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Domestic abuse running rampant

Butler County has the highest number of domestic violence cases (18 open cases) in the tri-county area.

Lowndes County has seven, and Crenshaw County has none.

For this reason, Darqueesha Burke, a domestic violence advocate at the Butler County Department of Human Resources department (BCDHR), says it’s more important than ever to promote October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Burke, who is employed by the Family Sunshine Center, a domestic abuse advocacy organization, has been assigned to the tri-county area as a SAIL specialist.

SAIL is an acronym for the Special Assessment, Intervention and Liaison project that is being funded through a contract between the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and BCDHR.

&uot;Clients are referred to me after they have been screened by a DHR social worker during their financial assistance interview,&uot; Burke said. &uot;If they answer ‘yes’ to any of the screening questions, then they are referred to me. If they agree to be contacted, I ask them to come into my office, and we set up a file for them.&uot;

Burke said her main goal is make the client aware of the services that are available to victims of domestic violence.

&uot;We offer services, such relocation assistance, and providing support services, such as getting their drivers license fees paid or procuring childcare,&uot; she said. &uot;We have had some budget cuts this year, so everything that used to apply doesn’t apply now, but we still provide many services.&uot;

The first step for Burke and the client is assessing their situation and developing a plan to get them out of the abusive situation or out of harm’s way.

&uot;Sometimes the plan includes them staying where they are,&uot; she said. &uot;It just depends on their situation. Some aren’t always ready to leave, so we develop a plan so they can be safe until they are ready.&uot;

Burke said she isn’t sure why Butler County’s number of cases is so much higher than those of the surrounding counties.

&uot;I think it’s because the social workers here are very insistent on getting the domestic violence screenings done,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s not that domestic violence isn’t going on in the other counties, it’s just, for some reason, the women here are coming forward and saying ‘Yeah, it’s happening to me.’ The women here are ready to talk about it and receive the services available to them.&uot;

The domestic violence specialist said she doesn’t think the numbers indicate the other counties don’t have as many cases of domestic violence as Butler County, they just aren’t as willing to come forward and talk about it.

Burke said that another weapon in the war against domestic violence is the formation of a domestic violence task force that is being coordinated by the Family Sunshine Center.

The task force would include organizations from Lowndes, Crenshaw and Butler counties, and would be used to funnel victims of domestic violence to those agencies that can best assist them.

&uot;Right now, I don’t get many domestic violence referrals from the police department,&uot; Burke said. &uot;They don’t have a policy in place for that, but once the task force is in place, those policies will be there.&uot;

The task force will include agents from the police and fire departments, district attorney’s office, hospital and other government and community service agencies, including BCDHR.

Task force coordinator Kathy Jones, who is also a specialist with the Family Sunshine Center, said she hopes to have the task force in place by the end of the year.

&uot;I’m in the process of calling people to see who will be willing to be on the task force or has someone they would like to designate from their organization to be on it,&uot; she said. &uot;I have met with District Attorney John Andrews, and he’s very eager to get this task force started.&uot;

For now, Burke advises anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse or suspects a friend or family member is a victim to call the Family Sunshine Center advocates at (334) 206-2100.

&uot;Usually a victim of domestic abuse will either act nervous or withdrawn, and keep to him or herself,&uot; she said. &uot;The bottom line is ‘If you are being abused, don’t wait too late to get out.’&uot;

Burke’s office is located at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Greenville. She is there on Monday and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 382-8584 for more information.