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New tool to deter domestic violence

T-L Photos/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra announces a new online tool to make information about individuals with felony convictions for domestic violence more available. Shown marking the occasion are, from left, Commissioners Jerry Echemann and J.P. Dutton, Vavra, Tri-County Help Center Director Cathy Campbell, Commissioner Josh Meyer, Tri-County Help Center legal advocate Eddie Carpenter and Sheriff David Lucas.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Area residents soon will have a new tool to check the backgrounds of potential dates and partners to see if they have a history of domestic violence.

Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra is spearheading the initiative to inform the public and hopefully deter domestic violence by making Belmont County’s felony records more readily available.

“The first time it happens, you’re charged with a misdemeanor offense — you’re in the county court system. If you are convicted, any charge after that then becomes a felony,” he said.

Vavra said he has been seeing more repeat offenders with multiple prior convictions in his court and, as a result, he intends to promote awareness.

“I’ve been working with the county’s website director. We are going to have information on the common pleas court website. Anyone who is convicted of a felony domestic violence … their name and their case number is going to be listed on the website,” he said. “If somebody types a person’s name for any reason into the internet and that person is listed on our website, that information will go to the person who is seeking information about that potential partner.”

The judge said there is a greater percentage of people meeting online now than in the past.

“If somebody does find themselves in that situation and is thinking of kindling a relationship, this will be a resource they can have that will at least give them some background information about these people who are domestic violence chronic offenders,” he said. “This is cyclical. It just keeps happening over and over.”

Vavra also said he hopes to see the new service in operation soon.

“I’d like to have it done by the end of the month,” Vavra said.

He said he and Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato currently deal with about 20 felony domestic violence cases each year.

“I think numbers are increasing, unfortunately,” he said. “And the number of recidivists is increasing as well.”

Vavra made the announcement Wednesday when Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Thank you, commissioners, once again for recognizing the essential importance of designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is something we deal with 365 days a year. We could not do that without the support of commissioners, law enforcement, judges and the community,” Tri-County Help Center Executive Director Cathy Campbell said.

Campbell said there is a shelter in Belmont County that serves clients from Belmont, Harrison and Monroe counties. She said her department handles about 600 clients from the three counties annually, with services ranging from counseling to providing shelter. The organization shelters about 80 yearly.

Campbell did not have a breakdown of the number of clients from each county.

“We see a lot of people who are coming in with job stress, with economic problems … problems with drugs and family members coping with an abuse issue in a loved one or family member,” she said. “The domestic and sexual violence clients make up about a third of that case load, one-third to one-half. … (The case load) has not gone down as far as we can see.”

Eddie Carpenter, Belmont County domestic violence legal advocate, noted the importance of making the public aware of resources available to assist victims of domestic violence.

Campbell said Tri-County will hold a march to raise awareness at 6 p.m. Wednesday at its office parking lot, 104 N. Marietta St. in St. Clairsville. Participants will march to the courthouse on Main Street.

“We encourage everyone in this room and everyone in any community to join us,” she said.

“Thank you for the work you do,” Commissioner Josh Meyer said, commending the collaboration of related agencies.

“It’s a collaborative effort, all of us working together,” Sheriff David Lucas said.

The Tri-County Help Center help line is available 24 hours a day and can be reached at 740-695-5441.

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