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Raising awareness of domestic violence

In the midst of National Domestic Violence Awareness month, the Dallas-County based SABRA Sanctuary is doing its part to raise awareness of sexual abuse and domestic violence prevention.

Law enforcement, sexual assault shelter caregivers and others turned out for the first day of SABRA Sanctuary’s domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse symposium at the St. James Hotel on Thursday.

Most in attendance participated to learn more about improvements in technology and to increase awareness.

“It’s one of our biggest problems here in Alabama and around the United States,” said Det. Dorothy Cowan of the Selma Police Department. “We’re here to get information and anything we can to take back to the job and use it.”

The number of domestic violence cases in Alabama — though peaking in 2005 with 2,159 — remains too high.

According to the State of Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, the total fell to 1,994 in 2006. However, 2007 saw an increase to 2,012.

“It’s getting to be a bigger and bigger problem,” said Marion district attorney Jim Barnes. “I want there to be a solution to that problem.”

According to the symposium’s program, SABRA Sanctuary is one of 19 domestic violence and sexual assault shelters in Alabama. It provides in-shelter and out-of-shelter services to victims of domestic and sexual abuse in Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties.

Since opening in 1994, SABRA has also opened a sexual assault crisis center.

Beth L. Ashe — Louisiana’s first female sheriff — closed the first day’s lectures by speaking on the lack of attention issued to domestic violence prevention and use of improved technology in domestic assault prevention.

“The United States spends more money to tell you about the weather than to warn crime victims,” said Ashe. “(We spend) more money on that than to warn people who have been beaten to within an inch of their life.”

The people Ashe referenced are victims of sexual and domestic abuse who are not warned of their attackers’ release from jail or whereabouts.

This often results in victims having to call authorities in other cities, counties and states to track down any changes. This can result in repeat attacks if the victim is unaware of an attacker’s release from prison or change in locale.

Alabama residents can take solace in knowing that these changes are easier to track down through the use of the VINE and SAVIN programs. Both pool information once isolated by county into a statewide, online database that is easily accessible by anyone.

“With this program, you don’t have to call other sheriff’s departments,” said Ashe. “You just get online, and they will tell you anywhere in Alabama where that individual is and if they are released in any of those counties. I believe that crime victims have the right to be notified that those individuals are out to protect themselves and their family members.”