12/01/06 — Lighthouse closing -- Officials worry about abuse victims

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Lighthouse closing -- Officials worry about abuse victims

By Lee Williams
Published in News on December 1, 2006 1:46 PM

Goldsboro police Maj. Mike Hopper is worried.

He is concerned that the closure of The Lighthouse of Wayne County safehouse could prompt battered women to stay in abusive relationships because they believe they have nowhere to turn.

Lighthouse officials closed the organization's administrative offices, safehouse and thrift store and laid off staff Tuesday because of financial concerns.

While issues about the organization's financial condition were made public, the closure of the Lighthouse apparently came without warning to several agencies and domestic violence victims who depend on the services.

"It's going to affect the people who are going to need it the most," Hopper said.

Hopper, who heads the Operations Bureau at the Goldsboro Police Department, and the patrol officers under his watch are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with domestic violence.

Hopper said domestic violence continues to be a large problem in Goldsboro.

Since Oct. 31, police responded to 205 aggravated assaults, of which 41 were domestic-related.

During that same period, police responded to 286 simple assaults, of which 116 were domestic-related.

In 2005, police answered 208 aggravated assault calls, of which 34 were domestic-related. In that same time frame, police answered 336 simple assault calls, of which 166 were domestic-related.

Hopper added domestic violence cases tend to spike around Christmas. He said he fears the closure of the domestic violence shelter might have come at the most inopportune time.

Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory agrees.

He said the suspension of services offered by the Lighthouse caught him "by surprise." He added the closure will have a tremendous impact on the court system.

The Lighthouse provided anger management services to defendants, especially those convicted of domestic violence crimes to stop the cycle of abuse. The safehouse also was used by the DA's office.

"It could reduce our options -- not to mention the options of women who are in bad situations and need a place to stay," Vickory said.

Judy Pelt, director of Wayne County Social Services, said despite the closure of the Lighthouse, domestic violence victims still have options. There are safehouses in neighboring Lenoir and Johnston counties, she added.

In fact, officials at 1-800-799-SAFE, a national domestic violence hotline, say there are 16 domestic violence shelters within a 75-mile radius of Goldsboro including Warsaw, New Bern, Kinston, Greenfield, Smithfield, Jacksonville, Wash-ington and Lillington.

Hopper knows there are other domestic violence shelters in the area, but he added transporting victims to other destinations could delay response times.

"Moving them out of the county is going to take more time to coordinate," he said.

But Mrs. Pelt said Wayne County has weathered a temporary safehouse closure in the past. The safehouse was closed for renovations from February to August, so they made arrangements with other shelters.

"People did not go without services," she said.