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Legal Eagle Spotlight: Domestic Violence and Resources.

Brittany Whitney, Assistant City Prosecutor, joined the Mount Vernon’s Prosecutions Office almost 10 years ago with Ellie Cline, Victim Assistant, working with her for about 9 years. The Domestic Violence Unit was formed back in October of 2019 when the office recognized different legal steps were needed for cases such as domestic violence and family issues compared to cases of theft like they typically deal with. Whitney and Cline work with victims to help files cases and offer different outlets the victim can take in their journey. Now domestic violence is not just when a boyfriend or husband hits his partner, it is a broad description that many situations can fall under, most situations are a power and control situation where one side has the upper hand, which is typically seen in romantic relationships or parent/child relationships, but they can even be nephew/uncle relationships or sibling relationships. Now typically we see cases that involve a woman filing a case against a man, but it can always be the other way around. Females tend to abuse emotionally rather than physically, hence less men coming forward because they are not being physically abused yet that doesn’t make their case any less important. Stalking is also a major issue in domestic violence cases, though they may not be physically abusive, constantly driving past the victim’s house, leaving multiple phone calls and voice messages, and even sending unwanted gifts can cause the victim mental distress which can warrant legal action if it happens two or more times. The severity of domestic violence cases varies depending on many factors such as if the offender has prior domestic violence convictions which would make the case a felony. If strangulation was involved in the case, it will also instantly make the case a felony offense due to strangulation being deemed a felony in the state of Ohio. The level of harm made to the victim also determines if the case is a misdemeanor or felony which id decided by the Knox County Prosecutors Office. All cases are different and no two cases are treated the same, this is an issue taken very seriously in Knox County, the unit prioritizes victims safety above all and will work with them to figure out how they are most comfortable going about the case.

            There are many outlets survivors of domestic violence can reach out to for help and the unit will offer these resources to anyone who asks for it. To reach out about for help victims can call (740)-393-9562 which will connect to the law director office and ask to speak to Ellie Cline who will work with the victim to see what options they have. Options include charging protection orders, getting in contact with programs like New Directions, Knox Public Health, and Touch Point Family Services, even seeing if the safest option for the victim now is returning home to their abuser until a safer time to leave arrives. The office follows Marcy Law, which is a set of laws that originated in California that lays out what victims’ rights are and what they can opt in and out of such as being notified when the offender is released from jail, allows victims anonymity throughout the pretrial and trial process, as well as putting up guard rails for victims safety once the offender is released. Many cases the offender will have a GPS tracking system placed on them with exclusion zones to limit their access to the victim, drug and alcohol screening, and mental health services. There are also apps victims of domestic and sexual violence can use to reach out for help. One is called “Seek then Speak” which walks the victim through a series of questions that they would typically be asked if they took the case to local law enforcement, then it will compile a PDF with photo evidence, claims, and even details like if the victim is married or has kids with the abuser. This then will allow the app to connect them to resources they can reach out to until they are ready to file a case. Another app is “My Plan” that will walk you through an assessment to see if you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, the app is completely anonymous and will explain red flags that where found and steps and resources they can take to resolve the issue as well as creating a safety plan if they cannot leave at the current time. More resources are available on Mount Vernon Municipal Court website at https://mountvernonmunicipalcourt.org/resources/

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