Women’s Commission takes on area’s domestic violence

by Amy Kingsley

The Safe on Seven program in Forsyth County centralizes services for victims on the seventh floor of the county courthouse. In Guilford County, on the other hand, victims seeking psychological, legal and financial help are shunted all over the county.

Members of Greensboro’s Commission on the Status of Women recently decided it might be a good idea to emulate our neighbor to the west and organize a repository of services. The initial step in Guilford County was, of course, getting the different agencies to one central location to meet and talk among themselves, in many cases for the very first time. On April 17, at the inaugural domestic violence forum at the Greensboro Central Library, several counselors, social workers and police officers did just that.

“The majority of those people represented services that could improve the lives of women,” said Agnes Roseboro, commission administrator. “But sometimes we don’t talk to each other as much as we could.”

The conversation was about more than access to services: the Commission on the Status of Women itself underwent a transformation last year after it avoided elimination in city budget negotiations. Roseboro’s position was reduced from full- to part-time, causing the commission to scrutinize the existing programs.

Last year in April the commission hosted a Women of Achievement Luncheon; it was canceled this year in order to plan for the domestic violence forum. Despite the shift in programming, Roseboro said the commission’s goal has not changed.

“I think we’ve done some good work in the past,” she said. “I’m just doing what I do.”

Yvonne Johnson, an at-large councilwoman, opened the event with a moment of reflection on the violence at Virginia Tech the day before. Representatives from agencies specializing in elder abuse, finance, female gang members and domestic violence delivered 10-minute presentations and took questions from members of the audience.

Tammy Kelly-Rouse, legal resource director for FaithAction International House, spoke about the unique challenges immigrant victims of domestic violence face. In addition to language and cultural barriers, undocumented immigrants often hesitate to alert the police to abuse because of fears it might lead to deportation. Immigration status can also be another way in which abusers control their victims, she said.

“Immigrants are very, very marginalized,” she said.

Kelly-Rouse proposed increasing the communication between law enforcement and immigrant communities to resolve issues of trust.

The lecture portion of the event ended with a speech by Bonnie Cobb, a domestic violence survivor and social worker. Cobb’s husband beat her with a metal bucket, she said, pushed her down stairs and even stuffed her in the oven. One day she shot him six times, at which point she met a counselor who went the extra mile to help Cobb escape her situation. Cobb left her husband with children in tow and 17 cents in her pocket, she said.

Throughout her ordeal, the police did little. When they were called to her house, they sent her to her preacher or ordered her husband to walk around the block. After that, they considered the situation resolved, she said.

“If you’ve ever been beaten down, you know,” Cobb said. “You have a brain but you can’t think. You have eyes but you can’t see, you have ears but you can’t hear. You begin to blame yourself.”

North Carolina had 79 domestic homicides last year, according to statistics compiled by the state Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Seven women in Guilford County died as a result of domestic violence in 2006, one more than in Mecklenburg County, according to statistics, making it the deadliest county in North Carolina for victims of abuse.

After an intermission, forum participants reconvened in small groups to develop some solutions to domestic violence in Guilford County. In one group, they haggled over the appropriateness of the term “domestic violence.” Some participants said the label diminished the seriousness of the issue, and others said it sheds a light on the unique situations of victims.

Representatives from women’s shelters met therapists specializing in abuser treatment programs; judges and district attorneys spoke with members of the commission. They came up with ideas like educating clergy not to blame the victim and making informational pamphlets for salons.

“The services are here,” Roseboro said. “But they are scattered all over the county. We are just beginning to develop communication. We have some challenges because we do have two courthouses. But we do need to start somewhere.”

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