The office’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit was formed through a federal grant recently awarded to the district attorney’s office.
The $50,000 grant came from the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and is funded through the federal Violence Against Women Act. The district attorney’s office matched the grant with $12,500 of its own funds, a measure approved by the county board of commissioners earlier this year.
The unit is comprised of one attorney, one victim witness advocate, an investigator and an administrative assistant.
Emily Harsen is the assistant district attorney who heads the unit. She has worked in the district attorney’s office since 2012. The unit only handles crimes against women. When Harsen first began working in the unit earlier this year, there were more than 300 open cases. That total is now upwards of 400.
“More people are feeling comfortable with reporting crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Harsen said of the rising amount of reported cases.
She also attributed it to a more positive police presence in the community.
“[Officers] are trying to do things in public to help show they are nowt the bad guys,” she said.
Harsen also said police officers are receiving comprehensive training, learning to recognize the signs of domestic violence.
District Attorney Dick Donovan said the rising amount of domestic violence and sexual assault cases is not unique to Paulding County.
“I think there has been an upward trend all over the country, not just in Paulding County, which is why the Violence Against Women Act was passed and why the grants were established,” he said.
Donovan said he finds domestic violence deplorable.
“I was a police officer for many years. I don’t like people who hit their wives or girlfriends,” he said.
Donovan said the unit will become expert in handling these cases as its members only need to focus on one area of law, instead of dividing their time, attention and expertise over many different areas. When it came time to appoint an attorney to the position, it was Harsen who requested it.
“This has been my passion from the get-go .. working with victims,” she said. “It’s allowing me the opportunity to get to know victims and their story and be a part of their life. It’s not just a case file to me. They are an individual with a story.”
The county will have to reapply each year, but Harsen said the district attorney’s office feels confident it will continue to receive it.