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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The panel included, from left, Mary Jo Hardiman, YWCA; John Beams, Center for Non-Violence; Marilyn Moran-Townsend, CVC Communications; Cathy Maggart, Allen County prosecutor’s office; and Rusty York, former police chief.

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:02 pm

Tools improve for confronting domestic violence: Panel

Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

Rusty York, a former Fort Wayne police chief, remembers that officers’ options once were limited when domestic violence victims declined to pursue charges.

Speaking Thursday at the 20th annual Circle of Women Luncheon, York described an admittedly "extreme example" from the 1970s involving an intoxicated man and a battered woman at an old farmhouse.

The woman didn’t want to press charges, he said, so officers ordered the man to spend three hours in the property’s tool shed.

York, who is retiring as the city’s public safety director, was one of four panelists at the luncheon, which supports YWCA Northeast Indiana’s domestic violence services.

The organization has provided services to more than 150,000 people affected by domestic violence since 1976. In 2015, it provided shelter to nearly 900 adults and children and answered about 7,000 calls on its 24-hour crisis line.

President and CEO Debby Beckman said this year’s fundraising goal was $155,000.

More than 600 people attended the luncheon, which is now held at Grand Wayne Center downtown after outgrowing smaller venues.

"It’s grown tremendously over the years," Beckman said.

So have changes in the handling of domestic violence, panelists said.

"The law has changed greatly," said panelist Cathy Maggart, domestic violence coordinator for the Allen County prosecutor’s office.

Now, for example, certain crimes – including the battery of a known pregnant woman and committing domestic violence in the presence of a child – result in automatic felony charges, she said.

Domestic battery also covers a broader swath of relationships, Maggart said, listing such examples as stepsiblings, cousins and guardians.

John Beams of the Center for Non-Violence and Mary Jo Hardiman, chief program officer at the YWCA, were the other panelists.

Speaking from their own areas of expertise, the panelists described attitudes and challenges that domestic violence victims might have faced decades ago.

In the 1980s, Beams said, a judge would wag his finger at a defendant and complaining witness, telling them they faced jail time if he saw them back in his courtroom.

Maggart said victims seeking protective orders from the court were once expected to pay for the service.

"That was a barrier at the time," she said.

Citing her own experience in school, Hardiman said children lacked education on the subject. Teen dating violence wasn’t talked about in school, she said.

Now, she said, YWCA Northeast Indiana has an education program for teens and young adults about healthy relationships and the signs of unhealthy and dangerous relationships.

She said these are important topics for children to learn.

"We’re not going to arrest our way out of domestic violence," Hardiman said. "We’re not going to prosecute our way out of domestic violence."