7/28/2014

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Field Notes

Jessie Cavett just one of the many faces of domestic violence

Jessie Cavett just one of the many faces of domestic violence
Jessie Cavett (right) and her sister, Jennie Cochran.
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Jessie Marie Cavett is just one of many.

The 27-year-old woman was shot once in the head and killed in front of her daughter on Saturday. Police say the man who pulled the trigger was her husband.

She had an order of protection against him - commonly known as a restraining order.

And while he is now under arrest and there will likely be a sense of justice – he told the police he had “just f****** killed someone” – the case highlights the unfortunate truth that, in the end an order of protection is just a piece of paper.

“Ultimately it will not physically stop you from being attacked,” says Judge Maureen McKnight, who oversees domestic violence cases in Multnomah County.

And she is busy.

Jessie Cavett was one of between 2,200 and 2,500 women who seek orders of protection every year in the county. And they were just a fraction of women who were abused.

Portland police estimate that there are approximately 14,000 cases of domestic violence each year. Of those cases, some 6,500 women were seriously injured.

Put another way – one-half of all simple assaults in Portland were domestic violence-related; one-third of all aggravated assaults stemmed from domestic violence.

There was the woman who had obtained an order of protection against the father of her children and was still assaulted by him – along two of their children.

There was the man arrested after he threw a rock through his ex-girlfriend’s window, placed sugar in her gas tank and threatened to kill her.

There was the man who tried to suffocate his wife – they had been married 17 years – by putting a blanket over her head while she was sleeping.

There was the man arrested after a standoff with police after holding his girlfriend hostage. He had threatened to kill her.

The list goes on. Jessica Marie Cavett is just one of many.

“The problem is that a restraining order will only work if the person on the receiving end is the kind of person who will obey the law,” says Judge McKnight. “And, sadly, that clearly does not apply to everyone.”

Complicating matters is the fact that not everyone is best served by getting a restraining order.

“The fact is that in some cases it can do more harm than good,” says McKnight. “Sometimes a restraining order can be a trigger that sets someone off. It’s a very complicated equation and there is not always an easy solution.

“Also you have to be aware of the danger that sometimes exists when you bring the subject into the court for a hearing. You are making them aware of where their would-be target is going to be.”

McKnight says that as a result, there is constant communication between the judiciary, law enforcement and domestic violence advocates.

“It’s so important that everyone be on the same page,” she says. “It takes a community to fight this problem.”

Despite the obstacles, despite the risks, McKnight says restraining orders are very important.

“It sets a paper trail,” she says. “It says to law enforcement that this woman is a protected person, that a judge examined the situation and ruled that the woman needed to be protected.”

Sometimes, though, it’s not enough.

Sometimes the woman has to flee a situation, which opens the door to more problems.

There are currently 78 beds in Multnomah County for the victims of domestic violence. Those 78 beds are the homes to 33 families.

With 2,200 women seeking restraining orders, with nearly three times that the victim of serious violence, 78 beds does not seem like a whole lot.

Complicating things is that Portland currently has a very strong housing market, which means once a woman enters the domestic violence shelter, getting her into housing is not always so easy.

The average stay is 53 days.

Annie Neal, the domestic violence coordinator for the county, says that they are working to bring that number down.

“We’re trying to figure out how to move people out faster,” she says. “We need to make sure people are safe and, at the same time, make sure that the beds are available for emergencies.”

Because, the fact is, Jessie Marie Cavett is just one of many.

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