Local organization pushes for domestic violence court

KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Amid recent spikes in domestic violence, Kent County advocates and leaders want to create a court that specializes in such cases.

“We cannot ignore domestic violence,” said Tara Aday. “If we want our communities to be healthy and safe, we need to address this issue of domestic violence.”

Aday co-chairs the Domestic Violence Coordinated Community Response Team (DVCCRT) alongside Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker.

According to the DVCCRT, the county is on track to double the number of domestic violence-related homicides from the previous year.

READ MORE: ‘This Connection Helps Heal:’ Community remembers those who lost their lives to domestic violence

In 2021, the prosecutor’s office charged 1,308 domestic violence cases, the highest number since 2017.

The DVCCRT adds that the complexity of the cases also poses a challenge, with many requiring additional resources in order to respond accordingly.

In response to the issue, the DVCCRT requested $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds to create a domestic violence court.

According to Aday, this would set up a specialized group including a judge, lawyers and others who understand the layered problem.

The goal is to reduce instances of near-fatal and fatal domestic violence for adults and children.

“When you have a specialist court, you have a team of people who can understand the nuances and complexity of domestic violence,” Aday said. “[It can] also creating the mechanisms to both make sure that the stories of survivors of domestic violence are actually understood by the people making the decisions, and then, in terms of things like sentencing and probation and all those things, team members hold perpetrators accountable.

READ MORE: Kent County Domestic Violence Task Force releases key recommendations and findings

Several other counties in Michigan have domestic violence courts, including Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties.

Susan Clark, a survivor of domestic violence, says that in the current system, victims often go unrecognized.

“With other people I’ve spoken to who were going through criminal court as part of their process, I think the things I hear over and over again are, ‘I’m not heard, I’m not taken seriously,” Clark said.

She believes a domestic violence court would help victims heal and bring justice to them.

“This [the DV court] says, ‘We see you and we hear you, we believe in your experience’ and not just ‘Hey, great job, thanks for speaking up,'” Clark said.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners will consider the proposal at a business meeting on Friday.

A decision on whether it receives funding is expected in mid-November.

To read the full DVCCRT proposal, click on here.

If you or someone you know needs help, the following organizations can help.

Call or text (616) 452-6664 to reach Shelter Ministries or click here to talk to a lawyer.

To reach the YWCA of West Central Michigan, call or text (616) 454-9922. To speak to a lawyer, click on here.

Both organizations have 24/7 helplines.

Aubrey L. Morgan