FF 12 Investigates: Ending the Abuse
Suffering in silence.
She could stop next to you at the light. He could work on your production line. They might sit behind you at church. They might light next door. "There's no facet of our community that is not influenced at some time, in some way, by the issue of domestic violence," said Judge James Fleetwood, Sedgwick County District Court.
Judge Fleetwood helps victims escape their abusers. Victims, who are becoming survivors, like a Wichita woman who agreed to speak with us. "I'm still not all the way through it," said the woman. "But I'm safer than I was." Eyewitness News agreed to leave her name out of the story to protect her identity.
During our interview, the cover of a hooded jacket shielded the woman's face from a man who used his fist on it too many times. "You don't have to have a black eye or worse, to know that you're going to wind up dying pretty soon," she said. "I don't want other women staying, living in fear."
It's motivation to bring you her story. She represents thousands who ask the court system for protection from abuse each year. "Within 30 minutes of the victim entering the courtroom, they can have that written protection," said Fleetwood.
We asked Judge Fleetwood to give us perspective on the abuse in numbers. In the last year, more than 5,700 people requested protection in Sedgwick County alone. "I reached out to domestic violence advocates and they even went with me and helped me fill it out," the woman said.
The court granted more than 2,600 of those protection from abuse orders, including one against the man who abused her. "If they come find you once, and threaten you once, they can go to jail," she said.
She says the process is difficult, but worth it. Fear likely led to the dismissal of more than 460 cases in the last year. The abuser does not have to show up in court, but the victim does. "Usually a victim will go through this process seven times before they actually follow through with the last step," said Fleetwood.
We asked the woman what it was like to face her abuser in court. "It was scarier leading up to it than it was when it happened," she said.
The woman and Judge Fleetwood both believe a PFA can stop the violence before it turns deadly, but they acknowledge it can go the other way. "The existence of the order might trigger that, when the abuser finds out the order exists," said Fleetwood. "We just saw that recently."
He's talking about a mass shooting at Excel Industries in Hesston. Sheriff's deputies served the gunman a protection from abuse order just an hour before he killed three people and injured 14 others. This time, the killer turned violent on people he worked with.
Judge Fleetwood says the majority of abusers respond to the PFA rationally and realize they need to stay away. "It is a piece of paper, but it gives the system the ability to respond immediately to what could be a dangerous situation before it becomes such," said Fleetwood.
It also gives the woman at the light, the man you work with, or anyone suffering in silence at home the ability to end the abuse. "If you really feel threatened, and you're seriously scared, you're locked in the bottom of a closet and crying, you don't have to live like that," said the woman.
Both say the most important thing to do before you leave an abusive situation is to reach out to a domestic violence advocate. They will help you create an escape plan.
Domestic Violence Advocates:
Harbor House (316) 263-6000
YWCA - Wichita Women's Crisis Center (316) 267-7233
Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (888) 363-2287
National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233