Abused should plan for safety

By Abby Morris

Star Staff

Editor's note: This is the second part of a three part series on domestic violence. Part three will be printed on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
   Though victims of domestic violence feel helpless at times, help is available.
   Police and Sheriff's Department officers can help victims obtain legal documents such as orders of protection to ensure their personal safety and can also transport them to safe housing.
   Orders of protection can be issued in the County Clerk's Office during normal business hours, but are available through law enforcement officers 24 hours a day.
   "They are just a temporary fix to get people apart," said John Paul Mathes, Carter County circuit court clerk.
   Mathes said that, once a temporary order of protection has been applied for, it is served on the person who it is drawn against and a court date is set for the parties to appear before a judge. The court date is usually held within 10 days of the order being issued.
   At the court hearing, the judge will determine whether to issue a regular order of protection, which lasts for one year and costs $128.50. At the hearing, the judge determines who is responsible for paying for it.
   "We take orders of protection very seriously," Mathes said. "We give them top priority here."
   If a victim of domestic abuse is in more immediate danger or makes the decision to leave the abusive relationship, shelters are also available.
   In Elizabethton, The Shepherd's Inn makes many services available to victims who choose to go there. Not only are victims offered a safe place to stay while they adjust to their new life, the staff will assist them in obtaining legal documents and finding jobs or housing if they need it. The staff also offers a caring touch as well.
   "This may be the first time some of these women have had someone tell them that they believe in them," said Shepherd's Inn Executive Paul Gabinet.
   According to Helen Huffman, house coordinator, knowing that someone cares is a big help to many of the women who stay at the Inn. "A lot of women who are abused have been beaten down so much psychologically," she said. "We help them build their self-esteem so they can see their self-worth. How another person sees you has a lot to do with how you see yourself."
   Gabinet said the two most important services the shelter provides are "safety and assurance that you are great."
   Another area shelter, Safe Passage in Johnson City, offers similar services to the Shepherd's Inn.
   Workers at the shelter help victims find housing and jobs, aid victims in obtaining legal documents, and provide them with transportation to court dates. They also assist victims in seeking social services, such as food stamps.
   According to Carey Andrick, program manager for Safe Passage, the shelter served 81 people from July-September of this year. "We're almost doubling from last year," said Andrick, noting that in 2001 the shelter served 45 people during the months of July-October.
   According to Connie Andes, administrative assistant for Safe Passage, victims of domestic violence can call the shelter's 24 hour hotline (423-926-7233) to speak to a crisis counselor. "They don't have to be ready to go to call," she said. "We've had people call three or four times before they come to the shelter."
   Once a person makes the decision to leave, they should call 911 and meet with an officer. At both shelters, the location of the actual shelter remains confidential to keep the abuser from finding the victim. Also, victims must be escorted by police to the shelter at both facilities. "That's for their safety as well as ours," said Andrick.
   According to studies, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they have made the decision to leave their abuser. Many experts suggest having a personal safety plan.
   Victims are advised that during arguments they should stay out of bedrooms or the kitchen area, where weapons might be available. They should also try to stay in rooms that have more than one exit.
   Also, developing a code word that their children or neighbors can recognize as a symbol to telephone authorities is helpful. Victims should also plan where they will go once they leave the home.
   Making extra copies of important documents such as birth certificates, insurance policies, school and immunization records, marriage licenses, custody papers, car titles and registration, and orders of protection is also important. Victims should make sure these items are readily available when they leave the house.
   Important paperwork should be left with a trusted friend or packed in a bag with necessities such as extra clothes, car and house keys, and medication, and should be kept in a safe location where they can be quickly retrieved once the victim is ready to leave.