A Violent Relationship + Room 211 = The Journey to Safety Begins
She went to the Multnomah County Courthouse to seek safety from her abuser, but he followed her there.
In Room 211 of the courthouse, Home Free's advocates help domestic violence survivors take the first steps toward leaving the violence behind.
It was a stifling summer day when Marisol walked into Room 211 at the Multnomah County Courthouse. Eight other women crowded around tables with two staff and volunteers from Volunteers [Legal Advocacy Coordinator, Katie Boyts] of America Oregon’s Home Free, hurrying to complete restraining order paperwork before the 12:45 p.m. filing deadline.
That same morning, Marisol was late to her husband’s contesting of the restraining order she had filed against him la week earlier, and because of that, the order was dismissed. Ever since he had taken her car from her, Marisol had to rely on public transportation and friends to give her a ride. That morning, her friend was late.
Shaken, she returned to Room 211 to file the restraining order paperwork again. But this time, her husband followed her, and he had a friend with him. He was there to file his own restraining order – against her.
Katie Boyts, Home Free’s Legal Advocacy Coordinator, quickly led the abuser to another room, but Marisol was still distraught. She had managed to leave the man who psychologically terrorized her for years and was living in her own apartment, yet, now, all that separated them was a wall.
Every week, Home Free’s Restraining Order Room Advocates help up to 50 domestic violence survivors like Marisol to file protective orders. The paperwork typically takes one hour to complete, longer if children are in tow, and longer still for non-English speakers. Marisol only spoke Spanish and could not read English, either. Fortunately, Sara-Daisy Dygert, a Bilingual Response Advocate with Home Free, was in Room 211, too. She interpreted the forms for Marisol and helped her file the papers.
“It can be very hard for survivors to come up with the two or three specific examples of abusive incidents that restraining order paperwork requires, because they don’t conceptualize individual events that way,” Sara-Daisy says. “The abuse is just their life, it’s their reality.”
Sara-Daisy helped Marisol gather her thoughts and recall the times when her partner had assaulted her physically or sexually, threatened to harm her, and threatened take their sons to Mexico so that she’d never see them again. She also provided moral support, validating Marisol’s feelings about the difficult and frightening experiences that prompted her to seek a protective order and the strength it took for her to come to the courthouse that day.
That afternoon, Sara-Daisy accompanied Marisol to her restraining order hearing. Her abuser sat on the other side of the courtroom and stared at her. Both were granted their restraining orders. If Marisol hadn’t filed that same day, her abuser could use his order against her as a tool to further control her, holding over her the threat of making false reports of her violating it. He’d also have a leg up on her in the legal system; if the court perceives him as the victim, it could compromise Marisol’s position in future proceedings, including custody filings.
Knowing Marisol had no transportation of her own, Sara-Daisy drove her home. During the drive, they spoke about ways that Marisol could optimize her safety, such as keeping important documents somewhere she could quickly and easily find them, memorizing phone numbers to call for help, and ensuring her sons knew what to do in an emergency. Sara-Daisy also gave her the phone number for Legal Aid Services of Oregon, so that Marisol could access legal help.
Marisol left the car with greater information and resolve than she had when she’d walked into the courthouse that morning, a resolve that the Home Free advocates in Room 211 helped her to strengthen.
Home Free advocates are available in Room 211 every judicial day and assist over 2,500 victims of domestic violence, stalking, and elder abuse each year.
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