This article was co-written by Alexis Barton; Anne Marie Everly; Ginny Willings; Gregory Zarzaur; Laura Luckie Finch, LPC; Liesel French, M.D.; Leigh Haver; Julie Wall Khoury; Donna Smith and Aldos Vance
Another woman murdered. Another homicide because of domestic violence. Bystanders caught in the crossfire. We continually mourn the loss of lives in our city because of abusive acts of control and violence, but perhaps all of us should ask ourselves what else we can do to help break this cycle.
Through our work together on the Board of Directors of One Place Family Justice Center (“One Place”) in Birmingham, we know that domestic violence is ultimately a quest for power over another person. It occurs when an abuser gains and seeks to maintain control over their intimate partner. Attempting to leave an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims, so One Place is committed to helping them escape safely.
Numerous studies reveal that when an abuser has access to a firearm, domestic violence is far more likely to be fatal. The likelihood of the victim being killed increases by 500 percent.
At One Place, several agencies work together under one roof to provide coordinated services to victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence. At One Place, you will find representatives from law enforcement, advocacy, forensic nursing, prosecution, and the legal community that are committed to preventing additional violence because another life lost is unacceptable.
The benefit of working in a multi-disciplinary team with stakeholders from across the community is the ability to learn from one another. Another advantage is identifying and addressing gaps in the current systems that prevent victims and survivors from receiving efficient and effective services. Through our partnerships at One Place, we are committed to addressing gaps that may be keeping victims from accessing the justice they seek and deserve in two critical ways.
First, Jefferson County is one of only six places in the country participating in a dedicated, multi-year project aimed at implementing policies, protocols, and promising practices to prevent abusers from having access to firearms in domestic violence cases. Through the Domestic Violence Firearms Technical Assistance Project (FTAP), a multi-disciplinary team is actively involved in working to ensure that violent offenders who are prohibited by law from having firearms do not maintain access to those weapons. This also requires buy-in and commitment from our courts to ensure compliance with existing law. It is an evidence-based strategy for keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable.
Additionally, as One Place works with multiple agencies in Jefferson County through the FTAP project, and receives technical assistance from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the current process for applying for a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order in Jefferson County has been identified by our community stakeholders as one of the ongoing challenges for domestic violence victims in our county.
PFAs are court orders designed to provide victims with protection from their abusers. Through our research, interviews, and collaborative work, we have learned that domestic violence victims in other counties in Alabama – in addition to many counties in other states across the country – can electronically file petitions for a PFA without having to appear at the courthouse physically. Under the current system in Jefferson County, a victim must complete PFA paperwork at the courthouse. The global pandemic has highlighted the necessity for implementing a streamlined electronic application process for PFAs in Jefferson County. Domestic Violence victims in our community deserve the same access to justice as victims in other counties. Through our partnerships at One Place, we believe the critical goal of an electronic PFA process in Jefferson County is one that is within reach.
Achieving these goals requires a close collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement coupled with support for community agencies like the YWCA Central Alabama, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Crisis Center, and One Place that engage daily with victims of violence.
Without a focused, intentional, community-wide approach to closing the gap that allows offenders to maintain firearms in violation of federal law and creating safer pathways for victims to access available legal protections, we will likely endure more homicides that are PREDICTABLE and PREVENTABLE.
The impact of domestic violence goes well beyond the victims and their families. It is a community issue that demands a community-wide commitment and approach to preventing future violence. The stakes are too high for anything less.
One Place Family Justice Center: (205) 453-7261 oneplacebirmingham.com
YWCA Central Alabama 24 hour crisis line: 205.322.HURT (4878)