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Officials worry about expected rise in family violence

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

With gas prices rapidly rising and the national economy reportedly tilting into a recession, local anti-family-violence advocates say they are concerned.

There is a direct connection between difficult financial times, stress and the eruption of violence in the home, according to local authorities. And those who work with abused children and battered spouses have been warned the area may be on the cusp of a very bad period.

Last week, Martha Glaze, the juvenile court judge who started Clayton County's Court Appointed Special Advocate Program in 1998, told a class of 17 volunteers that they should be prepared for a significant increase in child abuse cases in the Southern Crescent.

"From my many years on the bench," Glaze said, "I've seen that when the economy was hard, abuse went up. It's a fact of life, I guess. But I imagine we'll see the case load go way up again."

At Securus House, Clayton County's shelter for victims of domestic violence, the staff received more than 4,000 crisis calls in 2007. Milrinette Nelson, president of the Securus board, said the 24-year-old organization took calls from Clayton County, Henry County and Fayette County, and provided shelter for about 970 families.

Looking forward to the next 12 months, though, Nelson said she fears the "horrific statistics" of domestic violence will increase, "due to an economic crisis."

Nelson, the Securus staff and the Clayton County Association Against Family Violence kicked off a "campaign of awareness," on Monday night.

"We want to truly heighten awareness of family violence," Nelson said. "We will never totally eradicate family violence, but we want to reduce it and limit it, stop it. The only way to stop family violence is to know that it exists."

Richard Highland, vice president of the Securus board, said that Clayton County has, for a while, had the highest rates of domestic homicide in the state.

He told those gathered at the annual meeting of the Clayton County Association Against Family Violence that it is important, as part of increasing awareness, to be careful how victims are described.

"It is life that dealt them an unfair hand," Highland said. "This is a problem that knows no boundaries, neither race, religion, education, economic strata or sexual orientation."

Judge Linda Cowen, the featured speaker at the meeting, talked about how domestic violence is a deep and disturbingly pervasive cultural problem. She talked about hearing a Britney Spears pop song, "(Hit Me) Baby One More Time," and being shocked by the "cultural endorsement of violence co-mingled with love." Cowen said domestic violence had even arisen in the lives of two women close to her, though both of the victims were markedly different from the stereotypical "victim."

"These are two women who are very smart, who come from very good families, who can be, and are, self-sufficient, and, nevertheless, they found themselves in domestic violence situations," the state court judge said.

Cowen said the anti-family-violence advocates have made significant steps forward in the last decade, but family violence remains "a plague."

Nelson said the awareness campaign will demonstrate Securus House's continued dedication to fighting family violence, and the commitment of the Clayton County community.

At the annual meeting of the Clayton County Association Against Family Violence, Monday night, about 30 people attended, representing efforts from the military to the District Attorney's Office, the police department to private citizens.

Judge Cowen, Carlo Musso, MD, Citizens of Georgia Power, The Morrow Probation Office and VFW Post 6330 were honored.

For more information about area efforts to prevent family violence and protect victims, visit www.securushouse.org