MANSFIELD -- Protecting domestic violence victims and the mission to put an end to in-home violence has made notable progress over the past 40 years, according to Mansfield's first assistant law director Michael Kemerer.
Kemerer spoke to an audience at Tuesday's domestic violence awareness kickoff event at Mansfield's downtown gazebo. Law enforcement, city officials, county officials and community members were among those in attendance.
"It's a mission we take seriously, prosecuting domestic violence, but it's not a mission that has received the attention that it deserves for nearly long enough," Kemerer said.
In 1979, Ohio passed its first domestic violence statute. Two years later, October was designated as Domestic Violence Awareness month. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was passed, providing federal aid for domestic aid prosecutions.
"That's just 40 years," Keremer said. "I didn't give you the history lesson to bore you. It's to congratulate you. You've made a lot of progress in the last 40 years, but there's a lot of progress still to go."
The event was put on through the Domestic Violence Shelter in Mansfield.
Richland County Prosecutor Gary Bishop, who handles felonious acts of domestic violence, said the county has a lot to be thankful for in terms of domestic violence prosecution and prevention.
"I think we are more aware of domestic violence than we used to be," Bishop said. "I think people are starting to recognize the evil that it is."
This year, Bishop said his office has earned convictions in 36 of the 38 domestic violence cases it has prosecuted. One of the two other prosecutions ended when the alleged offender died in a car accident.
Bishop added that about half of the defendants went to prison. The others are in treatment and community control.
"Prison is not the answer we are always looking for," the prosecutor said. "We just want to help the family heal."
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker spoke about the ripple impact of domestic violence.
"Domestic violence affects everybody. It just doesn't affect victims of domestic violence," Theaker said. "The worst thing of domestic violence is when there is some kind of hurt or death.
"We all, as a community, need to be involved with it and if we see it, we need to report it. If it's in our family, we need to make sure that those individuals get help."
Kathy Ezawa, executive director of The Domestic Violence Shelter, and master of ceremonies at the kickoff event, said she was happy to see so many in attendance.
"When you look around at the community support, it's not an easy topic to support," she said. "Nobody wants to be related to domestic violence. Everyone wants to believe they live in a kind and loving home, and if it's not, they feel bad," Ezawa said.
"When we have the community officials here, it lets people know there are people with them and supporting them."