A protective order could save your life

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By Don Whitehead

Dina did not know where to turn for help. Her husband of nine months who had been so kind to her had suddenly become abusive. For the past two weeks, he would slap her for no reason at all.

One night he would not let her leave the house because he believed she was going to see another man. He would leave with his friends but order her to stay at home. She was afraid of what he might do.

One night when he was gone, she called 911. He had bloodied her lip that day and threatened to do even more. The 911 operator asked if she needed the police to come. The operator said they could take her to a safe place and she could file for a protective order. Dina did not know there were shelters for women who were abused and had never heard of protective orders. At that moment, she decided she needed to get out and get help.

What Dina learned that night may have saved her life.

Here is what she discovered: a victim of domestic violence may file for an Emergency Protective Order — also known as an EPO. She can file at the sheriff’s office, the circuit court clerk’s office or at the county attorney’s office. This involves filling out a form describing the abuse and listing the reasons that she is afraid. Usually, there must be physical abuse or the threat of physical harm in order to be granted a protective order.

After the victim of abuse completes the form, it is sent to a judge who signs it, as long as there is legitimate cause for fear. The EPO then goes to the sheriff or police who serve it on the abuser.

An EPO is not in effect until it is served. This can be a difficult process if the abuser hides or leaves the county. Once it is served, however, the abuser and victim are bound to abide by it.

An EPO will require the abuser to remain a certain distance (often 500 feet) from the victim at all times. The EPO may also grant temporary custody of any children and make other provisions necessary for the victim’s safety.

An EPO is good for 14 days. Before it expires, a court date is set for a judge to hear the case. Both victim and abuser are required to be in court that day. A worker from the local abuse shelter will be there in court to support her. She may also retain an attorney to go with her to court (though this is not required).

In court, the judge will listen to both sides and to any witnesses. The judge will review any evidence such as phone recordings that the victim brings to court. The judge will then decide whether to grant a domestic violence order.

The DVO is in effect for up to three years and may require the abuser to stay 500 feet away from the victim and to have no contact by phone, letter or third party. The judge may also award temporary custody of any children along with temporary child support.

If an abuser violates a DVO, the victim may take him back into court by filing a “show cause motion” with the circuit court clerk. In this paper, she describes how he has violated the protective order (phone calls, driving by the house, following her, etc.).

Another court date is set and both go back to court. The judge decides whether the DVO has been violated and what the penalty should be. A domestic violence shelter will provide a worker to help with any part of this process.

If you have questions, call Bethany House Abuse Shelter at (800) 755-2017 or (606) 679-8852. The life you save may be your own.

- Don Whitehead is a counselor at the Bethany House Abuse Shelter in Pulaski County. Contact him at (606) 679-1553 or bethanyhousedw@newwavecomm.net.