DA's Office Wins Junior League Women's Empowerment Award!Posted: 05/04/2017
The Junior League of Knoxville (JLK) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. At the Junior League’s General Membership Meeting held at Southeast Bank’s Headquarters in Farragut, Tennessee on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, Ms. Ryn Rowlett, President of JLK, and Ms. Cammy Kromer (not pictured) of its Education and Training Council presented District Attorney General Charme P. Allen and her Domestic Violence Unit with the 2017 Women’s Empowerment Award. Representing the Unit at the event were Assistant District Attorneys Willie Lane, Debbie Malone, Molly Martin, and Danielle Jones, and Assistant Victim/Witness Coordinators Heather Houbre and Marilyn Billingsley. Annie Intrieri, the Unit’s Legal Secretary, was unable to attend. Ms. Leah Swaggerty, JLK’s Education and Training Director, is also pictured with our Team.
The Junior League notes that the Women’s Empowerment Award is given to an organization that shares the JLK’s passion for enriching the lives of women in the area of Women’s Safety and Education. Special consideration is given to organizations that focus their efforts on improving the lives of domestic violence survivors. After being nominated by longstanding JLK member Emily Faye Abbott, the District Attorney’s Office is humbled and honored to have received this award, which we believe represents a culmination of outstanding work by General Allen’s Team.
When she was elected to office in September 2014 as the first female DA in the history of Knox County, General Allen made several changes to the Office of the District Attorney General to combat various problems within our community. One of those problems was the huge volume of domestic violence offenses occurring in Knox County and the fact that the Domestic Violence Special Prosecution Unit at the DA’s Office consisted of only one full time prosecutor. “According to statistics from the Family Justice Center, local law enforcement receives a call about domestic violence every thirty minutes,” said General Allen. “This translates to over seventeen thousand calls per year and thousands of cases of domestic assault coming through the court system.”
The statistics are staggering. According to a 2016 study of 2014 homicide data released by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization, Tennessee ranked 9th in the nation for its murder rates of women by men. The study revealed that 51 out of 53 women were killed by men that they knew and of those 51, thirty were killed by current or former husbands and boyfriends.
In 2016, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) published a report analyzing domestic violence crime data from the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRIS) over the period 2013-2015. It found that a total of 232,031 offenses of domestic violence were reported to TIBRIS over that time period, with simple assault accounting for the most frequently reported of the offenses (68.1%); females (71.6%) were three times more likely to be victimized than males (28.4%); and, victims were six times more likely to be abused by a spouse than an ex-spouse.
With these shocking statistics in mind, General Allen has consistently chosen to tackle the domestic violence problem head-on. In September 2014 she revamped the Domestic Violence (DV) Unit by adding two more prosecutors and two support staff dedicated solely to cases of domestic violence, and then in 2017, she chose to address the problem even more vigorously by staffing the DV Unit with four prosecutors, two assistant victim/witness coordinators, and a legal secretary.
To that end, our Office has applied for and been awarded two domestic violence related grants from the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs (OCJP). The first grant is the STOP Violence Against Women Domestic Violence Prosecutor Grant, which funds a full-time specialized domestic violence prosecutor with the purpose to enhance and strengthen our domestic violence prosecution unit. We have received this grant over the years and have been awarded a continuation grant for this purpose since General Allen took office.
The second grant is the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Domestic Violence Victim Coordinator for General Sessions Court, which funds a full-time victim coordinator to work with domestic violence victims in General Sessions Court. This grant began in January 2017 and is a 3-year project/grant that we received in partnership with Knox County Government - Knox County is the grantee and the funded staff person works in our office specifically in courts of limited jurisdiction, i.e., the Knox County General Sessions Courts.
As such, under General Allen’s administration the Office went from one full-time DV Unit member to six full-time personnel dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence and holding their abusers accountable. The DV Unit prosecutors bring with them years of experience and specialized training handling very difficult domestic cases. According to General Allen, “Members of the Domestic Violence Unit must be part prosecutor and part victim advocate as they help victims cope with the emotional and traumatic events of their past while guiding them forward through the legal process to a safe and peaceful future.”
The initiatives of General Allen, who is a member of the Randall E. Nichols Family Justice Center (FJC) Board, and the hard work of the prosecutors and staff of the Domestic Violence Unit, have already proven themselves in the courtroom. Within the first year of the revitalized unit, more domestic violence cases were prosecuted, more victims were helped, and ultimately, more offenders were convicted of the crimes they had committed.
In furtherance of their prosecutorial duties, the attorneys visit the FJC on a regular basis in order to maintain contact with the service providers. This frequent contact has allowed General Allen’s team to establish and cultivate relationships with collaborators such as the YWCA, Helen Ross McNabb Center, and Legal Aid of East Tennessee to better assist the victims of this type of violence.
Of vital importance to our prosecution of these cases is the forum the FJC has given to our attorneys to meet with law enforcement personnel assigned to the Family Crimes Units within the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) and Knoxville Police Department (KPD). It takes a victim of domestic violence an average of seven times before she or he can successfully remove herself or himself from the violent relationship. Because of this fact, the attorneys that General Allen has assigned increasingly rely on a proactive response by law enforcement to go forward with the prosecution and many times our Office must proceed without the victim we are trying to protect. In these situations, our work with law enforcement from both agencies is invaluable. The assistance provided by law enforcement in holding batterers accountable even when the victim is unwilling or unable to assist us has been remarkable. Due to their efforts and our collaboration, we have utilized evidence-based prosecution techniques to gain convictions and to require the offender to seek treatment and counseling, helping us to reach our goal of being “Tough on Crime, Smart on Prevention.”
Moreover, in pursuance of solving the domestic violence problem in Tennessee, our Office has consistently proposed legislation to assist domestic violence victims and to strengthen our criminal justice laws related to all crime victims. For example, in 2015 our Office in conjunction with the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and victims’ rights group HOPE for Victims succeeded in convincing the Tennessee Legislature to pass the “Victim Life Photo Bill.” The law, which took effect July 1, 2015, allows prosecutors in murder trials to show the jury a photograph of the victim while they were still alive.
Additionally, in her brief tenure as DA thus far, General Allen has taken the strong initiative to help prevent crime at its source by fostering better communication between our Office and the general public via our Community Affairs Unit, Speakers Bureau, Citizens Academy, Website, Facebook page, and Twitter page. For instance, our Team Members frequently speak at and participate in many domestic violence related events throughout Knox County, advocating for victims’ rights and educating the public on the problems and solutions; we actively participate in the Annual HOPE for Victims Remembrance Tree Event in December, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week activities in April, and Human Trafficking events throughout the year; we designed and launched an office website (www.knoxcounty.org/dag) that includes an entire section dedicated to victims with volumes of information offering them the resources that they need for crime prevention and safety measures; our social media accounts are updated 24/7 with relevant news and information to help educate the public; we launched the State of Tennessee’s first of its kind DA’s Office Citizens Academy to help educate the community about what we do as prosecutors; and, we have modernized and updated our Victim Waiting Room to also help ensure that the court experience results in as little trauma as possible for our victims.
In brief, we recognize that domestic violence is a serious and complicated issue with no easy answers, but under the direction of District Attorney General Charme P. Allen, the experienced prosecutors and staff of the District Attorney’s Office are working to make the community safer one case at a time and are empowering the female and male victims of this violence to not only survive the violence, but indeed to thrive thereafter.
We congratulate our Domestic Violence Unit for all of its hard work and dedication on behalf of Team Justice and we sincerely thank the Junior League of Knoxville for recognizing our Office’s efforts via the Women’s Empowerment Award!