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Summit aims to abate domestic and sexual violence

The Durham “Sex, Love and Violence” summit opened Wednesday, bringing together community agencies and individuals interested in issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape.

In the four-hour event at the Durham Marriott Convention Center, speakers discussed how to respond to and prevent domestic and sexual violence. About 150 people attended the event, which was hosted by the Mayor’s Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Rape Task Force and Durham’s Department of Human Relations.

“Sexual violence is an area that the city needed to focus on, so we formed this task force,” Durham Mayor Bill Bell said. “We really care about individuals—especially those who have been abused—and we want to show that… I think that whenever we can get public and private agencies to collaborate, we can solve something together.”

Bell said the goal of the task force is to reduce and ultimately eradicate domestic violence, sexual assault and rape in Durham.  

Yvonne Peña, director of Durham’s Department of Human Relations and a co-chair of the task force, said more money and attention are needed to combat domestic and sexual violence.

“If there was a virus that was killing thousands of people, we would react differently,” she said. “The money would appear to eradicate the virus, there would be a lot of information to prevent it from spreading, and people would be focused on it.”

City Council member Mike Woodard, a co-chair of the task force, said the conference would help fight domestic and sexual violence by bringing together different organizations involved in the issues.

“There are a lot of services out there, but people don’t always know about them, or agencies don’t know that another group is providing a similar or complementary service,” he said in an interview.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez also spoke about the importance of educating young people about anger management and domestic violence.

Many of the 30 organizations working with the task force set up tables at the event to inform attendees of their services. The organizations ranged from Duke Medicine and Durham Regional Hospital to N.C. Against Domestic Violence and El Centro Hispano.

Kathryn Smith, a representative for the Center for Child and Family Health, which counsels children who are sexually abused,  manned a table at the event.

“Unfortunately, sexual abuse and domestic violence happen more than we want to admit,” she said in an interview. “Events like this help to break the silence around these issues and bring them to the public.”

The recession has forced Durham to make difficult decisions about law enforcement funding. Woodard said funding was not cut for uniformed police, but the city did not add positions to the domestic violence team that it would have liked to add.

Assistant District Attorney Angela Garcia-Lamarca said in an interview that Durham has both a domestic violence response team and a sexual assault response team, which involve the Department of Social Services, law enforcement agencies, health departments, medical professionals and the DA’s office. Durham also has a separate domestic violence court with two judges.  

“Our ultimate goal is to prevent homicides,” she said.” This event promotes community cooperation, which is a very important component to effective prosecution of domestic violence.”

Wednesday’s event was part of the “2009 I Care Campaign” which is designed to provide support to sexual and domestic violence victims, Peña said.

A similar event conducted in Spanish will be held today at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in downtown Durham.

The task force is also fundraising to print and distribute “Little Purple Books” to all Durham residents. The books will provide information about the signs of domestic violence and how people can help victims.  

Peña also said that the task force is in the process of planning a date assault conference for college students in the area.

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