03/31/08 — Program to target domestic violence

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Program to target domestic violence

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 31, 2008 1:46 PM

Domestic violence is a community problem, and it's not going away.

If you don't believe that, says victims' advocate Milton Costin, "Just stop by Courtroom 6 any Monday."

Costin, director of Wayne Uplift Domestic Violence Program, said the courtroom is dedicated to domestic violence cases each Monday starting at 9 a.m.

"It's filled from the front to the back," he said. "There are people out in the hallway in this court with domestic violence issues. To hear some of these stories, there would be no doubt to anybody that these issues are not going away."

The harsh reality, though, Costin added, is that for every person represented in such courtroom proceedings, there are six people who don't file charges or take action.

The problem crosses race, gender and socioeconomic lines, he explained. More importantly, its impact extends far beyond just a victim and a perpetrator.

"It's the children," he said, shaking his head. "The problem has a generational impact."

Costin is far too familiar with the epidemic, from his days in law enforcement in Washington D.C. to working with the Lighthouse and now Wayne Uplift in Goldsboro. The needs for these victims ranges from shelter to counseling and support services.

His office often sees cases of women in difficult situations.

"We get these calls all the time, late at night, from the E.R. or they have been left in the Wal-Mart parking lot or at the police station," he explained.

The challenge lies in removing them completely. More often, Costin said, the problem is cyclical.

Citing national statistics, he said, "Women will leave seven times before they leave for the last time."

It is especially prevalent among non-whites. With minority health disparities a state and nationwide concern, efforts are being made to zero in on the area of domestic violence.

Wayne Uplift and the Wayne County Health Department have teamed up to sponsor a public awareness and outreach campaign.

The initiative is being supported by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities' and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The General Assembly recently appropriated $500,000 in honor of six recently-deceased members: Bernard Allen, John Hall, Robert Holloman, Howard Hunter, Jeanne Lucas and William Martin.

Rovonda Freeman, minority health coordinator at the Health Department, said the funding was divided among Health Departments across the state, with Wayne County receiving $6,000.

The money, she said, "is just another arm to extend what we can do for the different people in Wayne County."

One of the first steps is public awareness. His office is in the process of preparing information packets that will be sent out to churches and civic organizations. The packets contain information about the impact of domestic violence and resources available with help.

First and foremost is the phone number for victims -- 736-1313. Printed on a self-stick label, Costin said he hopes to see the number "put up all over town" in convenient locations.

"Then women who might be in this situation, or know somebody in this situation, if she sees (the number) often enough, when she is ready to make a move or take action, will know to call," he said.

The other aspect of the grant funding will be therapy, Costin said. Preventing or certainly curbing instances of domestic violence is important, he said.

"There are a lot of times where people, men, who were seeking to improve their situations or were mandated by social services to get help," he said. "We as an agency and certainly the Health Department are very concerned with the integrity of families and anything we can do that will keep families together."

Without trying to place all the blame on men, Costin said it is more a case of being proactive and preventive. Services have traditionally been geared toward supporting victims. Now, he said, it's time to target assistance for men.

"This is a situation that you can't put the responsibility on one gender or the other," he said. "To only work one side of the problem, you're shortchanging yourself.

"It's better to work for both sides, with the men changing the behavior, stopping the violence."

Regardless of the cause, Costin said he hopes to at least make a dent in the problem. At present, agencies like child protective and social services have been active in making referrals alongside the court and criminal justice system.

Therapy, both individual and group, gives immediate access to care, he said.

"It is one of the great benefits this grant is going to be able to provide," he said. "We have support groups for women, but for the men's treatment, there's a group that meets every week."

Such options are not just available to those mandated to be there, Costin noted.

"Certainly if a male or young man wants to get some help, that will also be available," he said.

For more information or for groups and individuals interested in obtaining an information packet or helping distribute them, contact Wayne Uplift at 736-1313.