Asheville Police Chief Will Annarino says he’s seen all types of domestic violence in his 28 years in law enforcement. “This is the type of crime that you constantly see patterns develop,” says Annarino. “We know from experience … that it will continue to escalate. It’s frustrating. You can get a restraining order, but that won’t help if the person is really intent on doing harm. We can lock [an abuser] up; cooling-off time can help, but that smacks in the face of the Constitution. It’s a Catch-22.
Victims, he continues, “know the system isn’t working for them.” Yet too often, he laments, they won’t file charges. “From the trenches, we tend to see a real reluctance to press charges.” Victims, says Annarino, “may actually come to their [persecutor’s] defense when the male is arrested. It’s out of fear, having nowhere to turn and understanding the situation that they’re in. We’re dealing with it in one situation; they’re dealing with it all the time. They know he’ll be back, and they’ll have to deal with it.”
Nonetheless, Annarino urges victims of abuse to stick with it. “They should support the court system and law enforcement by pressing charges and going through the judicial proceedings to get convictions.” Although abusers may get “little to nothing on the first or second offenses,” says Annarino, “The courts can be aggressive when they see patterns develop. But women have to get into the system to [show] a pattern of abuse and see progressive sentencing.”
District Attorney Ron Moore says his office gets “about 50 charges of abuse a month coming through here.” But he thinks things are moving in the right direction. A legislative change a few years ago gave the office an extra witness assistant. “Until a few years ago, we had no one dedicated to domestic violence,” says Moore. “Now, when there’s a domestic-violence charge in the magistrate’s office, we’re notified immediately. It used to be 30 or 60 days before a victim saw anyone.”
Downstairs from the DA’s office, Victim Witness/Legal Assistant Janice Loggins sits behind a desk piled with papers, looking at the list of charges to be heard in that week’s two sessions of domestic-violence court. Among the many listings for “assault on a female” are charges of “simple assault,” “assault by pointing a gun” and “communicating threats.”
“It’s not infrequent to see charges by men against women,” notes Loggins. “But the vast majority are against a female victim in an intimate relationship.” The court handles 50 to 60 cases each week, involving perhaps 35 to 40 people, she estimates.
Signs of change
Counseling can be an instrument for change in some cases. Loggins counseled male abusers and worked as a court advocate for Helpmate, a local nonprofit, before coming to the DA’s office.
“I think counseling can be effective, but a lot of factors go into it,” she says. Victims “know there’s a problem, but they can’t leave because they can’t afford to. … It also depends on the willingness of the defendant to hear, the effectiveness of the counselor, and the rapport of the counselor with the persons involved.”
Helpmate Executive Director Valerie Collins, however, has her doubts about counseling’s ability to stop abuse. “Therapy can work,” she says, but the 26 weekly group-therapy sessions required by the state are “not a significant amount of time for someone to change.” Her agency no longer offers this type of counseling.
Meanwhile, there are signs that progress is being made on other fronts. Buncombe County recently received about $350,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to hire the Family Visitation Center Group, an Asheville-based nonprofit that will manage facilities where parents who are separated and sharing custody can exchange the children safely.
“One of the classic ways abusers maintain control is to use the kids,” says Collins. “They may really want to see their kids and be a good parent, but they control the whole family that way. The visitation center will allow women to obey the letter of the law while staying safe. They don’t have to see their abuser again, and it gives them an emotional power.”
Legislation passed two years ago requires law enforcement to make an arrest if there’s evidence of abuse and the alleged abuser is already under a restraining order.
And earlier this month, the General Assembly passed a bill creating the Address Confidentiality Program, which will allow victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence or stalking to keep their addresses confidential when they relocate. Victims wishing to participate in the program must apply to the Attorney General’s office and provide evidence of abuse or stalking, such as law-enforcement or court records, or documentation from a domestic-violence program. Their mail will then be routed through a substitute address.
Despite all the hurdles, Loggins urges victims to use the system to fight back. “When you say no to violence and get whatever help you need … you have made a dent in … the cycle of abuse.”