CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories

AUTHOR: GIBSON

HED:Attorney hired for domestic violence cases

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Women who have been the victims of domestic violence or sexual assault have a new advocate in area circuit courts.

Through federal grant money appropriated through the Violence Against Woman act, the 1st District Attorney's Office has hired attorney Michael Goggans to handle domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

"If you have one person specialized (to work on violent crimes against women), you have more time to work directly with the victims," said Goggans, a Lee County native. "You can give more individualized attention to the cases."

The federal grant, awarded through the state Division of Public Safety Planning, supplies $48,588 each year through an annual renewable grant, providing 75 percent of the money needed for the specialized prosecutor's program, Goggans said. The First District Attorney's office must provide the remaining 25 percent.

Although the grant is administered through the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Goggans will prosecute cases in all seven counties in the 1st Judicial District, he said.

"It should help," said Kathy Wallace, executive director of SAFE, a battered women's shelter that offers rape-crisis counseling in nine Northeast Mississippi counties. "That means there's one person concentrating on domestic violence cases."

SAFE also received federal Violence Against Women money - $46,554 a year - made available to service providers through the state Division of Public Safety Planning, Wallace said.

The 3rd District Attorney's Office, which covers Union, Lafayette, Marshall, Benton, Calhoun, Tippah and Chickasaw counties, also received a federal grant to fund a prosecutor's position like Goggans.'

Goggans' role as a specialized prosecutor will take him outside of the courtroom. In addition to prosecuting felony domestic violence and sexual assault cases, he will work to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault with law enforcement and community groups.

Raising public awareness of the realities and severity of crimes against women is an essential part of the solution, said Goggans, who graduated from Mississippi State University and Fordham University Law School in New York.

"We do see several felony domestic violence cases," Goggans said. "They do tend to escalate over time."

Many people still see domestic violence as a misdemeanor crime, even if weapons are involved in the abuse, Wallace said.

"We've got a long way to go," Wallace said. "Until everyone starts to understand the dynamics of domestic violence."

The current funding is renewable each year through 2001, the length of time Congress established funding for the Violence Against Women grants.

"I just hope they'll continue to fund it," Wallace said.

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