Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lawrence Smith sees it as a two-way street. He can help a domestic violence victim get justice, but without the victim’s help, his hands are tied. He devotes a lot of him time to gaining the victim’s trust, letting them know they have someone in their corner.
When Detective Smith first met Deborah, she was in the hospital following a beating, as she was getting ready to give birth to her third child. Her abuser had fled the scene by the time police arrived.
“I told her ‘Look, I know you’re scared, but we can help you through this. Think about where you are… You’re in the hospital and you’re in pretty bad shape. We can help you.’” he says. “Fortunately, she listened. She was granted an ex-parte Order of Protection while she was still in the hospital.”
Deborah went on to deliver a healthy baby and she and her three children are now safe. Detective Smith likes to share Deborah’s story because she took advantage of all the resources offered to her. Deborah worked with the navigators at the Family Safety Center and she turned to the Exchange Club for counseling with the children.
But in addition to getting her life on track, Deborah, like other victims, had to remain engaged in the legal process to bring her abuser to justice. Detective Smith did his part to remind her of court appointments and to keep her focused on the end goal.
“It’s not easy. Sometimes victims face angry relatives who resent that they have torn the family apart. Just because the abuser is arrested and in jail, that doesn’t mean it’s over. That’s when the real work begins,” says Smith. “It takes courage and determination for the victim to stay engaged and not give up. I try to prepare them for the negative reaction from family, the traumatic impact on the children, and most of all, I encourage them to show up in court when needed.”
Lt. Michael Pope, Commander of the SCSO Domestic Violence Unit, agrees that the most important thing victims can do for themselves and their family, other than coming forward in the first place, is to follow through with their case.
If the process seems daunting, that’s because it is. For a person in fear for their life, it can be overwhelming. Research says a victim will attempt to leave an abusive situation an average of seven times before they succeed. The FSC tries to streamline the process by having multiple agencies in one place. With law enforcement, counsellors, lawyers, and housing referrals in one place, FSC hopes to increase the chances of getting victims engaged and, ultimately, keeping victims and families safe. Detective Lawrence Smith and many others on site work hard to make it happen.
“We work diligently with our partners to remove barriers for victim of domestic violence seeking justice. It is a hard journey ahead for victims — we want to make the journey a little bit easier,” says Murry-Drobot.