Domestic violence reports drop
NEW PORT RICHEY - Domestic violence reports in the county dropped 2 percent last year as compared to 2011, according to crime numbers released Tuesday by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. But reports of forcible sex offenses continued to rise with a 38.2 percent increase, according to preliminary numbers released by the sheriff's office. The increase was primarily the result of the rising number of forcible fondling cases, which increased from 16 reports in 2011 to 66 filed last year. "That can be attributed to education, awareness," said Melanie Snow, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. "Someone learns a little bit more about what that means and then they decide to file a report for something that happened years prior."Snow said it is a good thing those reports are being filed, giving the legal system a chance to work. In 2011, there were 136 cases of forcible rape, forcible rapes committed, forcible sodomy and forcible fondling. In those same categories for last year, 188 cases were reported. The statistics are part of the Uniform Crime Report released annually by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The numbers included cases from January to December 2012. Pasco's numbers will be sent to Tallahassee for verification and then released with the full crime report in coming months. Although the domestic violence case numbers dropped slightly last year, officials with Sunrise of Pasco County's domestic violence shelter in Dade City said they are seeing more cases. The shelter will be increasing the number of beds for domestic violence victims from 24 to 40. "There's been a definite uptick for us in the last couple of years in the number of individuals that are coming in to shelter," said Penny Morrill, CEO of Sunrise. "To the point that we are actually going to be adding more beds in the next few months." The biggest obstacle is money. Both Sunrise and the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program of West Pasco offer free help. Each has been operating since 1982. The Salvation Army has 32 beds for domestic violence victims. "When you're running a shelter, and ours is 32 beds, you're talking about electricity, you're talking about diapers, you're talking about formula, you're talking about food," said Lynn Needs, director of the Salvation Army's domestic violence shelter in Hudson. "We don't charge for any of those. We encourage people to save up their food stamps so that they can go out and start their new lives in a little bit more prosperous way." Needs said many people are unaware the shelter exists. "Often, I know in our shelter, we get people coming in that really didn't know that the shelter's services exist," Needs said. "They don't know that they have a safe place to go." Each program also offers advocates for victims at the county's two courthouses. The Salvation Army has advocates at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey and Sunrise has its advocates at the Robert D. Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. "We're averaging around 150 cases a month coming to those advocates with assistance with domestic violence injunctions, the counseling sessions that might help them find out there's other ways than to go back into the relationship and put themselves and their children in danger," Needs said. A fundraiser for Pasco's domestic violence shelters will be held Feb. 28 at SpinNations Skating Center at 8345 Congress St. in Port Richey. The event will run from 6 pm. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 and include skates. For information, call (727) 847-4336 or go to pascosheriff.com.
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