Program Helping Domestic Violence Victims Escape Danger

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SHAWNEE, Kan. -- More than a year ago, Johnson County started a new program aimed at helping domestic violence victims realize their situation could be deadly unless they choose to leave.

It's called the "lethality assessment" and every police department in Johnson County is using it, and now recently Miami County has started too.

The domestic violence shelter Safehome says in the first year police started the program, 15-percent of the calls into its hotline were because of the police lethality assessments. That's 700 phone calls made because police determined there was reason to be worried about a victim's safety.

Six weeks ago, "Kelly" was one of those victims.

"I was scared to leave," she says, "scared what the consequences would be not only to me but to my children."

Kelly lived in fear of her husband for years. She remembers her lethality assessment and what it meant to her to have another person tell her that her life was in danger.

"My feelings were justified," says Kelly, "and to have someone understand where I was coming from and not think I was crazy, when you're told that so long you start to believe it."

Kelly fled to Safehome, she and her three kids stayed here in the living room for a week because no rooms were available. But they were free. In their six weeks here, Kelly has seen the change in her kids.

"They feel safe and I can tell they have changed so much it's like a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders," she says, "my ten year old son told me the other day in the car he said 'mom i feel like we escaped Hitler' and that was deep."

Safehome's Executive Director Sharon Katz says the lethality assessments are saving lives. In just the last three months police called the hotline 155 times because the assessment found the victim was in danger.

"that has a big impact on a victim when a police officer is saying i'm afraid for your life," says Katz.

But getting that many calls for help means Safehome is using the living room to put up victims more than they would like.

"It's been somewhat overwhelming for us," says Katz, "but I'm delighted we are there and saving these lives."

And for that, Kelly is grateful.

"I'm thankful I get a new start, my kids get a new start," she says.

Safehome's executive director says she's working on a plan to expand and accommodate more people, she's hoping the community will see the need and support Safehome in this effort.

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