FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia ranks ninth among states with the highest rates of females murdered by males, according to the Violence Policy Center.
While Georgia as a whole may have a domestic violence problem, Forsyth may not, which may be difficult to imagine in light of the county’s multiple high-profile domestic-violence cases during the past few weeks.
On July 8, Forsyth County 911 operator Erin Jones, 28, was shot to death by her live-in boyfriend, 43, who then killed himself, according to police. On July 17, a 64-year-old woman reportedly shot her 69-year-old husband several times. And, on July 22, Rebecca Manning, 37, was allegedly killed by her boyfriend who also killed Manning’s 8- and 9-year-old sons, Jared and Jacob Smith. He also shot and critically wounded Manning’s father.
But even with the recent spate of violence, Faith Fanning, a victim advocate with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, said they don’t see a spike after high-profile cases.
“We see awareness,” Fanning said. “That gives us an opportunity to speak to the community and share and educate them where we may not have the opportunity before. It’s sad it takes that to have that opportunity.”
Even without an overall increase in cases, the FCSO typically receives over 30 reports of domestic-violence incidents a month. In an open-records request from July 1 to 31, there were 34 cases ranging from simple assault (four), simple battery (22), battery family violence (seven) and aggravated assault with other weapon (one).
Robin Regan, FCSO public information officer, said their domestic-violence statistics have dropped over the past three to four years, but it’s tough to tell what’s causing the drop.
“The percent of those calls that have turned into arrests have stayed the same,” Regan said. “As far as responding to those calls, we’re doing the same things and the same percent of people are resulting in getting arrested, but the actual calls have been decreasing.”
There were 1,355 domestic violence incidents in 2012, Regan said. In 2013 there were 938, and in 2014 that number reduced to 776.
Fanning said the Victim’s Advocate unit marks their incidents quarterly, and they average about 100 every quarter.
“That’s just the domestic violence,” Fanning said. “That’s not counting all the other incidents we look at including sexual assault or stalking.”
Fanning’s three-person department includes one domestic-violence specialist. The department helps all types of victims get help, from offering attorney recommendations to working with victims of ID theft.
“We walk the journey with them, whatever they might need,” Fanning said. “Between counseling, talking on the phone and just being there for people. If there is not awareness and education and support in the community, we’re going to be stuck with the same strongholds. To be able to move forward we have to have the ability to have people walk alongside us. Even people from poor to rich — all need people to come alongside them.”
Michelle Toledo-Cainas is a vice co-chair for the Forsyth County Domestic Violence Task Force. She said she first got involved with the cause after her sister survived a domestic-violence situation.
“One thing she told me after being in an abusive relationship for eight years: ‘If I only knew about the resources I think it would have given me strength to get out,’” Toledo-Cainas said, adding victims often feel isolated or alone. The power and control the abusers have over the victims can be manifested in many ways, including physical, psychological, sexual and even financial, she said.
“Knowing there is someone here who will believe, support and respect them and help give them a voice is important for them to know,” Toledo-Cainas said. “When we start this work, a lot of us want to save them. Sometimes we have to make sure by doing that saving we’re not putting them in any more critical danger because what we think may be right for them may not be right. We have to listen to their story and see where they need help and support so we can be here for them.”
Regan said domestic violence is a national issue and is certainly not exclusive to Forsyth County. However, the county has many different resources available.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of resources we can provide to the victims,” Regan said. “We treat it as a problem and we do take it seriously and will work to fix it.”
Resources include, but aren’t limited to, Family Haven, United Way and the Domestic Violence Task Force, Fanning said. In addition to various organizations a victim can reach out to, the FCSO makes sure every officer is trained to handle a domestic-violence situations, and that every victim, no matter what they’re a victim of, gets a pamphlet for more help.
“Our Sheriff’s Office is one of the few that has victim advocates on staff,” Fanning said. “In the last several years, our community has really rallied and has helped with domestic violence. I see the numbers going down and education being spread and it’s a positive in helping the decrease in numbers. We have a great community and police officers who have classes on a regular basis, including self-defense for women. It’s a great way to open conversations that might not always come up.”