Domestic violence advocate disappointed area community report didn't address issue

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. The Community Focus Report has been put out every two years since 2004 and is sponsored by several civic groups including the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Junior League of Springfield, the Springfield-Greene Co. Library District, the United Way of the Ozarks and the Chamber of Commerce.

Using blue ribbons and red flags to describe the good and bad, it's meant to be a barometer of Springfield's progress, gaps, and challenges in categories ranging from economic development and citizen participation to public safety and transportation.

While the report does mention child abuse and neglect as a red flag, a local leader wishes another big problem would have been cited.

"I think it's a well-done report," said Lisa Farmer, the Executive Director of Harmony House. "But I was really disappointed that domestic violence wasn't mentioned as a blue ribbon or red flag."

Harmony House is a 168 bed facility that's is filled to capacity with domestic violence victims and if you look at Springfield's latest crime stats under aggravated assaults, which includes domestic violence, you'll notice an increase of over 25% in both the first and second quarter of this year.

"We haven't fixed it, we haven't eradicated it," Farmer said. "It's still an epidemic and so I would have loved to see it cited at least as a continuing red flag."

Farmer admitted that the issue could have been listed in a positive light as well with a blue ribbon designation because of the recent addition of a family justice center which coordinates local agencies into one group to make it easier for domestic violence victims to seek help.

"The family justice center has seen almost a thousand cases in its first year," Farmer said. "More people are coming forward where before it was treated as a dark, dirty secret where people for the most part wanted to sweep under the rug."

Those involved in putting together the Community Focus Report say they had no intention of ignoring the issue but point out it would have been impossible to address every single positive-and-negative aspect of Springfield in their rundown.

"I can understand if people say, "Well, I'm on the front line and I see this and it's actually a red flag.' There are a lot of issues that fall into that," said Dr. Jonathan Groves of Drury, who oversaw the Community Focus Report. "We had a very similar circumstance happen in 2017 where child abuse and neglect was mentioned but not listed as a red flag. But the conversation for this year's report was, 'This is something that we really need to think more about and consider elevating it' and now it's a red flag."

He said that he understands the frustration but that the committees were looking more at overall themes and limited their blue ribbons and red flags to three-per-topic.

"That's not meant to minimize other problems in the community," he said. "It's just meant to spark a conversation to say, 'Where are we on some of these issues and what do we need to think about.'"

Groves also pointed to the report including crime statistics.

"We didn't go into detail on every single crime," he noted. "If I've encountered property crime or if I was attacked that's not mentioned as a red flag but from the committee's perspective they were looking at what was the biggest issue and that was drug-related problems. We're seeing a rise in the opioid abuse."

Farmer just wants people to understand that domestic violence is still a major struggle.

"For a survivor to leave it takes a lot of support," she said. "It's not anything they can do alone."

And as Mark Wynn, a domestic violence survivor, told a training class, getting people to escape their tormented situations requires the help of us all.

"The bottom line is if you have a community that is not working together then you are in fact, whether you know it or not, colluding with the offender."