Domestic violence program expansion a top priority for Sears

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(Host) The head of the Senate Judiciary committee says he wants to make an expansion of domestic violence prevention programs one of his top priorities for the next two years.

Bennington senator Dick Sears says it’s critical to look at local programs that are having a positive impact and then try to expand them to all parts of the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Senator Sears says he’s focusing on the issue of domestic violence as part of an effort to break what he calls “the cycle of violence” in Vermont communities.

Sears says his committee will allocate one day every week throughout the session to conduct a comprehensive look at this issue.

One of his goals is to develop stronger prevention programs for children who witness incidents of domestic violence.

(Sears) “I think it’s Vermont’s hidden yet most prevalent crime is domestic violence. Every now and then it comes out in a murder case or a serious assault case. But as someone who worked with troubled youth most of my adult career, I’ve seen so much of the results of young people who end up living in homes where domestic violence is prevalent becoming batterers themselves or actually becoming victims as well.”

(Kinzel) Jane Woodruff is the director of the Vermont State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs Association. She told members of the committee that several state’s attorneys in Vermont now designate one of their prosecutors to handle all domestic violence cases. She says this approach has led to very positive results:

(Woodruff) “The counties that have domestic violence teams we call them, have a better investigation, have a better case put together, have better support for their victims and have better conviction rates. So because of that from our perspective, we achieve justice more quickly, more effectively and more efficiently.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence operates a special hotline. Last year the hotline responded to just over 17,000 calls. That’s an increase of roughly 15% from the previous year.

Sarah Kenney is the group’s public policy coordinator. She told the committee that abusive relationships are often not the result of a single incident but can develop from a variety of factors. The common thread is the threat of violence.

(Kenney) “Being Gulliver and having these thousand tiny little lashes lashed all over you and you don’t necessarily notice them one at a time and they’re not each individual thing doesn’t seem from the outside like that big a deal. But when there are thousands of them covering you it becomes almost impossible to get out from underneath that.”

(Kinzel) In future hearings, the Senate Judiciary committee plans to look at the factors that often prevent victims from leaving abusive relationships.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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