Program to help domestic abuse victims

January 31, 2008 6:24:52 PM PST
Victims of domestic violence often face the most danger when they first try to reach out for help or protection. Now, a new program is in the works that is meant to help people during their most vulnerable times.

The Fort Bend County Sheriff's office is launching a pilot program and it is the first of its kind anywhere in the state. It's designed to help victims help themselves because experts say victims of domestic violence are at renewed risk of harm shortly after their abuser finds out there is a protective order issued against them.

Within 90 seconds of a protective order being issued by a judge or served by a constable, a victim of crime in Fort Bend County will soon be able to register to receive a phone call like this:

"The respondent is restrained from committing acts of domestic abuse against the petitioner."

Till now, a victim may not have known for days if an order had actually been issued or if an officer was able to serve it to the person who had been attempting to hurt them. It's the immediacy of that information though the Vine Protective Order System that is new.

"Immediately after an order is served on a respondent is incredibly dangerous," said Jeni Gamble of Vine Protective Order. "Victims are essentially sitting ducks."

But by registering on the website to be notified by phone or even by email, a victim can then take steps to better protect themselves.

"The victim is better served, the public is better served," said Sheriff Milton Wright of the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Wright unveiled the program to area law enforcement today. He says it will also save thousands of man hours, keeping officers and clerks from having to answer repeated calls from victims trying to track down the status of a protective order.

"In the long run we save money on it," he said.

But piece of mind is something that can't be measured in dollars. We're not identifying this woman for her own safety. A protective order was recently issued against her husband, though she struggled to get the information so that her children could be protected from him at school.

"To be notified immediately that you have a protective order, you automatically feel safe," she said. "So the sooner the better."

Some officers have concerns though, saying the program needs to share information with the state criminal information center so that any Texas law officer can check the status of a protective order at any given time.

The company which runs the program is working with DPS to make that happen. The Fort Bend County Sheriff's office has set aside $35,000 from seized assets to pay for the program.

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