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Fight domestic crimes

Alabama has a particularly high rate of crime against women. According to the state's own figures, 1,000 cases of rape and 20,000 complaints of domestic violence are reported every year, although experts in the field say those figures probably represent only two in 10 of the actual offenses committed against Alabama women.

That's why the formal statewide plan to combat domestic violence being put together by a coalition of state agencies and private groups comes as good news.

Described as the first such plan of its kind in Alabama when it was unveiled in Montgomery on Wednesday, the goal of the plan announced by the newly formed Council on Violence Against Women is to inform all potential victims of rape or domestic violence of their rights and the state services available to them.

Included in the plan will be a statewide toll-free hotline telephone link to trained counselors who can inform victims of their options and an education initiative aimed at doctors, law enforcement officers and any other public officials who may be in a position to recognize and report crimes of violence against women.

While the hotline will be the main objective of the plan, Jimmy Frye, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, one of the state agencies in the anti-violence campaign, said training law enforcement and emergency room personnel in recognizing the tell-tale signs of abuse could be just as important.

"Many cases are lost because of a lack of communication among state agencies," Frye said at a news conference in Montgomery where the plan was unveiled. "Now that Alabama has a plan, it will help those who are sensitive to this issue to train those who aren't."

Frye, a former judge with experience in domestic abuse cases, said cards, pamphlets and posters with the hotline number will be distributed to any area where potential victims could appear, including emergency rooms and doctors' offices.

Funding for the council's plan will come from several existing grants and is expected to total more than $250,000.

While the goals and methods announced Wednesday are wholly admirable, it also should be noted that the initiative came after federal prompting.

The U.S. Department of Justice requires each state to submit a plan each year addressing violence against women to be eligible for federal funding for anti-violence programs. Previous Alabama plans simply were drafts intended to meet requirements for such funding, Frye admitted Wednesday.

But the new plan, which is the first in Alabama to be drafted via a formal planning process, began last November and will now serve as a foundation for more reforms necessary to protect women.

Included in those reforms are some legislative initiative that need to be undertaken when a new Alabama Legislature reconvenes next year, said Julie Lindsey, director of the Alabama Coalition Against Rape, another of the organizations making up the new council.

Among those issues in need of addressing are proposals to protect the rights of women who may become incapacitated because of voluntary alcohol consumption, stalking laws that are too vague and the prohibitive costs of filing restraining orders against abusive, or potentially abusive men, Lindsey said.

We don't know how far those proposals will go in an Alabama Legislature still dominated by men, but at least the new council is thinking big and has come up with some concrete plans.

It's about time.

Tuscaloosa News

Swept. 6, 2002