New protection order can keep abused spouses 'Safe at Home'

May 18, 1992|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

When Evelyn Hope finally decided to leave the husband who had dragged her downstairs by her hair, whose blows had sent her to many emergency rooms, who had terrified and humiliated their children, she left because he laughed at her.

"I had taken his abuse for years and didn't care if I died. I used to pray to die," she says. "But one day when I went looking for him, I found him with another woman. When I told him we needed money for food, the woman started screaming at me and breaking out the windows of my car. And he just stood there with his arms folded, laughing.

"It was total humiliation. I had taken all of his beatings, but his laughter snapped me back to reality. I said 'Something has got to change.' "

Something did. Ms. Hope now works as the hot line and in-take coordinator for Women Against Abuse in Philadelphia. On Wednesday night, she will join a panel of other experts on domestic violence at the Senator Theatre for a special premiere screening of "Safe at Home: Family Violence and the Civil Protection Order."

The 20-minute film, presented by the Public Justice Center, was produced to tell people about Maryland's newly reformed civil protection order. It was enacted by the legislature this spring through the efforts of Gov.William Donald Schaefer and a statewide coalition of advocacy groups for battered women.

Ms. Hope credits the court order she obtained -- it said her abuser would be arrested if he approached her or their two children for three years -- with keeping her former husband from harming her when she fled their home.

"He was a very private person with a good outward appearance -- a pillar-of-the-community type -- and he did not want his image tarnished," she explains.

Maryland's new ruling permits the court to order abusers to have no contact with the victim or petitioner for up to 200 days. It may also direct the abuser to stay away from the petitioner's school, place of work and temporary residence as well as home. Any violation of the order will result in the abuser's arrest.

"This new order can really save lives," says Rachel Wohl, an attorney for Brown, Goldstein and Levy and co-chairman of the center's domestic violence task force. "And if you're in a serious abuse situation, 200 days is a reasonable time to pull out of a relationship."

Until recently Maryland's protection order was one of weakest in the nation, says Kathy Shulman, director of the Public Justice Center. The old order, which did not carry the threat of arrest, was in effect only a maximum of 30 days. Other restrictions meant that as many as half of the Marylanders who fell prey to domestic violence -- experts estimate 150,000 families in the state suffer this abuse -- were unable to apply for court help.

The reformed protection order can also award emergency financial relief to victims and their families.

"Safe at Home" features the stories of several battered women as well as commentary by Judy Wolfer and Fatima Wilson of the House of Ruth, Administrative Judge Mary Ellen Rinehardt and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. It was filmed by Group Two Productions with grants of $25,000 from the Abell Foundation, $15,000 from the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation and $3,600 from the Governor's Office of Justice Administration.

Last year the Public Justice Center produced "A Plea for Justice," an award-winning documentary film about the "battered spouse syndrome." The film helped lead to legislation allowing evidence about this syndrome into Maryland's criminal trials of battered women accused of killing or attempting to kill their batterers.

The Public Justice Center is a 7-year-old association of volunteer lawyers dedicated to protecting the legal rights of such underrepresented clients as battered spouses, children in foster care and indigent tenants who are unfairly evicted.

'SAFE AT HOME'

The premiere screening of "Safe at Home: Family Violence and the Civil Protection Order," will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Senator Theatre, 5904 York Road.

A reception will begin at 7 p.m. A panel discussion on domestic violence will begin at approximately 9 p.m.

Tickets at $25 and $100 will benefit the Public Justice Center. To order tickets, call (410) 625-9409. Tickets also available at the door.

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