By Kelly Werthmann
GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Every year, thousands of women and men in Colorado become victims of domestic violence. Every year, survivors of abuse struggle with navigating resources for help.
“Survivors have to go to as many as 32 different places just to find the services they need,” Deb Bittner, Division Director of Domestic Violence Services at Family Tree, said. “Some survivors just give up and go back to their abuser.”
That is exactly why community leaders and organizations in Jefferson and Gilpin counties are creating a place for change. Many gathered at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Wednesday to learn more about plans for a Family Justice Center. Nonprofit organization Alliance For Hope International is helping lead the way.
“The goal is to create one place where victims can go, where all the services are under one roof,” Casey Gwinn, President of Alliance for Hope International, told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “Crisis intervention services, long term care services, spiritual care, mental health support, cops and prosecutors, advocates, everything in one place. And not just for an adult victim, but for the children as well. That’s the vision.”
It is a place proven successful in 130 locations around the U.S. and 20 other countries, Gwinn said. Not only do Family Justice Centers help survivors, they’re helping to reduce violent and deadly crimes.
“They have a 91 percent drop in domestic violence homicides in Brooklyn, New York,” Gwinn said. “With a population of 2.6 million people, they now have a lower domestic violence homicide rate than Jefferson and Gilpin counties.”
Plans for a Family Justice Center in Jefferson and Gilpin counties is still in the works. Gwinn said teams are assessing the community now – how victims are treated in courts, how difficult it is to navigate the system and resources, what happens to a case after it lands on the prosecutor’s desk — and more planning meetings are scheduled in the coming months. By the start of next year, Gwinn said more meetings will be held with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes so they can help design the center.
“At the end of the day, this is a survivor-driven model,” Gwinn said. “Victims get better services if agencies work together. Victims would rather come to one place than have to go to 20 places. Our challenge is how to make it work for them.”
The Family Justice Center would be a private-public partnership, Gwinn added, and shouldn’t have any trouble when it comes to funding.
“It does cost some money,” he said. “But the average cost of one murder in Colorado is well over $5 million. We cannot only reduce the number of murders and save lives, but we can save a lot of money in that process, too. If you’re spending the money, you’d rather spend it on saving lives than prosecuting murder cases.”
About 50 local organizations are partnering with the counties for the project, including Family Tree. Bittner said “excited” is an understatement.
“What a great opportunity to be part of the solution of decreasing the amount of this traumatic crime that repeats generation after generation,” Bittner said.
For more information on the Alliance for Hope International and Family Justice Centers around the world, visit familyjusticecenter.org.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 This Morning over the weekend and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.