Peoria Journal Star: Protection orders, though imperfect, still a viable tool of intolerance against abusers
The headline — “Germantown Hills stabbing victim twice denied orders of protection” — may have set off alarm bells in central Illinois last week among those who find themselves in similarly desperate situations.
In hindsight, Kristen Davis did have legitimate reason to fear her estranged husband, Bret Davis, who has been charged in Woodford County with attempted murder in the wake of an alleged attempt on her life and later on his own with a leap off a local bridge.
Two Woodford County judges earlier denied Kristen Davis emergency orders of protection — in February and in August — both times saying her concerns did not meet the legal threshold without getting the other side of the story first.
No doubt more than a few who find themselves in abusive situations might conclude from this one that seeking an order of protection is a waste of time. They shouldn’t.
“I do hear that often,” said Sara Dillefeld, director of domestic violence family-centered services at the Center for Prevention of Abuse. “Orders of protection are very beneficial in developing a comprehensive safety plan for victims of abuse. But it does not work for everybody.”
Indeed, potential victims should utilize the counseling and other services offered that help them protect themselves. It is critical that victims not suffer in silence, that they communicate with family, friends and co-workers who can help them be on the lookout. Many websites (http://www.centerforpreventionofabuse.org/) provide information to ascertain how likely the prospect of physical danger is based on a partner’s behavior patterns and determine when to go to greater lengths to ensure personal safety. Follow-through beyond the physical piece of paper that is an order of protection is important; future court hearings should not be missed. Victims need to report violations of protective orders to law enforcement, and police trained in these matters must arrest when those can be proven.
Victims should appreciate that they’re not in this alone. The Center for Prevention of Abuse has offices in area courthouses where they can go without appointment, determine whether they qualify for an order under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, receive assistance with the paperwork and be accompanied to the courtroom before a judge.
The latter typically “err on the side of caution” regarding personal safety, said Dillefeld, who acknowledges that judges “are put in a really difficult position when they’re only hearing one side of the story.” They’re trying to balance the rights of both parties. Children can be involved. Victims can be traumatized and may have difficulty telling their stories regarding those they may still have feelings for.
But all in all, victims can be reasonably confident that they’ll get what they need from the court system. For example, from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, 1,794 actionable requests for emergency orders of protection were filed by residents of Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties (not counting cases still pending at fiscal year’s end), according to the Center for Prevention of Abuse. Of those, emergency orders were granted 96 percent of the time in Woodford, 88 percent of the time in Peoria, 84 percent in Tazewell.
We wish we could guarantee 100 percent, which is difficult to impossible with humans. It’s regrettable that this one fell through the cracks. But we do believe attitudes toward domestic violence have come a long way for the better, that decision-makers very much want to avoid outcomes like this one, that this is one tool and that victims should not be dissuaded from using it, with very serious consequences for those who dare push it.
The Center for Prevention of Abuse is open 24 hours. Its crisis hotline is 1-800-559-SAFE (7233), or call 911.