Meridian, Miss. Scores turned out from around Mississippi Tuesday for a domestic violence conference in Meridian. This is the 19th year that Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter has sponsored the conference.
In all, 110 people registered to attend this year's one day conference.
"This has gotten to be a state conference for us," says Leslie Payne, who is the executive director for Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter.
Over the years the conference has grown significantly, and now attracts people from as far away as the Gulf Coast, Tupelo and Vicksburg.
As part of this year's conference participants learned about strides that are being made in Mississippi to address domestic violence.
"We have certainly strengthened some laws with strangulation; strangulation now is a felony," says Payne. "We're certainly looking at stalking. There's a new domestic violence task force that is looking to put forth legislation on that next year."
According to a study by Dr. Frank Ascione, between 75% and 80% of the women in domestic violence shelters report that their partner has threatened, injured or killed their family pet. Care Lodge is teaming up with Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine to address this issue.
"Unfortunately, animals are really a signal for abuse in the homes," says Sharon Grace, who is a clinical professor at Mississippi State. "Many times the animals are used as a threat to the woman as, 'this is what I'll do to the animal and you're next.' We're hoping to sort of be an example and get other programs started."
Participants in this year's domestic violence conference ranged from social workers to law enforcement officers. Many received professional training credit for attending.
Care Lodge was founded in 1981. Based in Meridian, it serves nine counties in East Central Mississippi and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Victims of domestic violence are advised to call the center at (601) 693-HOPE.