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When pain begins at home

At 10:28, Jorge Camargo stepped up to the bench in Judge William Carter's court.

Camargo was charged with third-degree assault; he'd been arrested after he allegedly slapped his wife. An argument had begun when she asked about text messages from another woman on his phone. She told police he started yelling, then pulled her hair and scratched her face, leaving a 2-inch mark on her right cheek.

That day, a fairly typical Wednesday in May, Carter's court heard the cases of 40 alleged offenders, all charged with committing crimes against their intimate partners. Since Albany's domestic violence court was established in 2005 to serve this city of just under 100,000, Carter has heard 6,284 domestic violence cases.

Camargo, clad in jeans and an Aeropostale T-shirt, stood slackly before Carter, his shoulders relaxed. He explained that he had struck his wife's face accidentally as he attempted to take the phone from her.

An accident, Carter replied, was not illegal. "If you did slap her, you need to admit it," he said, a stern but still soft-spoken presence in the courtroom. Carter was elected a City Court judge in 2003. Before that, he worked as an assistant district attorney for Albany County, a capital defender for the state Capital Defender Office, an assistant attorney general for the state and a state trooper. When he was asked to head up the city's new domestic violence court back in 2005, domestic violence wasn't a particular personal interest. But from where he sat on the City Court bench, he saw a definite need.

Eventually, Camargo made an admission: "I shoved her and grabbed her phone from her," he said.

Camargo pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, and a protective order was issued barring him from any illegal contact with his wife.

"Domestic violence court is really all about accountability," Carter said that day after court.

The concept of domestic violence courts began to catch on in the 1990s. At that time, the court system was trending toward the development of "problem-solving courts," such as drug courts, with separate dockets and specially trained judges. Simultaneously, domestic violence was becoming viewed increasingly as a matter for the courts rather than an issue between husband and wife.

The country now has more than 200 criminal domestic violence courts, with more than 30 percent of them in New York state.

New York's first domestic violence court, the Brooklyn Felony Domestic Violence Court, opened in 1996. Since then, more than 60 courts have opened in New York, including in Troy, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs. Albany's court would follow almost a decade after Brooklyn's court first opened, established in hopes of clamping down on a key issue surfacing in local domestic violence cases.

"Orders of protection weren't being issued or enforced," Carter recalled. In other words, no one was holding abusers accountable.

"There was a whole change in New York state with the criminalization of domestic violence, and this was part of it," said Lisa Frisch, executive director of The Legal Project, an arm of the Capital District Women's Bar Association. The Legal Project, along with other community stakeholders, such as Equinox, an Albany nonprofit that provides services for domestic violence victims, among other things, began the local movement to establish a domestic violence court in Albany. They eventually tapped Carter, then a City Court criminal judge, to head the court. The court opened with the help of a 3,000 federal grant. Its existence was briefly threatened in 2007 when that funding was not renewed. Recently, the court was awarded a nearly 0,000 grant by the U.S. Office of Violence Against Women to study ways the court can become more effective.

At the time the court was being planned, Frisch worked for the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Domestic violence cases were getting lost in the regular City Court calendar.

NYS domestic violence numbers show alarming trend

Posted: Feb 07, 2013 5:51 PM EST By Lindsay Nielsen

ALBANY, N.Y. - Senator Charles Schumer wants to reauthorize a national law that's about to expire -- a law he says has helped agencies prevent and fight domestic violence. 

According to a state report, law enforcement responded to more than 43,000 domestic abuse incidents in Upstate New York during 2011, but local officials say the numbers are much higher.

"We have a huge problem with domestic violence and its been ignored for too long," said Senator Schumer.

Senator Schumer is calling on colleagues to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

According to a report by the state division of criminal justice services there were more than 6,000 reports of domestic violence in 2011 in the Capital Region. A local non-profit that provides shelter and counseling to domestic violence victims says the numbers are even higher.

"Many people do not report to the police. Some people go through family court instead and some people never engage the legal system," said Yvonne Masse with the Equinox.

Masse says the organization sheltered 150 adults and their children last year. The Legal Project, which provides free legal services to domestic violence victims was also not surprised by the alarming statistics in our area.

"A huge increase. Just over the past three years we've seen a 50 percent increase in victims of domestic violence being served by The Legal Project," said Lisa Frisch with organization.

One concern for advocates is domestic violence on college campuses. Grants provided through the Violence Against Women Act is a main reason they are able to continue their work on campus.

"It allowed us to train all of our security officers around the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It allowed us to train all of our resident assistants on campus," said Dennis McDonald with student affairs at St.Rose.

"The hardest part is resources because of all the programs that are working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are always in a challenging position to keep up funding," said Frisch.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act next week.

If you or anyone you know needs help regarding domestic violence you can call the equinox 24 hour domestic violence hotline 518-432-7865.