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Domestic Violence Services Increasing in Wilbarger County

A program that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is increasing its presence in Wilbarger County.

Wilbarger County is one of twelve counties serviced by First Step.

Yesterday, the organization made plans to start a monthly group counseling session in Vernon and it is all because Wilbarger County's district attorney says it's greatly needed now.

First Step is stepping up its services in Vernon.

"We're gonna offer group and individual counseling to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault," says First Step Executive Director Rosalind Strickland.

According to Wilbarger County prosecutors, the county is teaming with First Step because of a growing need that started three years ago.

Back in 2009 the legislature changed some domestic violence crimes to be felonies so, since the law changed my office has seen an increase of probably.... over 100% increase in felony domestic violence cases," says Wilbarger County District Attorney Staley Heatly.

This file is from one of those cases.

In July 2009, Tommy Castro was charged with injury to a child by omission in the beating death of 5 year old Katie Ernest.

But because of the new law, that charge changed to capital murder, for which he's now serving life in prison.

Heatly says that and other domestic abuse cases are why First Step counselors are increasing their presence here.

In rural areas, it's just not always possible for the people with the need to get in their cars and drive to Wichita Falls for counseling or for a support group," says First Step Survivor Specialist Myra Gideon.

And soon, support groups through First Step will take place in Vernon once a month.

Yesterday, First Step counselors met with the Wilbarger county and district attorneys to lay the ground work for the new program.

It is expected to officially start next month.

If you are a Wilbarger County resident who is interested in attending the group counseling sessions you can call First Step for more information at 1-800--658--2683.

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