Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It can affect those who are poor or rich or those in between from an economic standpoint.
It’s been a problem for many years in the eight counties that make up the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, including Baldwin County.
“Domestic violence is a personal crime and a family crime,” according to Jackie Watts, who serves as the domestic violence task force coordinator for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. “It’s a crime where the person you care about and someone you love is actually committing the crime against you. So, the victim is less likely to cooperate with law enforcement, because this (perpetrator) is someone she (victim) cares about — somebody she loves.”
Although the victims in such cases are most often women, sometimes they can be men, Watts told The Union-Recorder in a recent interview.
Johnnie Mae Wilson, who for more than 21 years worked as the program director of the S.A.F.E. with the Baldwin County Solicitor General’s Office, now works under Watts as one of her victim advocates within the judicial circuit — the largest judicial circuit in Georgia.
“One of my main goals is hopefully to put us all on the same page,” said Wilson, who once was a victim of domestic violence herself. “We all have basically the same problem. We’re reaching out to the other advocates in the other counties to make sure that what we’re doing in one county we’re piggy-backing it into the other counties.”
Watts said she is delighted that Wilson has joined the district attorney’s office.
“One of her gifts is bringing people together,” Watts said. “She has a personality for that.”
Watts said she had personally asked Wilson to reach out to the other advocates to help them because she has so much knowledge about domestic violence.
“Mrs. Johnnie has been focused on domestic violence for 21-plus years,” Watts said. “So, I asked her to spread that knowledge throughout our circuit, and to reach into our communities. She knows about this problem, because she has been a victim. And there is a big difference when you have been a victim. Because she’s been a victim, she’s able to reach victims that I can’t always reach. She can say things that I cannot say.”
Watts praised Wilson’s ability to plan certain events related to domestic violence.
“We had a recent event in Putnam County,” Wilson recalled. “It was a tree planting ceremony for a victim that was killed there.”
Wilson said domestic violence is often unsuspecting.
A threat might not even be carried out for two or three years down the road, she added.
“But they have said it,” Wilson said. “And you need to take that threat very seriously.”
That’s what makes it so difficult for victims to get out of violent relationships or to report to law enforcement agencies, said the local victim advocates.
“They never believe that someone who loves them is intentionally hurting them, so the cycle continues,” Watts said.
The problem is difficult for everyone who encounters such a situation, including law enforcement officers, Watts explained.
“You’ve got remember that law enforcement officers keep coming to a certain house where this crime is going on and after a while they become numb to it because the woman there keeps telling them she doesn’t want to prosecute,” Watts said. “Then you have a situation of where law enforcement officers are putting their lives on the line to go into these homes.”
There are so many dynamics, she said.
“You’ve got children who have seen things that I hope I will never see in my lifetime,” Watts said. “They’ve seen so much in their young lives. And you’ve got little girls thinking it’s OK, and little boys thinking this is how I’m suppose to treat a woman.”
There’s the cycle.
Asked how officials and communities can come together to stop domestic violence or sharply curtail it, both women weighed in on ideas.
“I believe we can slow it down some,” Wilson said.
Watts said she believes they definitely need more programs — not additional programs through the court system or even in the schools.
“I think we need social programs, not like DFACS (Department of Family and Children Services),” Watts said. “I think we need women to mentor women and we need men to mentor men, and I don’t mean like once a week — I mean mentor.”
Watts said everyone should be held accountable for their actions even in a mentorship program.
“If you do something wrong, there should be consequences,” Watts said, noting she doesn’t know exactly how to make it actually happen. “I just know there should be something more in-depth than the court system.”
Wilson said she believes what is needed is for more men to stand up to other men and tell them that such behavior is wrong.
They both shared instances of where some men accused of such crimes have actually been in courtrooms where they received support from church pastors.
“You can never say what somebody didn’t do unless you were there,” Watts said. “You cannot come into court and say, and I know, I’m on the prosecution team, so I always believe my victim. I see what they’ve gone through, and I don’t think there is anybody who would put themselves through that if the crime didn’t take place as they said it did.”
Overall, Watts believes she has one of the best programs with some of the best experience from staff members in the state of Georgia.
“I don’t have to worry about anybody not doing their job or taking care of victims,” Watts said. “Everybody does what they are supposed to do. And if any of us need anything, we call each other. We are constantly talking with each other. We work hard to try to have everybody’s back. And that’s something that hasn’t always been the case.”