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Fighting domestic violence 

Advocates want to reach students, community

Charlotte domestic violence advocates want the city to be known as a community that doesn't tolerate domestic violence. And, they say, more people — children, even — need to know how to recognize the signs and fight the problem.

"It is a problem that we all have to share," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Vicky Suarez, who works in the department's domestic violence unit. "I can look at domestic violence from a police perspective, but it's going to be a lot healthier if I can get the input of citizens out there and victim's advocates and if we can all come together and look at this issue."

On June 24, the Domestic Violence Community Leadership Team hopes to engage the community in finding solutions to preventing domestic violence at a 1 p.m. meeting June 24 at the Hal Marshall Center. Representatives from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and mental health agencies are expected to discuss prevention and intervention strategies.

Advocates contend that the first priority of the community is educating children about healthy relationships and the warning signs of violence.

Marie White, division director of Community Support Services, said the team wants to start educating Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' students about domestic violence. Planning is just beginning for the program, which White said would be age appropriate, starting with information about bullying and later discussing healthy relationships.

Domestic violence is underreported as it is, White said, and teenagers are more likely to turn to a friend about an abusive relationship than their parents or authorities.

"Ten percent of freshmen admit that they have been assaulted by a boyfriend or a girlfriend," she said, citing findings from a 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of CMS students. "Thirty-one percent of freshmen say they have been forced into a sexual relationship."

Sarah Greene, manager of the county's mental health domestic violence prevention program, responds to crime scenes when children are involved. Domestic violence is an issue in about half the families she and her colleagues see. "We're on call 24/7," she said.

Kids who are exposed to domestic violence are at risk of developing mental health issues, Greene said. Her job is to make sure these children get the services that they need for at least seven years after being exposed to domestic violence. However, she said, there will be challenges to getting domestic violence education into the schools.

"It can be controversial. Also, it's a big system and they have a lot of priorities and this may not be one of the top ones. But I'm optimistic ­-- and I have to be in order to come to work every day." she said.

Greene believes Charlotte doesn't have "much awareness about domestic violence, we don't have any community standard in reference to not tolerating it.

"We also tend to have people from the agencies involved and not from the general community," Greene said. "And we're wanting to have more civic engagement around these issues so that it's owned by the community and not just by the people who are working in the field every day."

Suarez said many people in the community want to help but don't know how.

"This is kind of opening the door for their involvement and their help," Suarez said.

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