Providing help and saving lives: Guilford County Family Justice Center director talks about record domestic violence numbers during pandemic

Newsmakers

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Catherine Johnson is no stranger.

Over the years, her sound bites have been included in countless stories we’ve produced.

I even remember interviewing her for a story I produced on this topic years ago when she was working in crisis intervention with Family Services of Davidson County.

In late June during one of the evening newscasts I was anchoring, there she was again walking through an apartment complex with members of the High Point Communities Against Violence Initiative handing out flyers, asking questions and letting people know about resources available.

In that very complex a little more than a week before, a man was accused of strangling his estranged girlfriend.

A couple of sentences Johnson gave our crew that day really caught my attention:

“If you’re strangled by your partner, you’re a thousand percent more likely to be killed by them,” she said. “Strangulation is the last warning shot. It is when someone puts their hands around your neck with six pounds of pressure, they have the ability to kill you.”

A few days later, I called and asked if I could feature her as a Newsmaker. She agreed.

I have no question Johnson is the local authority on domestic violence. She runs the Guilford County Family Justice Center. With offices in Greensboro and High Point, it describes itself as “the one-stop-shop” for domestic violence victims.

“Our youngest client has been a day-old baby, and our oldest has been a 97-year-old man who lives in a high rise downtown,” she told me.

Since Johnson helped found this organization in 2015, it’s helped more than 46,000 victims including 10,000 just last year during the pandemic.

“It was a record-setting year for domestic violence homicides (in Guilford County),” she said. “A 250 percent increase (from when the Family Justice Center was founded six years ago.)”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many spent most of the year inside at home. Many had no jobs. The kids weren’t in school. Stress was at an all-time high.

“We know that in isolation, things thrive,” Johnson said. “And I think the lack of connections that families had to systems of support exacerbated underlying problems happening at home.”

And that makes the support systems the Family Justice Center provides free of charge more important now than ever. Here, more than 100 professionals representing 17 disciplines — from law enforcement to social work to legal — work together to help individuals and families in need.

Cone Health has even set up a special room at the justice center for experts to conduct domestic violence evaluation exams on children.

There’s also a virtual courtroom so clients can speak directly to a judge and request 50-B restraining orders.

“So before the Family Justice Center opened in order to file a restraining order, for example, it could take up to eight hours and you could go to six places,” Johnson said. “Now from the Family Justice Center, you can do it in a couple of hours and you never leave the center.”

Near the end of our visit, I asked Johnson how does one know he or she is in an abusive relationship. She answered with a series of questions:

“Is your partner constantly jealous of you? Had the violence and abuse increased over the past couple of months, in the past year? (Is your partner) controlling where you go, your access to resources, to other people, to employment?”

I also asked what you should do if you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence:

“If something’s not right, say ‘I care about you. Are you OK?’ Those are such small words, but those words can have such a tremendous impact because we have to create the invitation for people to share with us.”

And if you can, mention the resources available at places like the Guilford County Family Justice Center where Johnson and her team members — are no strangers.

For more information on the Guilford County Family Justice Center, click here.

Domestic violence hotlines:

  • Greensboro: 336-387-6161
  • High Point: 336-889-6161
  • Forsyth County: 336-723-8125
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

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