By Ran Coble
North Carolina must do more to fight domestic violence and punish offenders, while assuring that the interests of children also are adequately protected.
North Carolina had 78 domestic violence-related deaths in 2002, 71 in 2003 and 75 in 2004 that involved deadly weapons ranging from guns to knives to baseball bats, as well as strangulation, according to a study by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
Moreover, conviction rates on domestic-violence charges differ widely among North Carolina’s 100 counties.
Eight counties have conviction rates above 50 percent, with Hertford and Bertie counties tied for the highest conviction rates at 56.9 percent.
Five counties have conviction rates below 20 percent, with Avery County the lowest, at 12.7 percent.
However, the demand for services by victims of domestic violence is rising.
Almost 45,000 victims sought help through one of the state 90 local domestic violence agencies, an increase of almost 27 percent over the last five years.
Yet services are lacking in many of North Carolina’s 100 counties:
*Seventeen counties have no shelters for victims.
*Programs for treatment of abusers are available in only 66 counties.
*Only 16 counties have safe places to exchange children and honor custody and visitation orders. For example, one woman and her attorney were assaulted when an exchange of two children was attempted in a McDonald’s restaurant in Durham.
*And family courts are available in only 16 counties. In family courts, a case manager helps secure services such as mediation, substance-abuse counseling and pre-divorce education, and address legal and social issues associated with domestic violence.
The Center outlined nine recommendations to address these problems, including asking the General Assembly to examine the wide variance in conviction rates and take actions to improve conviction rates in counties that lag.
To meet the demand for services, the Center called for expansion of family courts and more supervised visitation and exchange centers.
Finally, we recommended that the legislature create a joint House and Senate study commission to continue the legislature’s progress in 2004 to prevent domestic violence and punish offenders.
The state House of Representatives has passed a bill (House 569) that would implement two of these recommendations – expansion of family courts and a new joint House and Senate study group.
Call your Senator and ask him/her to act on these important issues now.
Ran Coble is executive director of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. For a copy of the center’s study, call (919) 832-2839 or order online from email@example.com.