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$495K grant to work to stop domestic violence

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September 13, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County’s efforts in battling domestic violence got a huge boost on Tuesday with news that Middlebury-based WomenSafe had landed a $495,509 federal grant to hire new staff to educate the community about crimes against women and to investigate those suspected of committing such offenses.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced that three Vermont organizations had been picked to share $1.55 million in U.S. Department of Justice grants for programs aimed at combating domestic violence. Among them was WomenSafe, an organization that helps abuse victims in Addison County and Rochester. WomenSafe’s nearly half-million-dollar grant will provide for:

• A full-time coordinator for the Addison County Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The council’s members include a variety of crime-fighting and human services organizations — such as the Vermont State Police, the Parent-Child Center of Addison County and the Vermont Department of Probation and Parole — that all work with people who have been touched by domestic violence.

• Three new staff for WomenSafe, including a person who will provide direct services to victims of domestic abuse; an “education and outreach” coordinator; and an administrative position.

WomenSafe currently has a staff of five and several volunteers.

• A part-time investigator for the Addison County State’s Attorney’s office. That investigator will help county prosecutors with domestic violence cases.

WomenSafe will also use some of its new resources to pay for translation services for non-English speaking clients; and to deliver emergency aid to women who need to quickly escape a domestic crises.

Naomi Smith, executive director of WomenSafe, was ecstatic about the news when reached by phone on Tuesday. She noted that a similar grant application submitted by her organization had been denied the previous year.

“I am still in a little bit of shock,” Smith said. “This (grant) will open wide everything we can do in Addison County.”

Smith noted the federal grant will expire after two years. That means she and other advocates will need to pursue other grants to sustain the new positions for the long-term. With the extra staff soon to come on board, Smith believes she will have the time and resources to seek new grants.

The other Vermont recipients of this year’s round of grants from the U.S. Department of Justice were Have Justice Will Travel of Vershire ($499,938); and Safeline of Chelsea, awarded a total of $555,000.

Recipients are giving some kudos to Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department and its anti-crime programs. The grants were included as part of the Leahy-authored Rural Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking and Child Victimization Assistance Grant Program.

“These Vermont organizations offer victim-centered services that make a big difference to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Leahy, a former prosecutor. “These are essential lifelines, and these grants will help ensure this help will be there when it’s needed.”

Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn was pleased with the news his office will be receiving more help. He said his office has a long history of aggressively pursuing domestic violence complaints.

“This (grant) provides us with more resources to firm up cases and fill in loopholes we sometimes see,” said Quinn, who hopes to have the new investigator on board by the end of this year.

Smith said the new resources come at a very good time for WomenSafe, which in 2006 worked with more than 400 area people touched by domestic violence. The organization also fielded around 3,000 phone calls on its hotline.

“Thirty percent of the women in this country will be a victim (of domestic violence) at some point,” Smith said, citing national trends and statistics.

“Our goal is to change the culture of our community around domestic violence.”

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