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CASA adds new tools in fight to curb domestic violence

Margie Manning



Lariana Forsythe, CASA CEO, with domestic violence survivors who spoke at the Peace Breakfast.

A team of attorneys and new staff members are helping CASA beef up safety efforts for domestic abuse survivors.

The organization, which is the official domestic violence center for southern Pinellas County, has new staff members in place at the Pinellas County and St. Petersburg law enforcement agencies, CEO Lariana Forsythe said at the CASA Peace Breakfast Tuesday.

Here are the steps she outlined:

• CASA was the only agency in Florida to receive state funding for a new position located at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office. The new position, a batterer accountability specialist, will work collaboratively with the courts and child welfare agencies, in order to increase batterer accountability and compliance with dependence case plans.

• The Juvenile Welfare Board is funding a new position as well. The CASA childhood domestic violence advocate will be located at the St. Petersburg Police Department and will go out to homes where children reside, immediately following a domestic violence arrest for intense support, resources, and referrals.

• CASA also hired an “Injunction for Protection” attorney team and a paralegal to provide direct legal representation to survivors of domestic, dating, and sexual violence and stalking in temporary, final and other injunction for protection proceeding and civil prosecution of violations of injunctions. Since it was launched seven months ago, the team has helped put in place 51 injunctions for children who have witnessed domestic violence.

“While we’re making major strides, we know we’re just scratching the surface,” Forsythe said.

CASA, which stands for Community Action Stops Abuse, served 2,782 people last year, with 24,102 services accessed. A domestic violence shelter that opened in 2015 can hold up to 130 individuals, and typically half of the shelter residents are children, a spokesperson said.

In 2018, there were 6,300 reported domestic violence offenses and 11 domestic violence murders in Pinellas County. Four dogs also were killed in on domestic violence occurrence.

“In all of the news articles reporting these murders, only one even mentioned the words ‘domestic violence,’” Forsythe said. “Words matter and if we don’t name the violence, we’re choosing to ignore it. When we choose to ignore it, we silence the victims, we aid and abet the perpetrators and we miss the opportunity to prevent the very same thing from happening in another household.”

CASA last year launched a media campaign, “Call it What It Is,” urging the community and the media to call out domestic violence, Forsythe said, “so that collectively we have a better understanding of what it is, the havoc that it wreaks and the resources that agencies like CASA can provide.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch presented a proclamation at the breakfast, recognizing the work CASA does and proclaiming Oct. 15 as CASA’s Day to Stand Up to Silence.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman proclaimed Oct. 15 as CASA’s Day to Stand Up to Silence.

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