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Making plans

Women's Agenda Assembly set for Sept. 17

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg women have a chance to set policy that will make women's lives easier.

North Carolina Women United, a coalition of women's advocacy organizations, along with the Mecklenburg County Women's Commission, is scheduled to host a conference Sept. 17 that will focus on access to health care; civic participation and equality; economic self-sufficiency; and violence against women.

The Women's Agenda Assembly isn't all talk. Michael Sexton of the Women's Commission said the goal is to prioritize suggestions that the group receives and take them to the state legislature. In 2007, NCWU helped get seven bills passed by the General Assembly, including ones that strengthened domestic violence laws.

When the assembly started 20 years ago, domestic violence at first was left off the long list of issues. But when the women organizing it spoke to groups across the state, women identified violence as a big problem.

Fast forward 20 years, and domestic violence is still a problem. Ten homicides in Charlotte were domestic violence-related in 2007, said Kelly Forney, co-director of United Family Services Domestic Violence Services. In 2006, there were six.

And The Shelter For Battered Women stays full. "It's hard to tell when we look at our numbers if there are more people affected by domestic violence or if we are just doing a better job of reaching out and more people are using our services," Forney said. "It's really important that domestic violence is discussed at any event, especially events like the [Women's Agenda Assembly]. We still get to places and people have never heard of us or our services."

Other issues on the agenda, such as economic self-sufficiency, have a lot to do with domestic violence and why victims don't get out.

"It could very well be because someone has been in a relationship since they were 15 years old and they dropped out of school and have never had a job. Or they have four or five kids," Sexton said. "Even if you look at a woman who has been in a relationship for 20 years, living in Ballantyne and she suddenly decided to flee and leave a relationship because it's abusive and went to the shelter, the shelter is only set up to provide [services] for 30 days." Though it's a women's meeting, men are welcomed to attend. Sexton said that it's important to bring male voices into the discussion as well, because 95 percent of domestic violence cases are men abusing women. "It's a men's issue because [these] men are making the wrong choices," Sexton said.

Even though there are more people aware of domestic violence in the area, Sexton said it's still something that isn't talked about enough in the community. "Domestic violence is one of those nasty, ugly issues that people don't want to talk about," he said.

The Women's Agenda Assembly is scheduled for Sept. 17, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hal Marshall Building, 700 North Tryon St., $15 admission before Sept. 15, $20 at door. Call 704-336-3210 for registration.

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In 2007, the NCWU helped get seven bills, including the legislation below, passed by the General Assembly:

• Senate Bill 30 -- Made it possible for victims of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking to change names without being required to post public notice of change. Also amended the Crime Victims' Rights Act to define violation of a domestic violence protective order as a crime under the act.

• House Bill 47 -- Made a Class H felony conviction possible for anyone who violates a domestic violence protective order while armed with a deadly weapon.

• House Bill 1810 -- Brought North Carolina into compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005 to prevent loss of federal funding. Ensured that criminal justice agencies can't require polygraph exams of sexual assault victims. Mandated that the court system develop a form that notifies criminal defendants of federal firearm laws.

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