CROWN Weekly
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CROWN Weekly

Delivering justice and hope

By: Jordan-Ashley Walker, Charlotte Communications & Marketing

Sgt. Craig Varnum, center, works with members of the CMPD Domestic Violence Unit (from left, Detective Teresa Johnson, Addie Auman, Venus Jacobus and Detective Melanie Greene) to unload items donated to Safe Alliance domestic violence shelter.

Brand new fleece blankets and overstuffed pillows.

Fluffy white towels and crisply packaged bed sheets.

These everyday items might seem commonplace, but for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Sgt. Craig Varnum and his team on the Domestic Violence Unit, the items represent hope.

On Tuesday, CMPD’s Domestic Violence Unit arrived at the Safe Alliance domestic violence shelter in Charlotte to deliver the donated goods — thousands of dollars’ worth — collected with the help of the CMPD as part of Operation Sleep Safely.

“It’s a very real, tangible way to give back,” said Varnum, who joined CMPD in 2000.

Detectives Melanie Greene and Teresa Johnson help unload items for use by the Safe Alliance domestic violence shelter.

The blankets, pillows, sheets and towels will be given to people arriving at the domestic violence shelter as a way to provide them with some of the comforts of home during an immensely difficult time in their lives.

It’s a small gesture that goes a long way, which is why the Domestic Violence Unit makes it a priority to give back to the shelter and the community as a whole. The donation to Safe Alliance is part of the unit’s second annual donation drive, Operation Sleep Safely. The donation drive is the brainchild of Addie Auman, a domestic violence counselor who works within the Domestic Violence Unit.

“I love hearing that we’re able to provide something that is such a critical need,” said Auman, who has been with CMPD for 18 years.

‘Not a unique phenomenon’

Operation Sleep Safely is just one of many initiatives the Domestic Violence Unit undertakes each year.

“All that effort is validated when you have one success story,” Varnum said.

CMPD receives about 35,000 calls for service each year related to domestic violence. Law enforcement determine that a crime was committed in about 9,000 of those cases. Varnum and his Domestic Violent Unit handle about 1,500 of those cases — the most egregious cases involving significant injury and repeat victims and offenders.

The unit has three main focuses:

· Holding abusers accountable.

· Providing justice and enhancing the quality of life for victims and their families.

· Engaging in meaningful partnerships with other agencies in the community to further outreach efforts.

Domestic abuse is typically defined as one person asserting power and control over another through emotional, physical or psychological abuse. Statistically, one in three women and one in four men will be victims of domestic abuse.

“Numbers tell us that this is not a unique phenomenon,” Varnum said. “It’s a human problem.”

The unit has a multifaceted approach to combating domestic abuse. They not only work to support victims and prosecute current abusers to the fullest extent of the law, but they also provide outreach to schools, churches, businesses and community groups in an effort to educate and inform.

Studies show that exposure to childhood trauma is a predictor of future violence or abuse, so Varnum and his team often work to educate students about healthy relationships and conflict resolution.

“If you grow up surrounded by conflict and violence, you will learn to solve conflict by violence,” Varnum said. “Early, substantive intervention is key.”

Last year, the unit visited 13 schools within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system. They’re looking to exceed that number this year to reach even more children and teens.

The Domestic Violence Unit is also working with its community partners to create a family justice center, which is one-stop, multidisciplinary resource center where victims can access services that address, treat, and intervene in domestic abuse situations.

Studies show that implementing a family justice center helps to decrease the number of domestic violence homicides, decrease crime overall, increase the number of services that victims seek out and increase the number of successful prosecutions.

And because of the intense nature of the work the Domestic Violence Unit does every day, the team leans on each other.

“It is a very close group of individuals,” Varnum said. “We support each other inside and outside the workplace. We try to be there for each other. We try to laugh, to have fun when we have that chance.”

‘We owe it to each other’

When statistics tell us that as many as one in three women is a victim, that means it’s very likely we know someone who is affected by domestic abuse. And although CMPD’s Domestic Violence Unit works diligently to hold abusers accountable and bring justice for the victims, Varnum said we all must do our part in recognizing abuse and doing something about it.

“It is everyone’s business,” Varnum said, “This is a public health concern. Abusers aren’t just dangerous to the people they abuse. It’s not a behind-closed-doors problem. We owe it to each other as human beings to make it our business.”

Typically, a victim attempts to leave an abusive relationship seven times before the victim is successful in leaving the abuser. And that’s the most dangerous point in the relationship, Varnum said. Approximately 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen when the victim is attempting to leave the relationship.

That’s why it’s so important for people to trust their intuition, Varnum said. Listen to your gut, and if you feel that something is off, speak up. It can be as simple as approaching the person and saying you’re available if they want to talk.

If could be a conversation that sparks the first attempt to leave an abusive relationship, Varnum said. Or it could be that seventh time.

“Your one conversation could be the conversation that makes a difference,” he said.

For more information about domestic abuse and how you can seek help for yourself or someone you know, visit the CMPD Domestic Violence Unit’s website.

Members of the CMPD Domestic Violence Unit (Venus Jacobus, Detective Melanie Greene, Detective Teresa Johnson, Detective Tim Savelle, Addie Auman, Sgt. Craig Varnum and Gloria Bebber stand with staff members from the Safe Alliance domestic violence shelter after the unit donated blankets, towels and other items to the shelter.

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