Cell phones aid abuse victims

Girl Scout, county seek donations to deter abusers

Severna Park

April 05, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In the past six months, 16-year-old Katie McDonald has collected 50 cellular phones.

They are not for the Severna Park teen-ager to use to chatter away the day. They are part of a newly coordinated effort in Anne Arundel County to get mobile telephones to victims of domestic violence who fear that their abusers will attack them again.

Yesterday, Katie, an 11th-grader at Severna Park High School, joined with county officials and a wireless phone service to start a program to collect donated telephones.

Katie said she had heard of a similar program in New York and decided to try to adapt it for a Girl Scout gold award project. In speaking with Lu Ann Holland, a victim's advocate for the county prosecutor's office who was informally giving donated mobile phones to victims of domestic violence, she learned that the need for such phones seems boundless.

Holland, who has lent phones to 100 women over three years, said some women who have been stalked have used the phones to summon police.

Holland said more than 1,500 people a year seek court protection from abusive spouses and lovers. That number is considered a fraction of the number beaten by their domestic partners.

"She really gave me a lot of information. It really opened my eyes," Katie said of Holland. "I thought it was a really valuable community service."

Under federal law, even without a service contract, a cellular phone with a working battery can be used to call 911.

"If they feel like their lives are in jeopardy, they can call 911 to get help. I believe there is a strong need [for this]. Typically, there is a history of repeated violence," said Michele Mayoral, who heads the county's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and will be coordinating the new initiative.

The program, 911 Connection for Protection, is a cooperative effort among the state's attorney's office, the Sheriff's Department, Maryland State Police, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, county police and Verizon Wireless communications.

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said yesterday that half of the homicides in the county are tied to domestic problems. He called the cell phones a "lifesaver" that put abusers on notice that their victims can get help anywhere and provide peace of mind to the victims.

"We've all, as agencies, been interested in collecting cell phones for a good purpose. Now we are collecting them together," Weathersbee said.

By yesterday, the state's attorney's office had amassed nearly 200 phones.

The collection is being coordinated by his office, said Sheriff George F. Johnson IV.

Verizon donated 50 bins that will be placed around the county for donated phones. Part of Katie's role will be to promote the program and help test the phones.

Among the recently set criteria are requirements that to get a phone, a domestic violence victim must not be living with the abuser and must have a domestic assault case in court. The phones will be distributed through the prosecutor's office.

Among Maryland jurisdictions with similar programs are Baltimore and Howard, Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George's counties.

Donors of old, deactivated cell phones should include the chargers. For information on how to donate a phone, call the sheriff's office at 410-222-1571.

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