After three months of intensive rehabilitation, multiple surgeries and roughly 19 months away from her job, April Ross returned to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in November 2015.
Her caseload would be focused on domestic violence cases, as she had spent the past year and a half recovering from three gunshot wounds from her estranged husband in April 2014.
Ross was the highlighted speaker at the Domestic Violence Breakfast and Briefing Tuesday in Gainesville, which is presented by the Hall County Domestic Violence Task Force.
“Our motto has to be collaboration, not condescension. Understanding, not insensitivity. And don’t get so jaded in your own world that you forget to remember and open up to this person. If you’re going to touch their lives, then you’ve got to go all the way in,” she said.
Ross told the audience assembled at the Brenau Downtown Center about her tumultuous relationship that started at 16. Her husband later killed himself after the attack on Ross, and Ross was paralyzed.
Polling the audience on its potentially toxic relationships, Ross implored the audience not to judge and make assumptions about domestic violence survivors.
“The strange thing is that there is just no rhyme or reason, no format to domestic violence, to abusive relationships. So for those of us who get into the business where we have to encounter these people that are living this, you can’t create a cookie-cutter image of this victim. You can’t get yourself into an us vs. them,” she said.
Ross warned members of the audience about the system’s retraumatization of victims and the lack of trust between survivors and authorities.
“Our system doesn’t really care about a lot of stuff he’s doing behind the scenes. They want to hear about the part that’s criminal, so they can get the prosecution, get him locked up and we call that justice and closure for her. But is it really?” she asked.
Despite the prevalence of domestic abuse cases, Ross said she believes the subject matter is still relatively misunderstood.
“If you go into this line of work, you must make first the commitment to figuring out the dynamic, to understand the dynamic involved,” she said.
Hall County Chief Assistant Solicitor General Amber Sowers introduced the Domestic Violence Officer of the Year, Hall County Sheriff’s Office Senior Sgt. James Brown.
“They could think of no one more deserving at the sheriff’s office and that they could not be more pleased that this was the individual that we chose,” Sowers said.
Brown has been with the sheriff’s office since 2008, starting in the jail and moving to patrol.
Early on in his patrol career, he encountered a domestic violence survivor who had been told about resources available but didn’t know how to get connected.
“It’s something that I realized very early on that it may take me an extra five minutes, but that may be the difference between getting them out of that bad situation and them staying right where they are at,” he said.