Chapel Hill News

County task force combines resources to fight domestic violence

The Compass Center and other government and community programs are hoping strength in numbers will help fight domestic violence in Orange County.

About a dozen people representing nonprofit groups, health and social services, and courts and police crisis units have begun laying the framework for a new county task force, said Ardith Burkes, associate director of the Compass Center. Local government and community groups already work with each other on domestic violence issues, but this would consolidate their efforts so they can do more, particularly about systemwide issues.

A task force brings together people with influence to create a stronger foundation for tackling problems, said Dana Mangum, executive director of The N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The coalition has helped establish 15 such task forces, known as coordinated community response teams, across the state, she said.

The state has 88 domestic violence programs. Last year 51 of them responded to the Domestic Violence Counts, an annual census that provides a snapshot of services being provided across the nation in a 24-hour period.

Those 51 programs were serving 1,146 domestic violence victims, about 600 of whom sought refuge in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing, the census found. Roughly 100 were turned away because local agencies lacked resources.

In Orange County, the Compass Center helped 979 people last year, offering counseling, information and referrals for transportation, jobs, financial and legal assistance, shelter and food. About 10 percent were men.

The Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County and The Women’s Center Inc. merged in 2012 to form the Compass Center for Women and Families. They just finished consolidating services at 210 Henderson St. in downtown Chapel Hill.

Orange County Assistant District Attorney Michelle Hamilton agreed working together in a task force may lead to more effective solutions. As a court official, for example, she could shed light on how the legal system might be helping or hurting, Hamilton said.

A common myth is that the district attorney is the victim’s lawyer, Hamilton said.

“I am not their lawyer,” she said. “I represent the victim’s interest, and I represent the community’s interest in not having domestic violence.”

While physical abuse gets the most attention, emotional and verbal abuse can be just as damaging, Compass Center officials said. Victims are often isolated, leading to self-doubt and identification with their abuser, Burkes and staff member Kati Hajjar said. It helps to know other people understand, they said.

Hajjar is the Compass Center’s director of court advocacy and community response.

“After a certain amount of time, if you are constantly told that this is what your life is always going to be like, you can’t leave me, you cannot have happiness with anyone but me, you start to believe that,” Hajjar said. “It’s hard to break that thinking.”