Moultrie Observer

Local News

November 8, 2012

Community holds vigil for domestic violence victims

MOULTRIE — Victims, people working within the domestic violence community and concerned citizens came together Oct. 25 in the Colquitt County Commission chamber in order to participate in the annual Domestic Violence Awareness Ceremony.

The well attended group was welcomed by Blue Hackle, executive director of the Serenity House, the main sponsor of the event, and was led in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag by a color guard consisting of children from the community. After being led in prayer by the Rev. Steve Purvis, District Attorney J. David Miller gave a brief historical overview of victim rights and services during the time period of 1985 to the present. He then introduced one of the night’s two main speakers, state Rep. Jay Powell.

Powell, who represents Colquitt and Mitchell counties in the Georgia House of Representatives, gave a passionate speech regarding the legislature’s role in supporting the domestic violence community. He discussed both the fiscal and social cost of domestic violence and explained specific programs, supported by both state and local taxpayers, to provide support for victims, including funding for domestic violence shelters, training and personnel for those agencies working within the domestic violence community. Powell also discussed two bills from this year’s session of the General Assembly. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he supported House Bill 711, which will amend Georgia’s Evidence Code, effective Jan. 1, 2013, relating to spousal immunity.

Under current law, a batterer can physically abuse his spouse, be arrested and then apply psychological and/or physical threats to the victim to force their victim to claim spousal immunity and prevent the prosecutor from calling them as a witness to testify regarding the abuse which has been inflicted upon them. Under the new law, if a spouse commits an act of domestic violence against the other and is arrested, the victim can now be called to testify so that the jury has all of the evidence in order to determine the truth of the matter.

The other bill Powell discussed was HB811, a bill which he authored and pushed through passage in the House. Simply put, the bill would require the state to spend money, which is raised for specific purposes, on those programs, or else reduce the fees to the taxpayers. The status quo, unfortunately, is that millions of dollars are raised at the local level each year and sent to Atlanta, intended for specific purposes such as hazardous water clean up, drivers education for our teenage drivers (Joshua’s Law), and the Peace Officers and Prosecutors Training Fund. Unfortunately, the majority of those designated funds, because they are not constitutionally mandated funds, get redirected by the General Assembly for other purposes.

Powell explained that this bill is relevant to Domestic Violence Awareness Month because some of the funds which are currently being redirected should be used to provide specialized domestic violence training for law enforcement and prosecutors. The result would be more perpetrators being held accountable for their actions, thereby stemming the tide of domestic violence in our state.

While the House overwhelmingly passed HB811, the bill stalled in the Senate and did not pass this session. Powell assured the group that he would re-introduce the bill next January and would keep introducing and pushing it until the bill passed and the state legislature embraced its “Truth in Government” message.

After a warm response from the group to Powell’s comments, Sheriff Al Whittington praised Powell for his hard work in almost single-handedly saving the Moultrie Crime Lab and restoring that funding in the state budget after it had been cut out of the previous governor’s GBI budget. Whittington noted that the presence of the state crime lab is essential to the effective and timely processing of evidence in our region of the state.

Following the sheriff’s comments, Powell was presented a Legislative Leadership Award from Hackle, Miller and Whittington on behalf of the victims, law enforcement and prosecution communities of Colquitt County. Miller noted that while South Georgia continues to lose representation in the Legislature after each re-districting due to population increases in the Metro Atlanta area, our region is extremely fortunate to have Powell in leadership positions on the House Judiciary, Appropriations and Ways and Means (Tax) Committees, where he continues to be an effective advocate for our community.

Following the presentation to Powell, the other keynote speaker addressed the crowd on a much more personal level on the issue of domestic violence. Silvia Martinez spoke about her experience as a domestic violence victim, at times speaking through tears, as well as moving some in attendance to tears with the details of her ordeal. While her story painted a visual picture of the domestic terrorism associated with violence perpetrated by her fiancé, she also emphasized how grateful she was for the support of District Attorney Victim Advocate Karen Ambrose and the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Department who helped her through her ordeal. She concluded her remarks by encouraging victims to take action to escape their abusive relationships, and assured other victims that the county has resources in place to help them and their children in that journey.

After Martinez finished speaking, a candlelight observance for 17 domestic violence homicide victims, who were killed between 1987 and 2010 in Colquitt County, as well as another victim who was killed in another county with local family survivors, was held. One person representing each of the 18 victims came forward to light their candle, while the entire group lit candles. After all candles had been lighted, the lights were dimmed for a one minute moment of silence to reflect on the memories of the victims.

After a closing prayer, the group enjoyed refreshments that were provided by the Moultrie Federated Guild, one of the many community supporters of Serenity House.

The Serenity House shelter was established 11 years ago as a result of the community response to the domestic violence murder of Kim Nunez, an employee of The Moultrie Observer, who was killed on First Street Northeast about a block from where the ceremony was being held.

Hackle told the crowd that, while the shelter is not faith-based, she wanted them to know that the Nunez family continues to provide Bibles to the facility for the use of the women and children who come through the shelter.

 

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