There’s help available for domestic and sexual violence survivors in Gaston County, but getting it can sometimes be a convoluted process.
“What we’ve found is that a victim of a domestic or sexual assault is probably going to have to travel all over the county to get all the help that they need between all the different agencies,” said Chief District Court Judge John Greenlee. “I think that’s extremely insensitive, especially when you’re dealing with someone who’s been traumatized and is still suffering that trauma.”
Instead, Greenlee and some other officials in county government, law enforcement and public health are looking into establishing a family justice center here.
Greenlee calls it “a different type of concept” — one that would put the most necessary services under one roof. There are only a few such centers in North Carolina, but, in general the idea is to create something of a one-stop shop of advocates, medical personnel, law enforcement, social workers and other key service providers.
It can be tough for someone — especially someone with limited financial resources — to make multiple stops to get the help they need.
“These people are dealing with trauma, so we need to help them in a trauma-informed manner, not just give them a list of things to do and say, ‘Here you go,’” Greenlee said. “There’s a better way to do it.”
Greenlee and others working on the project are hoping the center would operate as its own agency, to help people avoid the stigma of going to the police or social services. Those resources would be available for anyone who needs them, but the goal of staff at the center would be to find out what survivors need and how they want to proceed.
“One really key aspect of the family justice center model is that it improves the community’s accountability to survivors, which is something we’re striving for,” said Melanie Lowrance, an administrator with Gaston County Health and Human Services. “We all want to figure out a better way to do our jobs in serving victims, to give them the services they need to truly be successful and not just put a Band-Aid on it.
“We have the services. We’re not looking for new services. They’re here. Our community has them — we’ve just got to do a better job of coordinating them.”
Rebecca Jones, an outpatient officer with Phoenix Counseling Center in Gastonia, says it’s hard to measure how many people don’t seek help because the process is too cumbersome or intimidating.
Staff at Phoenix alone have seen 167 domestic violence cases and 150 sexual assault cases so far this year.
“Those are just the people who are coming in and self-reporting,” Jones said. “Some of our clients don’t even report that.”
Greenlee is optimistic something could be up and running in 2020. County Manager Earl Mathers said he couldn’t estimate a cost on the center since the project is still conceptual. Greenlee envisions something that’s a combination of grant and county funding.
“Something like this is a big undertaking,” he said. “… When the vision actually comes to fruition, it’s going to be a major facility and a major shift in how things are done in Gaston County.”
Right now, the team is hoping to put together a focus group of survivors, so that people who have sought help before can have input in what they’d like to see available.
“I think we do a good job in this county,” Greenlee said. “But we can do a better job. Why stop at good?”
You can reach Dashiell Coleman at 704-869-1819 or on Twitter @DashiellColeman
Posted on July 24, 2018 at 9:17 am