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THE SAFETY ZONE | JERRY HICKS

She Decries Domestic Violence

May 08, 2000|JERRY HICKS

When Superior Court Commissioner Sheila Fell was assigned to the family law court a few years back, she got two surprises:

One, domestic violence wasn't just a sometimes thing. "I had domestic violence cases on [my] calendar every day. We never missed a day," she said.

She also learned that domestic violence went far beyond the stereotypical man beating up his spouse or girlfriend. Domestic violence ran the range from violence by teens to abuse of elderly family members by younger members.

Recently, Fell was named chairwoman of the Orange County Family Violence Council, and she knew immediately the direction she wanted to pursue--to stress that domestic violence is an issue for everybody in the family, no matter what age.

She's excited that the council members, all unpaid volunteers from the domestic violence field, are already eagerly pursuing that approach. The council recently put out a pamphlet for distribution to schools throughout Orange County that talks about prevention of teen dating violence. And the council is putting together a booklet that addresses violent abuse of the elderly.

Also, the council helped push for a flier that recently went out to county employees to get them to think more about domestic violence. A wider distribution is expected soon throughout the county.

"It was targeted to those who might be involved in such a relationship, or know a friend who is," Fell said.

The flier provides a variety of telephone numbers to call for help. I'll mention just two here because they're important: The Domestic Violence Assistance Program ([714] 935-7956) and the Temporary Restraining Order Information Line ([714] 973-0134). Thanks to the Family Violence Council, judges are now on call 24 hours a day to issue temporary restraining orders to help victims in emergency situations. There's no fee for obtaining a restraining order.

The teen pamphlet also includes phone numbers to call for help. Plus, some of the facts on teen dating are an eye-opener. A sampling:

* Between 25% and 40% of teens have been assaulted by their dates.

* More than 70% of teens who are pregnant or parents will be in an abusive relationship at some point.

* More than 85% of all sexual assaults of teens involve acquaintances or friends.

By the way, if you're a teacher or school principal and want to bring this message home dramatically, the pamphlet includes the phone number for Interval House Teens, (562) 594-9492. The group will stage a drama at your school on teen dating.

The booklet on abuse of the elderly is in the final stages of preparation. Fell believes it will become an important resource book on the subject.

Abuse of the elderly is just one of many types of abuses she saw in her courtroom when her duties included the domestic violence calendar four years ago.

"We'd have cases where someone lashed out and hit someone in the family just because dinner wasn't on time," she said. "Some people simply cannot manage their anger."

After what she saw in court, it was a natural for her to become involved with the Family Violence Council, formed in 1994.

"It's such a great chance for open communication among all the professionals who work in this area," she said. "I really believe we're making a difference."

*

Jerry Hicks' column appears Monday and Thursday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling (714) 966-7789 or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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