Lori Burleson was relieved and grateful on April 15 of this year when she learned that her sister had finally decided to leave her abusive husband.
In fact, Kim Baucom (Conover) told Lori she was headed to her lawyer's office to prepare an application for a restraining order and start the divorce process. Finally, Lori did not have to worry about her sister anymore, the threat of violence would be over and Kim and her children would be safe.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
As Kim left her lawyer's office, gunshots were fired, and many people's lives were forever changed. Four children lost their mother, a family lost a daughter, sister, aunt, niece and cousin. Countless people lost a friend, a classroom of second graders lost their teacher, and a community was left in shock and unspeakable grief.
All because of a selfish final act of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a dangerous crime and can lead to deadly results. The emotional toll often outlasts the physical injuries and affects all family members, including children, and entire communities.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, "It's not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive. In fact, many abusers may seem absolutely perfect on the surface ... in the early stages of a relationship."
The key to surviving and avoiding domestic violence lies in getting help as soon as possible. Victims need to know that resources are available to help intervene and prevent a tragedy. The Family Justice Center Sonoma County's message to victims is: You are not alone. We have come together and are here to help you.
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It also marks one year since the grand opening of the Family Justice Center Sonoma County. One of nearly 80 such centers in the United States, this organization empowers family violence victims to live free from violence and abuse by providing comprehensive services, centered on and around the victim, at one location.
Building on strong interagency collaboration, the Family Justice Center works to protect the vulnerable, stop violence and restore hope. The agencies providing these vital services under one roof include the YWCA, Council on Aging, Verity, Catholic Charities, Legal Aid, the Inter Tribal Council, and the District Attorney's Office. Other partner agencies include the Sheriff's Office, Santa Rosa Police Department, Human Services and Health Services. The core concept is to provide one place where victims can talk to an advocate, plan for their safety, obtain a restraining order, meet with a police officer and prosecutor if they choose and receive information and referrals.
Documented outcomes of this model include reduced homicides, increased victim safety, increased autonomy and empowerment for victims, reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children, increased efficiency and coordination among service providers, and reduced recantation and minimization by victims when wrapped in services and support.
Since opening its doors, the Family Justice Center has served more than 700 individuals. In our second year of operation, our goal is to continue providing vital services to victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse and sexual assault, while ensuring that all community members know about the services available at the Family Justice Center so there are no further tragedies in our community.