In October, I wrote about only one big part of Domestic Violence: awareness of it. Once a woman realizes that violence has become a part of her relationship, then the challenge becomes – What to do? The obvious answer is to leave it, to get away. The reality answer is that it is most often difficult and dangerous to do so. At Victims seeking help to escape can call Sheryl, the Victim’s Advocate for Bell and Harlan Counties at 606-392-1129. She can help get a woman to a domestic violence shelter and to file an EPO (Emergency Protective Order). What is an EPO and how does it work?
The woman goes to the Court House and describes the abuse. It can be physical violence like slapping, punching, choking, burning, stabbing…or it can be threats of violence, “I’ll follow you and kill you if you try to leave”. “I’ll burn your grandparents house down with them in it if you don’t do as I say.”
These statements, as well as personal information like home address, names of kids, and employer become part of the document. When the judge in District Court signs it, it becomes an official document. A summons is issued for the abuser to appear in court within two weeks. The summons also orders the abuser to have NO CONTACT with the victim. The EPO gives no protection to the woman until he is served the summons. Then it goes into effect.
This time span from when the EPO is filed until the Order is served becomes one of the most dangerous parts of the whole process. She has left him, and since most abusers consider the woman to be his property, he wants to get his property back. There are no restrictions on how he might do that. He could stalk her, call her employer to find her. He’s a parent, so he could get the kids out of school and tell her she will never see them again. Threaten harm to her family…”Until he’s served” are words that paint a picture of terror in the night and danger in the day.
It should be simple: the protective Order goes from the Court to the Sheriff. A Deputy serves the summons, and both parties appear in District Court at 1:30 on Monday. What happens if he is not served? The case is continued until next week, and the next, and the next, until she gives up and drops the EPO. Nothing has really changed. She never had protection in the first place until he was served. This past week, November 2, of twelve cases on the docket, nine perpetrators were not served, the other three were for review. The week before, seven cases were on the court docket and none were served. Approximately one in ten Protective Orders get served in Bell County. Those of us who work with domestic violence victims feel as if we are making empty promises when we encourage victims to seek “protection”. There is no protection until he’s served.