Violence Against Women Act signed by president - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Violence Against Women Act signed by president

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

President Obama's signature on an extension of the Violence Against Women Act comes after more than a full year since the original legislation expired in 2011.  

It's taken Republicans and Democrats this entire time to come up with a version of the bill that they both agree with.  Since then, women's shelters and local advocates for family violence victims like Hope Harbour have seen a noticeable change.

"We've seen an increase of 49% in the new victims that we're actually serving in just the last year, " said Lindsey Reis, assistant director of Hope Harbour.

Without the funding, less help was available to women trying to get out of abusive relationships. The few outlets available locally have been flooded with victims seeking assistance.

"We don't have a lot of shelters in Georgia.  So you go to a shelter, they're full, what do you at that point?  A lot of times they run into that and have to go back to their abuser because they have nowhere else to go," said Angela Bankston, Hope Harbour shelter manager.

There have been several high-profile cases of family violence that reached the breaking point right here in Columbus.  Yesterday, a woman on Oates Avenue had to call 911 because her estranged husband broke into her house and was beating her.  It ended with a man shot and killed by police when he fired  a rifle at them.  Just last month, a man is accused of pouring lighter fluid on his girlfriend and setting her on fire at the Havenbrook Court Apartments.  That woman remains in the hospital today.

Representatives from Hope Harbour say sometimes the problem is hard to recognize and it may take other people to get involved before it gets solved.

 "A lot of the times, their abusers are good fathers.  They're not always bad.  And, there's not always bad moments.  There's a lot of good moments too, so they hold on to those memories and those good moments.  And they hope that they can get help or they can change them or that things will be different, and they love them," said Bankston.

Hope Harbour will help victims of domestic violence find an attorney to get a divorce, get a new place to live, get food and other things they may have left behind.  Victims will sometimes suffer from mental illness or drug addiction and the program helps with that too.

The facility is a 35 bed shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.  They guarantee victims can stay in the shelter for 30 days and sometimes longer if the case warrants it. 

Originally passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act also aids in enforcement of domestic abuse laws and increases the penalties for offenses.

People who wish to contact Hope Harbour can call (706) 324-3850, or the national crisis line at (800) 334-2436.

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