Mary Ashley is an Assistant District Attorney with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and has been a prosecutor since 1998. She is an Associate Board Member of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) and the Co-Chair of the NDAA Women Prosecutors’ Section. Ms. Ashley led the first Family Violence Unit in the DA’s office that was created in 2004.
Ashley: Our nation is still at war in putting a stop to domestic violence. There is no place in this country for this kind of abuse and violence, yet it exists in every state. Organizations like the California District Attorneys Association and the National District Attorneys Association continually offer specialized educational forums and promote awareness efforts, such as the release of a Policy Paper earlier this year by the NDAA WPS on Best Practices for Domestic Violence. It is important that we are at the table with state and national legislators who will listen to our concerns and assist in advocating for better laws, resources and assistance for victims’ rights.
Q: Why is it necessary to collaborate on these issues?Ashley: Collaboration between community partners and stakeholders is key to best hold perpetrators accountable and help victims to feel safe. When law enforcement is able to easily communicate with medical personnel, health care staff, child welfare members and the local prosecutor to best serve a victim, that victims receives comprehensive care. San Bernardino is so fortunate that our stakeholders such as advocacy groups, law enforcement, and prosecutors respect each other and understand that they are all out for one common goal: protecting victims of domestic violence.Q: What has San Bernardino county gained as a result of these domestic violence partnerships?
Ashley: Simply put, lives are saved as a result of our coordinated community response to domestic violence. With clear policies and protocols in place for how to handle the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, there is a stronger coordinated effort to combat these crimes. Our specially trained advocates and attorneys are trained to treat victims with respect and sensitivity. If we can empower a victim to get help and realize they will be treated with dignity, it can make a big difference.
Q: The theme of our campaign is called “Breaking the Cycle” of domestic violence. Based on your experience what is our office doing to break the cycle?Ashley: Education, awareness and prevention are the key to breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Specially trained prosecutors repeatedly speak in the community about red flags and the warning signs of abuse. Our prosecutors teach at domestic violence shelters, along with helping train law enforcement and other agencies about abuse. If they reach one survivor, or cause one more victim to report their abuse, we all win. Another important area for prevention and intervention is getting the message directly to our youth. Research shows young adult dating abuse is a large problem in this nation. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, when it comes to adult victims of intimate partner violence and abuse, 22% of women and 15% of men first experience some form of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. In our Juvenile and Truancy Division, it is important to reach out to parents to ensure they are talking to their teens about what a healthy and safe relationship looks like. We all need to be involved. These are the children in our community. It is clearly not a “family problem” as we have seen that children are victimized when there is domestic violence in the home as well. Taking away the public stigma and shame associated with being a victim of domestic violence is very important, as is holding perpetrators responsible and showing domestic abuse for what is really is – a crime against the right to live in a civilized society free from violence in your relationship and in your own home.