Domestic violence: Are victims being protected?

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The national statistics are startling; one in four women will experience domestic violence. One in three who are murdered are killed at the hands of a former or current partner. The statistics raise the question: Do protection orders help?

Mariah Anderson’s family showed First News a YouTube video friends made to remember the loving New Castle mother of three. She would have celebrated her 23rd birthday this week. Instead, relatives are reliving Mariah’s violent death that happened just three month ago.

“She wasn’t doing anything else to protect herself. She was afraid because she didn’t know if she could go to work or not, or stay home with her kids,” said Mariah’s cousin.

But Mariah did go to work Nov. 17 at the Union Township Wal-Mart and was gunned down in the parking lot after her shift.

Police said her ex-boyfriend killed her and later killed himself. Her cousin said a court protection order failed Mariah.

“He did break the order several times. Yes, he did break the order. They picked him up and put him in jail, and then they let him go on bond,” she said.

Protection orders are no guarantee, but prosecutors and judges agree they can help to build a stronger case to keep an aggressor behind bars longer, and can buy a victim some time.

“What our orders do is they calm the situation down. They separate the people, and even if that just stops them in their tracks a little bit, these protection orders do help,” said Judge Beth Smith, Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court.

Of all our surrounding counties, women and some men in Mahoning County filed the most domestic violence cases last year at a record-breaking rate of 815. That’s about six times more than Trumbull or Columbiana counties, and two times more than Mercer County.

Mahoning County Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa said the big difference in the numbers is because of several factors.

“More people, more suburbs, more crimes reported here and more agencies to take reports,” said Cantalamessa.

The basement of the Mahoning County Courthouse houses the Victim’s Advocate Legal Unit (VALU). The unit is unique in Ohio and is staffed by a handful of volunteers who walk victims through the paperwork and emotional turmoil.

“Give us a date, give us what happened. Were you arguing? Were drugs or alcohol involved?” said Eilleen Larson with Sojourner House.

Larson works closely with VALU. She said the more detail a victim can put in writing about the abuse, the better the case. She also counsels women on developing their own safety plan.

One point in the safety plan is to have someone walk you to your car. That is exactly what Mariah Anderson did, but it didn’t stop the violence.

Her case falls in line with some sobering statistics from the National Coalition on Domestic Violence.

Mariah’s among only 20 percent of domestic violence victims with the courage to file a protection order. Eighty percent never file or withdraw their petitions. Two-thirds of protection orders nationwide are violated.

If a paper court order is not protecting a victim, some consider buying a gun. But Mariah’s cousin said she was not a violent person and would have never carried a gun.

I don’t know if it makes it any safer, what if that person got the gun away from you,” said Larson. “But they make their own choices, and that’s the thing about his program. It’s to empower people to make their own choices and to be proactive about their own safety.”

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