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Billings looking at Family Justice Center model to help domestic violence victims

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Posted at 10:44 PM, Jun 27, 2023

BILLINGS - Putting government and community organizations in one building could better help domestic violence victims.

That's the hope of Billings city leaders, who are studying the idea of creating Montana's first Family Justice Center.

The center model is used in 130 other cities throughout the country.

The co-location idea is that different groups might be housed in the same building, or just have a representative at the center.

Alliance For Hope International leaders who helped get the centers started talking about the benefits at Rock 31 on Tuesday.

Every year, domestic violence victims hesitate to call police for help.

That's part of the reason for a push to fund and build the Family Justice Center in Billings to make the process smoother for victims.

Currently, domestic-violence victims may have to drive to several spots to get help and feel safe.

"It's a big undertaking," said Officer Katie Nash, a Billings police domestic violence investigator. "So if we can condense things into one space, I think it would be a lot better."

According to the foundation, only 25% of domestic violence cases get reported. But Nash is hoping to help.

"If they have one of the victim witness specialists from a prosecutor's office say, well, this is Katie Nash, she's an officer, but she's not mean she's not scary," Nash said. "Just to have someone vouch for that person, vouch for me."

In Billings, domestic violence calls come in at about 1,000 annually for the last three years.

"Domestic violence, family violence is pervasive," said Ellie Stanton, an AmeriCorps member. "The Family Justice Alliance, they've talked to thousands of survivors across the United States and throughout the world. Every survivor they've spoken to said yes, I do want all of my services in one place."

Stanton has been helping Nash with the proposed center, which would make it the first in the state, although Missoula did attempt to put together a center.

Ken Shetter with the National Family Justice Alliance Center says Billings is ready for his center.

"A lot of good groundwork has been laid," Shetter said. "You have some community champions which you have to have to be successful."

He talked about the rewards of getting victims and children into a more hopeful life.

"Nothing in the world more satisfying," Shetter said.