by Kristi O’ Connor – Monday, October 24th 2016
SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. – Victims who escape abusive relationships describe the process as daunting, but soon, starting over will become a little bit easier for survivors in Sullivan County. News 5’s Kristi O’Connor learned more about a center opening up soon. This will be only the eighth Family Justice Center in the state. Washington County, Tenn. recently opened the seventh. It is all part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to put all the community resources to help domestic violence victims under one roof. In 2015, there were 1,817 family violence crimes reported in Sullivan County. Sarah Everhart shared her story of abuse and how she gained the courage to escape. “He dislocated my jaw, tore my rotator cuff and treated me like a punching bag,” Everhart said. Like Everhart, many victims are taken to safe houses in the middle of the night. “Many come in their pajamas, with a bag of clothing if they are lucky, and that’s it,” Kingsport safe house Program Director Tina Johnson said. Johnson says deciding to leave is the hardest part, but it is also just half the battle since they have to start a new life from scratch. “By the time that they get to us they are in an emotional state that it’s hard to focus on even the most basic details, let alone the other things they need to accomplish,” Johnson said. “I knew I needed to get out of the relationship because it was toxic, but I didn’t know what to do or where to start,” Everhart said. Now, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s office is trying to make that process easier, with a one-stop shop for victims. “There will be law enforcement on site, an assistant district attorney on site, counseling, both of our local domestic violence shelters will have people on site,” Family Justice Center Site Coordinator Karen Boyd said. It takes pressure off the victims and the responsibility off of safe house directors to help them start over. Boyd hopes eventually it can grow even more, to provide services that Sullivan County is lacking. For example, the closest sexual assault nurse examiner is in Johnson City, meaning victims of sex crimes in Sullivan County have to go to the ER. “You’re sitting in the Emergency Room for sometimes hours, usually everyone knows what has happened to you, and its really traumatizing to have to do that,” Boyd said. The first three years of the Family Justice Center will be funded by a state grant, it is a non-profit organization that could be open as soon as next month The biggest up front cost will be purchasing a building for the center. It will be operating out of a temporary location in Blounvtille near the Children’s Advocacy Center. Already there are eight partner agencies that will be co-located out of the office, to assist victims.