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Alerts for domestic violence victims could go statewide

A notification system for domestic abuse victims could go statewide in coming years, and advocates say it could save scores of lives.

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DURHAM, N.C. — A notification system for domestic abuse victims could go statewide in coming years, and advocates say it could save scores of lives.

The alert system would allow victims to request that authorities notify them when a protective order has been served on their abusers – or an attempt was made to serve a protective order – and 90 days before a protective order expires.

The Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification program, or SAVAN, has operated a test version of the alert system for five years in Durham, Pitt and Surry counties, and the Governor' Crime Commission recently received a $497,000 federal grant to expand the system statewide.

Beth Froehling, co-executive director of North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims is usually when they decide to leave their abusers.

"So often, the violence can escalate, and that is the most common time of domestic violence homicide," Froehling said.

One hundred women were killed in North Carolina last year in domestic violence cases, according to state Department of Justice statistics.

A protective order sometimes alerts abusers to the pending departures, SAVAN administrator Debbie Allen said, making it "incredibly important" for victims to know when to "get out of harm's way.”

"A protective order is a perceived threat to the offender," Allen said.

About 33,000 protective orders are filed in North Carolina each year, but finding out when they are served is a challenge for most victims.

"Under the current system, you would have to continually call the sheriff's office to get that information, which can be hard on the victim (and) hard on the sheriff," Froehling said.

The pilot program notifies victims by phone or e-mail within minutes of a protective order being served. They can also access a copy of the order online to read.

"Information is power, and it’s very frustrating for a victim not to know what is in there (or) what can be done,” Allen said.

More than 2,100 people signed up for the notifications last year in Durham County.

Allen estimated that 90 percent of the women killed by domestic violence last year had obtained protective orders against their abusers, and about two-thirds of the orders had expired.

Most protective orders expire in a year, and the alert system lets victims know when their protective orders are close to expiring so they can seek a new order.

"Often times, that just comes so quickly to the victim that they are not realizing that it has expired," Allen said.

Officials said expanding the system statewide will take a few years. A different technology than that used in the initial version of the system will make the process more automated, and Alamance County will test that technology.

"There are a lot of victims that need this service in the state," Froehling said.



Erin Hartness, Reporter
Pete James, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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