Reality Check: Buncombe County Family Justice Center's impact on domestic violence

In its first year, the Family Justice Center helped 417 new people.  (Courtesy: WLOS)

The Family Justice Center is supposed to be a one-stop shop for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. It's been open for a little more than a year in Buncombe County, and experts say it's making an impact.

Our Voice moved inside the Family Justice Center and provided data showing it is now helping more total people and helping them in more ways, like with counseling. A survivor told News 13 it can be hard to get help.

Sara Hardesty once didn't feel safe walking her dog.

"Safety to me now is that I don't feel like I'm constantly under threat," Hardesty said.

Three years ago, Hardesty escaped an abusive boyfriend in Colorado.

"The first incident of violence was really, really serious and really intense," Hardesty recalled, "He ended up throwing me into a desk, knocking my glasses off, and then came after me with a knife."

She said she wishes she had support back then. The Family Justice Center (FJC) aims to provide that through an array of services.

"I think it's been working great. We're hearing from survivors how much they appreciate the coordinated services, being able to connect with law enforcement and an advocacy organization in one place," Julie Klipp Nicholson, a Family Justice Center Coordinator, said.

In its first year, the FJC helped 417 new people, with 84 percent of people in survey reporting domestic violence was the primary reason for coming in. After meeting with an intake specialist, 71percent of respondents said they experienced less fear and anxiety, and 92 percent said they had a plan to keep themselves safe.

"We know that connecting up with resources, making a safety plan, having law enforcement engaged in a family's life, is preventative of domestic violence homicides," Klipp Nicholson explained.

In 2013, Buncombe County had the second most domestic violence homicides in the state, which was eight. In 2016, Buncombe County had five domestic violence homicides, which Klipp Nicholson says is still too many.

"We're spreading the message in the community that domestic and sexual violence are not tolerated," she said.

Hardesty got to Asheville before the Family Justice Center existed, but now finds it empowering.

"To be given choices was something I never had. So, I think that makes a huge difference," Hardesty said.

She finds power sharing her story and letting people know she's a survivor.

"I have found power in that word. What I survived was unbelievable. The fact that I'm here is a miracle," Hardesty said.

According to Klipp Nicholson, Buncombe County law enforcement arrested 536 people in 2016 related to intimate partner violence. Through the first half of 2017, there were 293 arrests related to intimate partner violence.

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