New program aims to bring abusers to justice

Victims of domestic violence in Western North Carolina recently received a powerful new voice to help bring them justice.

A $400,000 grant awarded to the 30th Judicial Alliance, a group that works on behalf of the justice system in seven western counties, has allowed for the establishment of a three-person legal team with the sole mission of encouraging the arrests and enforcement of domestic violence protection orders in Haywood, Jackson, and Macon counties.

The team, made up of an assistant district attorney, investigator and victim witness advocate, will help address the critical challenge of guiding domestic violence victims through the legal process.

District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said getting victims from the point of abuse all the way to a conclusion in the legal process often proves extremely difficult.

“Too often along the way they fall by the wayside for various reasons” including emotional or economic factors, or just pure exhaustion, Bonfoey said at a press conference to announce the effort.

Julia Freeman, director of the REACH domestic violence prevention nonprofit group, said that during an often-intimidating process, the legal team will provide, “that extra support — someone saying, we’re going to get you through this; we’re here for you.”

“They’re going to be there to walk that victim through from start to finish,” Freeman added.

Bonfoey assured the legal team “doesn’t usurp, supplant or diminish the efforts of REACH” or other groups, but instead, provides an additional resource.

“(The program) is truly collaborative in nature,” said Bonfoey. “There’s strength in numbers.”

Freeman said she was thrilled by the prospects of the new resource.

“The team is going to make a tremendous difference to the victims we serve,” she said.

Apparently, it already has. Bonfoey said the team worked with a woman who had taken out domestic violence charges on a perpetrator 18 times but had quit each effort before a conclusion could be reached. The team helped the woman to file a nineteenth charge, and the perpetrator was convicted.

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