Confronting domestic violence Howard County: Programs offer victims compassion, make offenders more accountable.

October 31, 1997

LAW ENFORCEMENT and social service agencies have become better attuned to the needs of domestic violence victims over the years. Police now take assaults in the home more seriously than a decade ago, and battered women have a wider variety of places to turn for help. But other steps can be taken. In Howard County, two separate efforts should bring victims added compassion while holding offenders more accountable.

The state's attorney's office plans to begin a program in December to aid domestic violence victims. Volunteers would staff District Court throughout the day, prepared to help battered spouses file legal complaints against their assailants. (More volunteers are needed; anyone wishing to help should call 410-313-3151.)

Another effort in its early stages is the Family & Sexual Violence Coordinating Council, a panel of county judges, victim advocates, health professionals and law enforcement workers. The group, which grew out of the state's Family Violence Council, offers some sensible preliminary proposals that should close gaps in enforcement and compassion.

Among the council's ideas is a screening program to help medical professionals identify victims of family violence so they can refer them to agencies for assistance. Another proposal would improve monitoring of offenders ordered to undergo counseling. Like the county's drunken driving monitoring, the intent is to make sure that offenders attend court-ordered treatment programs. Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, a panel co-chair, says better follow-up is important to keep these offenders from ignoring court-ordered counseling.

Domestic violence must be taken seriously. One of the more horrifying local examples occurred three years ago when Daniel Harney, of Owings Mills, broke into the Ellicott City home of his estranged wife, Shirley Harney, and confronted her and her boyfriend in the bedroom. He shot both, then beat Mrs. Harney before fleeing with his two children. Mrs. Harney's boyfriend survived the attack. She died on the way to the hospital. Harney was sentenced to life plus 40 years.

The state's attorney's volunteer program and the panel's proposals are important efforts to help Howard County improve its handling of these potentially explosive household crimes.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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