IN THE SPRING OF 2016, I decided that the prolific domestic violence and sex crime rate in Sullivan County could not stand. I could easily attribute 40 percent of all of my office's cases to domestic violence. The sex-crime-rate per population in the jurisdiction was three times the average of the rest of upper East Tennessee, rivaling the rate in urban areas across the state. The county averaged law enforcement reports of five domestic violence related crimes a day and five sex crimes a week.
Through Tennessee Governor Haslam's safety initiative to open family justice centers across the state, I applied for funding from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs (OCJP) to plan a family justice center (FJC). My vision was for one safe place that victims and survivors of interpersonal violence could go and access any service they needed to move away from a life of fear and violence and toward a life of safety and freedom.
My Assistant District Attorney, Kaylin Render, helped write a grant request for funding to hire a full-time employee to plan the center. Render, who tries all of the felony domestic violence cases in Sullivan County, was well aware of the need for a new way to address the domestic violence epidemic in the jurisdiction. OCJP awarded Sullivan County the $240,000.00, three-year planning grant requested. I hired Karen Boyd, a local attorney, to plan and oversee the center, which would be the 8th family justice center to open in the state.
Quickly, essential family justice center partners got on board with the plan for this new center. Two local domestic violence shelters, the children's advocacy center, all three local law enforcement agencies, and civil legal service providers joined the DA's office, representing the core partner agencies that would make up the family justice center.
The work had just begun for this Sullivan County team. The grant, which funded training and planning for the center, did not cover money for purchase of a building. Traditionally across the state, local governments provided the physical space for family justice centers, but the Sullivan County government was unable to provide a building or funding. The team didn't give up on their dream of a family justice center. Believing in the inherit generosity and goodness of the people in the community, we decided to do something no other FJC in Tennessee had tried.
The existing partner agencies rallied a team of leaders from the community and opened a...