This is not love
By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
"It is not an overwhelming problem, but we need this unit," said Sgt. Monte McGougin, commander of the domestic violence crime unit for Escambia County.
He made that statement when the notification came that funding for the unit – some $126,045 from the state and matching local funds of $42,015 – had been committed for the year.
McGougin estimated that there are 350-400 cases of domestic violence that come through his office in a year. That is the majority of cases in the county, with the exceptions coming through the Poarch Creek Band of Indians offices.
McGougin said his office is there to help the victim in whatever capacity it can.
"If someone comes to us, we will bend over backward to help them," he said.
But that does not just mean having officers come and intervene in a domestic dispute, perhaps arresting one of the partners involved.
The members of the unit, McGougin, Investigator Lee Hall, victim's advocate Renee Cain and administrative assistant Donna Castillow, also help the victims of domestic violence get the services they need to change their lives, hopefully for good.
McGougin and Hall investigate the crime aspect of the situation, interviewing those involved and any witnesses, and taking photographs that may be entered as evidence.
They will also help the victim to get into a shelter, such as Penelope House, in Mobile County, or another shelter located in Escambia County. They will also help get counseling started, as well as help get a protection from abuse order, follow up with the victim through the legal process, and go with her to court.
The evidence is kept in a database, McGougin said, so that there is a record of the violence and the outcome of the court case.
The unit will also guide the victims into job training, and victim service organizations that coordinate services.
The state funds are awarded by the governor through the Department of Justice.
The department also funds a Stop Violence Against Women grant for Native Americans. That grant funds a similar help organization at Poarch, through the Creek Indian reservation there.
It has a five-county service area, and is set up to help women both on and off the reservation.
"We have identified the resources they may need, " said Linda Gail Parker, supervisor over the program.
"We do not turn down non-Indians, and we have an excellent relationship with the Escambia County unit," she said.
If the violence occurs on the reservation, the entire situation may be handled through the tribal courts. The victim is offered legal services, emergency shelter housing, and help navigating the maze of agencies that provide other services, such as collection of child support, welfare and food stamps.
Bridget Wasdin is the victim's advocate for Poarch and emphasized how important those services may become in breaking the cycle of violence.
"There are many circumstances involved in stopping the violence," Wasdin said. "She may be dominated financially, and have no resources to care for the children. She may not have been allowed to work. She may be naive enough to believe the perpetrator will change. And she may be scared and believe he will use the children against her," Wasdin said.
Parker said that statistics show one woman in four will be battered, and the tribe is active in searching for other funding for change. That funding is becoming available, Parker said, because the government has recognized how big a problem domestic violence is.
The tribe has received notice that it has won two new grants through ADECA, one to fund a prosecutor for domestic violence cases, and one for an outreach specialist who would also do follow-up investigations.
The domestic violence unit at Poarch has been in existence since 1996, and in that time has served 103 clients.
"We work with them, " Wasdin said. "They may decide to go back, but we keep working with them. It is all about power and control."
With the help of the Poarch Creek domestic violence unit and the Escambia County Domestic Violence Crime Unit, women here can regain control over their own lives.