SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Housing, counseling and direct services are important and the first step to get victims to safety, but advocates say legal services are also a vital component to help survivors overcome the victimization.
“Those numbers continue to rise for orders of protection, police responding to incidents,” said Sharon Alexander, director of development at Legal Services of Southern Missouri, a non-profit organization providing free legal aid to low-income individuals and senior citizens
“And while that is our focus population, we spend about 50 percent of our caseload working with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, sex trafficking,” Alexander said.
She says in the past 20 years their focus has been around victims of abuse
“There’s just a great need,” she said.
The agency receives referrals from Harmony House, The Victim Center, other shelters and social services agencies and law enforcement throughout the region.
At The Victim Center, Shelly Drymon says advocates can help individuals with orders of protection.
“We can help them fill that out. We can do it here, we have a victim advocate at the Circuit Clerk’s office as well, that could help you do that,” Drymon said.
The Victim Center doesn’t provide legal advice, but can connect you to legal services for more complicated cases involving a divorce, custody or visitation for example.
“Because without legal services most often the victim is unable to sever the ties with the abuser. If they cannot get a divorce, they are basically connected,” Alexander said. “Without legal services the victims cannot truly move on with their lives and recover from the victimization.”
By the middle of 2018, Greene County hopes to have all the services a domestic violence victim would need at one location.
“Connecting with those services at the same time,” said Chief Paul Williams of the Springfield Police Department.
“Right now we are scattered all across town, and many times, victims don’t have transportation,” Alexander said.
It will be called the Family Justice Center. It will house legal services, counseling from The Victim Center, resources from Harmony House, and representatives from law enforcement and prosecutor’s office.
“We want to do the prosecution and the enforcement side, but really we are about helping that person move on with their lives and be safe,” Chief Williams said.
Chief Williams says it will speed up the criminal justice process, help victims and impact the community.
“This is being made possible through the normal collaborative spirit that we have in Springfield, everybody working together,” he said.
Victim advocates at Harmony House, The Victim Center, and Legal Services of Southern Missouri are all certified to sign victims up for a Safe At Home address. That’s where survivors can apply to have their real address from being public records and use an alternate one instead for their protection