OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Tennessee is giving Anderson County a grant to launch and plan for a specific Domestic Violence Court. The goal of this court is to handle domestic abuse cases separately from the rest of the system, so victims get the support they need and perpetrators are held accountable.
The genesis of this concept on a local level came from the Anderson County Family Justice Center (FJC). Melissa Miller, the executive director, said the center opened in 2021 to serve victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking.
"Since opening, we've served about 400 clients — we're on track to double from our first year opening to our second. I would say most of our clients, that we serve, are domestic violence victims," Miller said.
The FJC is victim-centered. Whatever the victim needs, the FJC tries to connect them to the resources to get it.
"Someone can get an order of protection, they can have an advocate go with him to court, they can create a safety plan, they can do a danger assessment. We've replaced phones, we can connect to shelters, all sorts of things," Miller said.
Now, the FJC wants to expand that resource into the court system, which would help victims seamlessly navigate the legal process.
"It is a really intimidating process to come into court to share your story to go through all those steps," Miller said.
Now, with state funding flowing into this court, it's one step closer to becoming a reality. It will be the third court of its kind in Tennessee. Another East Tennessee county to have a domestic violence court is Scott County.
According to Miller, Scott County has seen success with it.
"Scott County's, when they opened, 20% of their victims were testifying ... and within a year it was 80%," she said.
Miller hopes the same success can be seen in Anderson County, and so do Judge Victoria Bowling and Judge Matthew Tuck.
They released a joint statement about it. That statement is below.
"This grant will enable our county to be in the forefront in addressing the issue of domestic violence. The Anderson County Domestic Violence Court format provides support systems not normally available to both the offenders and the victims. If we want to stop the “revolving door” of crime, we have to address the issues underlying the crime and we have to provide not only support services but strict accountability."
Mayor Terry Frank also released a statement in support of the court.
"This grant award is just one more positive community step that began with the Family Justice Center's (FJC) efforts to develop and advance coordinated community response," she said.
According to Miller, the county is now looking for a Domestic Violence Court Coordinator. The position is open for applications now. That person will not only oversee the court but also help launch a Batterers Intervention Program in Anderson County.
"It will be about a six-month window to get this docket started, " Miller said. "With this, they [victims] know that their community supports them, and they feel safe. And that's, that's huge. That's what we're going for."
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can connect with the Anderson County Family Justice Center by clicking this link.