By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
Lawyers. Nurses. Politicians. Police officers. Social workers.
They all came together in Killeen to learn more about the vital role each plays in helping victims of domestic violence.
The third annual Surviving Family Violence Conference Thursday was coordinated by Central Texas Family Violence Task Force, a coalition of law enforcement and social service partners whose mission is to reduce family violence.
Bell County prosecutor Anne Jackson said the one-day conference was about promoting a multi-disciplinary, coordinated response to family violence. By August of this year, the county attorney's office had 926 family violence cases.
"The idea of this conference is to get everybody in the same room … so that they know one another," said Jackson, who leads the task force.
Jackson said training helps responders easily refer victims to the right agencies and services for help.
Additionally, responders and case workers have to be aware of a multitude of issues that may contribute to keeping victims from wanting to leave their abusers, such as financial limitations, health insurance concerns or issues with child care.
"It is uncomfortable and challenging for a spouse or a partner who has been hurt to file charges, to talk to the police, or to testify," Jackson said. "We need to make it so the person who has been hurt can take care of his or her basic needs, so they don't have to depend on (the abuser). You can't do that unless you have a multi-faceted response to the particular issue."
But creating a more cohesive, unified approach to dealing with family violence in Bell County is only just beginning. Jackson said eventually the county would like to have a family justice center to house nurses, social workers, educators, nonprofits, investigators and others who work on domestic violence cases.
"If anyone has family violence in their home, they can go to one place and name the things that they need," said Jackson. "We come to them, instead of sending them to multiple government agencies where there is a long waiting time."
"That's when people give up," she said. "When getting the help they need is too hard, then they decide to endure the abuse and stay home."
Jackson said the model for what Bell County wants to create is the San Diego Family Justice Center. Opened in 2002, the California center houses staff members from more than 25 public and private agencies who provide services to victims of violence and abuse.
More than 100 people attended Thursday's conference, including Belton police Detective Robert Preston who said the conference helped him join forces with other entities involved in domestic violence cases.
"It brings everyone together, so that we're all on the same page, so we can provide the necessary assistance and justice for all involved," he said. "It helps us so we can understand what is available to them."
William Hamilton, a field-training officer with the Belton Police Department, brought an officer in training to the conference. Hamilton said he hoped it would help a new officer have a better understanding of what happens to victims beyond the initial police contact.
"Once we get through, it goes on to the next stage, to where they're getting help," said Hamilton. "He doesn't get to see that so I wanted to bring him here today to let him see that (process)."
Hamilton credited Jackson's office with providing police officers with resources for victims of domestic violence. Officers give them a packet of information, including phone numbers for counselors, helping them understand their rights and ways they can get help.
State Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, was on hand at the event and said his role as a legislator is to listen to law enforcement and social service entities, such as the task force, to learn what kinds of laws would best protect victims.
"I'm not a psychiatrist, it's hard to say what is going to solve all of these problems," he said. "I think it's up to me to help assist them, if they need a new law that will help."
Task force members presented Sheffield with a certificate of appreciation for his legislative work in passing House Bill 2624 earlier this year. The law is designed to improve coordination between local law enforcement and military personnel by requiring notification to military installations when an active military member is involved in a domestic dispute.
For more information on the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force, including resources available for victims of abuse, go to www.centextaskforce.com.
Contact Rebecca Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.