ANNAPOLIS – The Family Violence Council, headed by Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., is calling on law enforcement, courts and social service agencies in Maryland to change the way they respond to family violence.
The council, which seeks to prevent and reduce family violence in Maryland, will formally release its report, “Stop the Violence,” on Monday. But the direction of its recommendations became available at the Statehouse Friday.
The report will call for proactive, rather than reactive, communication and coordination among the groups that handle family violence cases, said Debra Bright, state coordinator for the federal Violence Against Women Act.
Marty Burns, spokeswoman for the council, explained:
“Everyone has their own policies and procedures for handling a domestic violence incident. This would streamline procedures and put markers in the system to flag certain cases.”
For example, she said, police don’t always know when courts issue protective orders that prohibit one person from contacting another.
Specifically, the report will call for:
* Improvements in 911 emergency responses.
* Automated warnings to victims that their abusers are being released from custody.
* Screening and referral of family violence victims by health care providers.
* Providing character education to public school students, and intervening in the lives of students whose families are at risk for domestic violence.
* Increasing resources for services to victims through better government ties to the business community.
* A public awareness campaign to change attitudes and behaviors.
Bright said the reform effort, begun last November, stems from the Lt. Governor’s interest in the issue, from passage of the federal Violence Against Women act, and from rising numbers of family violence cases.
Between 1994 and 1995, spousal assaults, and aggravated spousal assaults — which involve severe bodily injury and use of a weapon — increased by 18 and 17 percent, respectively, according to the Maryland State Police.
In 1996, filings for protective orders increased 15 percent over 1995, and child abuse and neglect investigations increased 17 percent, state police reported.
“The time is right. The resources are available for the first time ever to enact a lot of the recommendations people have been identifying for years,” Bright said.
Funding for some of the council’s plans, such as creating family violence units within the parole and probation system, will come from federal funds allocated under the Violence Against Women Act, Bright said. In 1996, Maryland got $2.2 million to address family violence. The state received 2.4 million for fiscal 1997, Bright said. -30-