Johnson County DA helping to open resource center for victims of domestic violence

OLATHE, Kan. -- Domestic violence is in on the rise in Johnson County, and it's depleting the county's only domestic violence shelter's resources.

Now, the Johnson County District Attorney's Office is helping with a plan to make it easier for victims to get help.

"We can't control human behavior," said Steve Howe, Johnson County district attorney. "But we can control what comes after that."

The office helped form a nonprofit to raise money for the Johnson County Family Justice Center, which will be a one-stop shop for victim's resources with everything from social services, legal aid and police officers on site.

"You're talking about people at probably the lowest point in their lives," Howe said. "They aren't thinking straight and have a hard time processing things and really being organized because of the trauma they went through. Making it easy for them, giving the ability to get the help they need quickly and in one location provides a lot of assistance for the short term and the long term for their own health."

The foundation needs to raise $70,000 for the first phase of development. Once it reaches that goal, the group can get help from the Family Justice Center Alliance, which helps set up centers all over the United States.

As Johnson County's population grows, Howe said the amount of domestic violence will grow with it. According to Howe, crime is up in general and that includes domestic violence, sexual assault and even elder abuse.

"The thing about domestic violence is, even though our raw numbers haven't gone up significantly, the number of very serious cases where people have been injured have gone up," he said. "Not everyone person who is a victim calls the police. We see a lot of victims not do that. That is reflected in the increase of protection orders that we do."

Last year, Howe said his office handled a 10% increase in protection orders -- most for life or death domestic situations.

"You can clearly see there's been a rise in domestic violence," Howe said.

With the Johnson County Family Justice Center in the works, the agencies involved hope they can make it easier for people to recover after the worst moments of their lives.

Howe said the increase in demands at Safehome, the only domestic violence shelter in Johnson County, illustrates the need for the center.

From therapy to legal services, Safehome supports domestic violence survivors at its shelter. In 2017, Safehome had a 20-year high for the number of calls to its 24-hour crisis hotline.

"That just represents an increase need in services," said Desiree Long, director of grants, quality assurance and housing at Safehome. "Unfortunately we've turned about 2,300 people away last year, adults and children, and that is a 29% increase from 2017. When we turn people away, we try to connect them with other resources. We always reach out to other domestic violence shelters in the metro. If they are in immediate, lethal danger, we do everything we can even if we have to bring them in and maybe temporarily bring them in a sofa bed, and that’s just temp until we can figure out a better solution."

Not only are more people are staying in Johnson County's only domestic violence shelter, they're staying longer and need more services to gain independence.

"Many people who are experiencing domestic violence are also experiencing financial abuse and that can include not being allowed to work, ruined credit, high debts, all sorts of things," Long said.

When it's finished, the Johnson County Family Justice Center will also help victims of sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking and other crimes.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, domestic violence related homicides increased in 2017.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic violence and want to talk to someone, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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