Coalition meets to discuss domestic violence prevention

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Local law enforcement officials, domestic violence advocates, and members of the judicial system have joined forces to combat domestic sexual violence. The Domestic Sexual Violence Coalition of East Tennessee held its first meeting of the year Monday afternoon at Safe Passages in Johnson City.
   Members of the Elizabethton Police Department participated in the discussion, which included officials from the First Judicial District attorney's office, and area abuse shelters. Officers who work in the special investigations division of the EPD attended the meeting.
   The coalition was formed over a year ago, but it is only now beginning to gain momentum. The purpose is to bring together all professionals who deal with domestic and sexual violence to develop a concentrated force against the forms of abuse in this region. All of the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee were represented at the meeting.
   Heather Miller-Beam is an outreach advocate and counselor with the Sexual Assault Response Center in Johnson City. She has worked to get the Domestic Sexual Violence Coalition operating in East Tennessee.
   "It is our goal that all organizations coordinate together and work as an interdisciplinary team to provide better service to the victims of domestic abuse," Miller-Beam said. "It brings our strengths to the table to say, 'this is what I do, and this is what I do.' Now, how do we make this better for the victim?"
   She added that those involved in the coalition have the common goal of helping victims of domestic abuse and to develop some type of consequence for perpetrators. The group, as a team, tries to identify gaps in the system to make consequences for domestic abuse more uniform across the region.
   "Each county responds to it differently. The law has so much room for interpretation that you have to work with each county differently, but if we all come together we can all come to an understanding of how the law was meant to be read," Miller-Beam said.
   Another purpose of the coalition is to increase awareness by the judicial system of various punitive measures available for utilization. Miller-Beam stated that many in the system are unaware of laws such as the one which states that convicted domestic and sexual violence offenders may be fined $200.
   The money would be put toward abuse prevention programs, and members of the coalition believe imposing the fine would go a long way toward solving some of the funding crunches which currently face outreach programs and shelters.
   Paul Gabinet, director of Shepherd Inn, Elizabethton, was unable to attend yesterday's meeting, but stated that the local shelter hopes to be very active with the coalition in the future.
   "We are going to be more active," Gabinet said. "It has been difficult because we have had to concentrate so much on our own issues going on here in the community, but we want to be able to host the coalition in the future, and I am in the process of working on grants that could result in a training facility here in the community."