have testified before legislative committees in favor of tougher domestic violence legislation.


Hope Place is primarily funded by grants issued by the Violence Through Crime Act and Woman’s Violence Act. There are also, of course, donations by the public and other grants issued by the Government. In the area of abuse, there does not seem to be the amount of protection, nor funding to protect the people being abused.


REFERENCES


Hope Place. Retrieved July 1, 00 from http//acjic.state.al.us/domestictrends17/hopeplace.htm


M. Bosworth, Program Manager, phone interview, July 1, 00


Unidentified Person, Client, Personal Interview, July 1, 00


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