Summit no stranger to violence
SUMMIT COUNTY – October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Summit County citizens need to be just as aware as people who live anyplace else, say those who deal with it.
Consider the following: Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales’ deputies make more than 400 domestic violence assault arrests a year – an average of more than one a day – and one year, the number of calls topped 480.
More than 130 of those incidents annually make their way into Summit’s court system. Advocate volunteers run a shelter house in the county, open 24-7 to men, women and families inside and outside of Summit County.
Maybe the most startling of all, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mike Goodbee reports that, of all the homicides he’s prosecuted in the past five years, all but one were the result of domestic violence.
“Issues like domestic violence need to be brought before the public – they need to be reminded of the real-life impact of these crimes on real people,” Goodbee said. “It’s important to have a time set aside, even a ceremony, to remind those who don’t work in the criminal justice system of the problems these cause and the harm they do to a community.”
It’s important the public addresses issues like domestic violence because the crime does not discriminate, Sheriff Morales said. Officers find it in every corner of society, he said.
“It has no boundaries of socioeconomics or racial background, and it affects every culture equally,” Morales said. “We see that in our records here, and we’ve arrested the richest and poorest people.”
Summit was one of the first counties in the state to institute a mandatory arrest policy in law enforcement responses to domestic violence calls. Colorado passed a constitutional amendment holding police officers who find evidence of domestic assault or harassment liable in court if they don’t act on the evidence.
Morales said his deputies have made tragic arrests, but he believes the arrests kept people safe.
“It’s a fine line – what goes on in people’s homes is personal – but if you know someone’s at risk of serious bodily harm or emotional danger, there are resources out there to help people,” Morales said.
Advocates of Victims of Assault is a resource Morales and law enforcement agencies rely on heavily. The group’s volunteers help people through the aftermath of violent ordeals, provide an awareness of legal issues and refer victims to other resources. The group runs a secret safehouse in Summit County, as well, to provide victims in transition a place to get back on their feet.
“Although our main focus is domestic violence, it’s generally about victims of trauma,” said Kathleen Kennedy, an Advocates legal advisor who deals with restraint orders. “It could be a death in the family, a ski accident or just a heart attack. Those things can be pretty scary, especially if you’re a visitor here.”
Advocates assistant director Sarah Vaine said her organization is focusing on a positive message during the awareness month: survivors.
“That’s what these people are,” Vaine said. “You have to have skills to get through tough times and start a new life. We want to focus on that, as opposed to the victim aspect.”
Advocates for Victims of Assault receives more and more calls each year. In addition to responding at the request of law enforcement agencies and operating the safehouse, the group operates a hotline for victims and assists people in the court system. Vaine said the increase in requests for assistance is actually a good sign – it’s not necessarily that there’s a higher frequency of assault and trauma, but that people are making greater use of the organization’s resources.
The organization is funded largely by grants and contributions from local organizations. But, Vaine said, Advocates can always use contributions – time, money, even simple donations such as toiletries or clothes for the safehouse.
“You’d be surprised the things we need at the safehouse,” Vaine said. “Sometimes people pick up and leave, literally with the clothes on their back.”
Sheriff Morales said the Advocates volunteers complement the work of law enforcement by going beyond the criminal aspect of the issue. He encourages Summit County residents to take a proactive role in stopping domestic violence.
“People should educate themselves on this, help a friend in a situation get mediation, legal counsel or help, before someone gets hurt or ends up in jail,” Morales said. “This relies on individuals making a decision of whether they want to be victim; we can only go so far. I would tell people, “Be aware, make donations, be a mentor to a child, be a friend.’ There are a lot of different ways people can make a difference.”
For more information about Advocates for Victims of Assault or to make a contribution, call (970) 668-3906.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or email@example.com.
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