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New family justice center 'under roof' in Blountville

J. H. Osborne • Updated Apr 17, 2017 at 9:50 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A Family Justice Center to serve domestic violence and abuse victims in Sullivan County is “under roof” and way ahead of schedule, thanks to the generosity of multiple individuals and businesses, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said last week.

A big hurdle was crossed when businessman Jim Street made available a facility at 313 Foothills Drive, Staubus and Karen Turnage Boyd, site director for the center, said. The two were joined by other local officials, including Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells, Assistant District Attorney Kaylin Render, and Abuse Alternatives Executive Director Donna Mix, to look at progress on the facility’s renovation. A group of volunteers from Celebration Church has been working on the project.

Boyd said at the current rate of progress it is feasible the center could open by spring of 2018.

“Under the grant, we will open by next July,” Boyd said. “I am hoping we will be able to open next spring. We still have to do our program planning and get our operations manuals together.” 

The Sullivan County Commission accepted a state grant last June to help establish the center. The grant will provide $240,000 total over three years to help get the center up and running.

“It doesn’t pay for the bricks and mortar or any of the work on the facility,” Boyd said. “It pays for the planning and getting everything together.”

Family justice centers are built much like child advocacy centers, Staubus said, the goal being to provide a “one-stop” location to bring together all the various services victims of domestic abuse and violence might need.

That’s important because many victims of domestic violence have little to no resources and often lack transportation — making it an often overwhelming challenge to get to multiple locations for multiple services including law enforcement, medical examinations and social service agencies.

“It will make it more likely for a victim to leave, to get the help they want,” Boyd said. “They way I see it is our overall goal is to reduce every single barrier between people and the freedom they want, whether that’s to leave or not.”

Boyd said in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 1,877 calls related to domestic violence in the county.

The new center will include office space for law enforcement, but those seeking help from domestic violence situations won’t be required to talk to them unless they want to, Boyd said.

“You’ll come in and you’ll get to choose what services you want to get while you’re here,” Boyd said.

Washington County opened the a family justice center last year. Sullivan County will be the eighth such center in the state.

“About 40 percent or more of our cases are domestic violence related,” Staubus said when talking to the County Commission last year.  “Everything from assault, to kidnapping, to rape, to homicide. I also knew we have a tremendous amount of recidivism.”

That is, the people that commit these crimes, particularly domestic assault, are arrested and booked multiple times.

“We also know in these situations, children are involved,” Staubus said. “They are in the home and they are impacted.”

Staubus also said elder abuse investigations and prosecutions have been on the increase, and they would come under the umbrella of a family justice center as well.

“This facility is where everyone would come together,” Staubus said.

According to a portion of the grant application:

• In 2015, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime in Tennessee Report documented 77,029 victims of domestic violence reported statewide.

• Simple assault accounted for 67.3 percent of all reported domestic violence offenses, and the vast majority of the victims were female (71.2 percent).

The grant does not require the county to put up any matching funds.

Staubus said he hopes future funding for the center will be generated through donations and fundraising.

Boyd said in addition to the volunteers working, the facility has received donations of materials for the work from Home Depot of Bristol, Chick-fil-A donated lunch for the workers, Johnny Brusco’s of Bristol was donating pizzas the next day, and Bristol Regional Medical Center will be providing exam equipment for the center’s medical room.

“We’ve already gotten a great response from the community, and I feel certain that will continue,” Boyd said.

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