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Citizens Academy planned

The sixth annual Citizens Academy held by the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will have a special focus this year on domestic violence.

The office has seen domestic violence cases on the rise in recent years and has dedicated a prosecutor and victim/witness assistant director to domestic violence cases.

“We see a fair number of domestic violence cases on a weekly basis,” Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson said. “It’s important the public understands how it works and what domestic violence is all about.”

The Citizens Academy is a free, five-week program that offers participants the chance to get an in-depth education on how prosecutors do their work. It also offers a courthouse tour and an overview of the work of the city’s other four constitutional officers.

“We think it will be of significant interest to the public,” Ferguson said.

Meredith Travers, who prosecutes domestic violence cases in Suffolk, said education is important for domestic violence victims. If they are educated on the process beforehand, it’s even better.

“Victims and family members of victims of domestic violence frequently don’t know what the court process is like or what their options are,” Travers said.

Brittany Landon, a victim/witness assistant director who focuses on domestic violence, said many victims don’t realize they are going to go before a judge the same day they request a protective order. Often, they also don’t know they can request restraints like “no hostile contact” from their abuser, which is especially helpful for those with children. Many think a protective order demands no contact whatsoever.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing if they just stay involved with the process,” Travers said.

“People don’t know where to turn,” Ferguson said. “Our primary focus is trying to eliminate the violence itself. But we would much prefer they become educated in case they ever do become victimized.”

Other topics for the Citizens Academy include administration of the office, general crimes, violent crimes, child abuse crimes, investigations and the victim/witness and community outreach programs.

The goal is to get 50 students for the class, said Joan Turner, community outreach coordinator for the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Up to 60 students will be accepted.

“The more, the merrier,” Turner quipped.

The class will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays Sept. 26 through Oct. 26, with the exception of Oct. 5. Class will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. each night. Applicants must be 18 or over and pass a background check.

The deadline to apply is Sept. 19. For more information or to get an application, call Turner at 514-4379 or visit the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s website, suffolkva.us/204/CommonwealthsAttorney.