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Roundtable brings together state's advocates against domestic violence

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From mid-March to mid-May, 11 women and one male bystander were killed during domestic violence incidents in West Virginia, an official from a state advocacy program said Tuesday.

Five more men died in suicides after killing women.

In the past fiscal year, 14 licensed domestic violence services programs helped nearly 18,000 men, women and children, said Sue Julian, team coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

Julian shared those statistics at a roundtable discussion of advocates against domestic violence hosted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Tuesday morning.

The meeting brought together services providers, members of law enforcement, clergy and domestic violence survivors to talk about ways to better combat domestic violence.

Part of curbing domestic violence incidents requires changing the cultural norms that allow sexual assault and domestic violence, said Judy King Smith, chairwoman of the state Department of Health and Human Resources Family Protection Board.

"We have not been able to change that," said Smith, who is also the executive director of the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center.

She added that changing attitudes about domestic violence is more difficult in rural areas.

When there are several generations living close together -- often on the same property -- it can be more difficult to break away from whatever tradition a family may have, Smith said.

The Rev. Jeff Allen, of the state Council of Churches and the state Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said clergy can play an important role by establishing that domestic abuse is wrong. Clergy members should reject "bad theology" that encourages women to submit to men to the point of abuse, he said.

"I think we need to push back and say that's not our reading of scripture; ours is that all people are created in the image of God," Allen said.

Sara Monroe, a domestic violence survivor from Wyoming County and a representative of Mountainheart Community Services in Oceana, said police and court officials need a better way of handling domestic violence victims. Monroe's husband abused her for years until one night after he tried to shoot and kill her.

"He was bound and determined to kill me," she said. When he passed out drunk, she took the opportunity to take his gun from him and leave. When he woke up and went after her, she fired and killed him in self-defense, she said.

Monroe was at first charged with first-degree murder but accepted a plea bargain of involuntary manslaughter. A prosecutor later told her she never should have been charged, Monroe said.

"We really need to change a lot of that," she said.

The meeting was also a chance to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Rockefeller was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, which was first passed in 1994. The law has been reauthorized in 2000, 2005 and 2011 and is up for reauthorization again this year. The bill is stalled now as lawmakers work out differences between the House and Senate versions.

The VAWA provides West Virginia programs with about $3.6 million in funding each year.

"If there was ever a time to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, it's now," Rockefeller said in a prepared statement. "Yes, we have made progress in recent years, but for those who've died this year we haven't done enough."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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