Iredell District Attorney Sarah Kirkman said the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month needs to take a cue from another recognition in October.
Kirkman, speaking at the annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month breakfast, said advocates should look at the events for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is also in October. Many of the events surrounding Breast Cancer Awareness celebrate the successes and survivors.
“We should celebrate our successes and survivors,” she said.
Kirkman said that while there are still hurdles to addressing domestic violence, great strides have been made in the past few years. She said law enforcement and prosecutors are working as a team to bring more cases to court.
She recalled a case some years ago where a woman did not want to prosecute her abuser. The woman’s parents came to the district attorney’s office seeking help, and slowly the woman changed her mind. “She stood up to her abuser and she got out,” Kirkman said. “That is one of the successes.”
Kirkman said while there still are the tragic cases of victims who do not get out of the situation, inroads are being made, especially in Iredell County.
She credited the formation of a Domestic Violence Task Force, which was created in 2013, with bringing many partners to the table to discuss better ways of addressing domestic violence.
Patti West, director of My Sister’s House, the shelter for domestic violence victims in Iredell County, said she’s seen great improvement in the way cases are handled. She said the willingness of law enforcement to assign detectives to exclusively handle these cases is making a difference. And she praised Kirkman and her staff.
“We have a DA that is willing to stand up and support us,” she said. “Everybody is working together.”
One area that needs additional work is the role of the faith community, said Carrilea Potter Hall, associate pastor at Broad Street United Methodist Church.
Hall asked those in the audience at Little Joe’s Chapel in Troutman to raise their hands if they’d heard domestic violence being addressed from the pulpit. A few hands went up.
She said the faith community needs to become vocal about domestic violence and to become what the church should be — a safe haven for victims.
Hall said the concept of forgiveness does not mean a free pass for abusers. Forgiving, she said, does not mean condoning violence and abuse.
West said that while domestic violence is discussed in greater detail than in the past, the statistics show it’s still an issue in this county.
Pam Navey, community resource coordinator for the City of Statesville, said that in 2018, more than 500 reports of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse calls came into the Statesville Police Department. This year, that call volume has doubled, she said. Not all warrant a follow-up investigation, Navey said, but about half do. And there are two investigators assigned to such cases, she said.
Lt. Brian Boyd of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office said the Special Victims Unit handled about half of the 1,800 calls received last year, and thus far in 2019, 1,400 have been received.
West said those numbers show there is work remaining to be done. But, she said, the commitment of those sitting in the room Friday, is helping turn that corner.
Detective Dan Miglin of the Mooresville Police Department was the driving force behind the task force nearly seven years ago. He said the groundwork from the task force has resulted in better investigative procedures and policies for law enforcement.
And, he said, all are on the same page in terms of reporting and investigative techniques. In turn, Miglin said, that has led to stronger cases for court and justice for the victim. “We want to hold offenders accountable,” he said.
Like West and Hall, Miglin acknowledged there is work to be done. “One day we’ll get there,” he said.