Battered by the legal process Howard County: Services should help abuse victims navigate legal system.

April 04, 1997

IT IS DIFFICULT ENOUGH for domestic violence victims to take the first step and file court charges against a spouse or mate in a potentially life-threatening relationship. Once the legal process begins, however, fragile victims often need help getting through the system.

This is where Howard County has fallen short.

The state's attorney's office has not responded as well as some of its neighbors in helping battered women who enter the courthouse. Victims should not have to go it alone.

Police officers and the courts are more sensitive to brutal acts of spousal abuse than they were a decade ago. More public attention to this problem and changes in the system have given victims the strength they need to get help.

Battered spouses are filing more reports in Howard County -- 904 last year, up from 758 in 1995 -- indicating that the stigma of victimhood is eroding.

Still, some women fail to follow through for fear they will not get support from the courts, says Denise McCain, victim-witness director of the state's attorney's office in Howard County.

This is unfortunate, especially if these U-turns mean victims will return to abusive relationships.

Howard officials should take a cue from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, which have stepped up efforts to help spousal abuse victims.

The Anne Arundel state's attorney has two full-time victim advocates for domestic violence. Baltimore County prosecutors doubled their conviction rate in these cases after assigning employees to work with victims.

The Domestic Violence Center of Howard County helps some women obtain divorces and custody of their children, but it has only one lawyer and two legal advocates trying to keep pace with the caseload. The nonprofit group needs more government help.

The state's attorney's office plans to use a $28,000 grant to train volunteers who will help victims pursue charges against batterers and pay for cameras to record injuries from domestic violence. This is a start to ensure that victims going through an intimidating process have ample support.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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