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Butterfly release honors crime victims rights
John Karluk waits for his butterfly to take off while Carol Slaughter watches Friday afternoon in downtown Gainesville during a butterfly release in honor of National Crime Victims Rights Week.

Dozens of butterflies fluttered their wings and took to the skies Friday, a symbol of freedom and hope for victims of violence shackled by the bonds of trauma.

Victim advocates, prosecutors, officers of the court and victims of crime gathered on the Gainesville square for the ceremonial butterfly release, a local commemoration of National Crime Victims Rights Week.

Hall County State Court Solicitor-General Stephanie Woodard, an organizer of the noontime event, said she wanted to try something different from the somber candlelight vigils often held for crime victims.

“What I wanted today was inspiration that life goes on,” Woodard said.

“A positive, healing, hopeful, happy springtime, because one moment of pain does not define who our victims are.”

District Attorney Lee Darragh told the gathering, “Today, we honor those who never wanted to be in the position of being honored as victims of crime.”

“We stand in recognition of those who are not just presumed innocent, but who are truly innocent,” Darragh said.

“To the victims of our community, may your rights be paramount in all of our hearts, our minds and our actions.”

Darragh’s office, which prosecutes all violent felonies, and Woodard’s, which prosecutes the bulk of domestic violence cases, together provide victim services for thousands of people each year.

Brenau University senior Kyleigh Wright, an intern in the solicitor’s victim assistance program, said the sheer amount of domestic violence cases that come through the office was eye-opening.

“I would never have thought there would be so many,” Wright said. “I’ll write disposition letters 20 at a time, and the majority of those will be for domestic violence.”

Dana Chapman, director of victim services for Rape Response, said Hall County and Northeast Georgia is fortunate to have “one of the most cohesive groups of dedicated professionals who work in tandem for victims. Other parts of the state envy us.”

“It’s not just about criminals and prosecuting them, it’s also about who is behind that,” Chapman said. “Who is that family, and what do they need?”

Chapman said in a field that deals daily with the grim realties of violence, Friday was a good day to note the work done for victims.

“To celebrate the good part of that work is refreshing,” she said.

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