How VACs can assist with protective orders

Several years ago a young mother presented to our Criminal District Attorney’s office for a protective order and made an everlasting memory in this victim assistance coordinator’s (VAC’s) mind on how very beneficial protective orders are for crime victims.
    After being notified by our receptionist that a protective order applicant was waiting in the lobby, I went to retrieve the victim to bring her into my office. As I opened the door to the lobby I saw a beautiful young mother, whom I’ll call Misty, holding twin newborn babies, one in each arm. The babies were so precious, very tiny, and they were wrapped in matching bright pink blankets.
    Misty told me how her boyfriend (the father of the girls) abused and isolated her while she was in the hospital. She was hospitalized for several weeks on bed rest while waiting for the twins to arrive, and her boyfriend remained in the hospital room with her at all times. When a nurse or doctor would come in, he told her to act like she was asleep and would not let her answer any questions or make any requests of the staff. Her boyfriend wanted complete control of the situation, and Misty was in no condition to argue or fight back.
    As time went by she really needed to tell the doctor something about her pregnancy, and she spoke up when the doctor came into the room. After the doctor left, her boyfriend was so jealous that he began to punch Misty and punch the bed, and Misty began to scream. One of the nurses came in about that time and witnessed the situation. Her boyfriend demanded the nurse get out of Misty’s room, and the nurse then called hospital security. The boyfriend was subdued by security staff and escorted out of the hospital. And even though the hospital’s security department pursued a criminal trespass warning from the local police department, the boyfriend was not arrested.
    Misty had come to our office seeking a protective order (PO) upon her release from the hospital. (A hospital security officer had guided her in our direction.) The twins were only three days old.
    As a VAC, one of my job duties was to interview applicants for protective orders, screening to see whether they meet the criteria pursuant to the Chapter 71 of the Texas Family Code. Screening interviews are necessary in determining whether family violence, dating violence, stalking, human trafficking, or sexual assault has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. If the applicant disclosed that one of those offenses occurred, I assisted the victim in completing an Affidavit in Support of Application for Protective Order. Our office policy was for the PO affidavit to then be shared with a prosecutor for approval to file for a protective order. Many times a prosecutor met with the victim at this time. Having a VAC helping with the screening process frees up prosecutors to focus on other cases until it is determined a protective order application is warranted.
    After listening to Misty’s recollection of the abuse and determining we could move forward with an application for protective order, Misty completed a PO intake packet. The intake forms offer an applicant an opportunity to document in further detail additional information necessary to complete an application for protective order. Misty revealed on the intake forms that her boyfriend was on parole for a violent offense. (In my experience, I have found that many times PO applicants will provide additional information on the written intake forms than what they initially share with me verbally.)
    After I saw that he was on parole, I gathered more information from Misty on how she had met him; it was not long after his release from prison, and she became pregnant after knowing him only a few months. Misty shared with me how she had tried to leave him before she was hospitalized but was fearful of what he would do next. He had a very violent temper. She also told me of several other abusive incidents that had occurred while they were dating. She had never reported any of the abuse to law enforcement because he threatened to harm her if his parole officer ever found out.
    Ultimately, we were able to get the hospital security officer to testify at the final PO hearing, and Misty was granted a two-year protective order by our district judge. The boyfriend’s parole was revoked, and he was sent back to prison. Misty testified and remained cooperative throughout the entire process.
    I am a firm believer in protective orders. I have been the person whom crime victims have told for the very first time what horrific circumstances they have endured. After hearing their reports of abuse, I became their biggest advocate through the judicial system, doing my best to help them complete every step of the protective order process. I have also seen first-hand how crime victims are empowered by going before a judge and testifying about the abuse they have suffered. Some say a protective order is “just a piece of paper,” but the process by which a victim obtains that “piece of paper” inspires many victims to take charge of their own lives again. Many victims have been in such abusive relationships for so long that they have lost all realization of how normalcy and living peacefully feels.
    From the law enforcement prospective, issuance of a protective order (that “piece of paper”) ensures documentation of the abuse in the Texas Crime Information Center (TCIC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). TCIC/ NCIC provide data and statuses of protective orders for access by all law enforcement agencies.
    In the next few months, TDCAA will be rolling out our new Protective Order training initiative, and our first venue will be at our Domestic Violence Seminar, which will be held  June 24­–26 in Austin. People who attend the PO training will also receive a protective order manual (with forms and a CD) written by staff from the Harris County DA’s Office. Please look for our upcoming PO training announcements and make plans to attend!

Victim Impact Statement  (VIS) revision
This summer I have been invited to serve on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Victim Services Division VIS Revision Committee. The committee will review the format of the VIS form, VIS Quarterly Activity Report, It’s Your Voice brochure, and VIS Recommended Processing Procedure. If you have suggestions that could aid our committee in making these documents user-friendly for victims as well as criminal justice professionals, please share them with me by email at Jalayne [email protected]