On my very first day as an assistant prosecutor, I walked the streets of Walbridge, Ohio, and entered a house that was the scene of a homicide that day. A man had killed his longtime girlfriend by stabbing her once. She ran from the house and collapsed on a road. Police had been to this home numerous times for “domestic disputes.”
A few years later, I walked through another home that again was the scene of a homicide. A different man had killed his longtime girlfriend. To make matters worse, he had just been released from prison for assaulting her previously.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We wear purple to show our support for survivors of domestic violence, and to show others we are here and there is help for victims. We wear purple to remember those who did not make it out alive from their abusive relationships. Domestic violence is prevalent. In 2019 alone, deputies from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office have responded to more than 500 calls about domestic disturbances and taken more than 400 reports. Within the city limits, the Delaware City Police Department has taken almost 100 reports of domestic disturbances this year. This year alone, more than 100 charges of domestic violence have been filed in the Delaware County Municipal Court. Last year, our office handled more than 30 felony domestic violence cases, and the Delaware City Prosecutor’s Office handled even more misdemeanor domestic violence cases. Unless the case involves a juvenile, a first-time domestic violence offender would not make to our desks unless the victim was pregnant. The law is written so that such first-time offenses are filed as misdemeanors. Once a person is convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, if he or she commits domestic violence again, it is a felony.
Domestic violence charges present a unique type of crime. There is manipulation and control, tossed in with “love,” and surrounded by empty promises about change that usually ends up right back at the beginning with a victim being physically harmed by their loved one. Throughout my career, I have met with countless victims who are hopeless, helpless and often in denial. I have handled numerous cases where a victim doesn’t want to prosecute the offender. I’ve been cursed at, chewed out and ignored because I wouldn’t dismiss a domestic violence charge. But our role as prosecutors is to protect everyone — even those who may not want or understand they need to be protected. The decisions we make as prosecutors can have a significant impact on the future of that victim as well as anyone else who comes into contact with that offender in future. What a victim of domestic violence presents to a prosecutor is complicated, tedious, sometimes aggravating, and sometimes can leave a prosecutor feeling helpless. It takes an experienced prosecutor to make change happen — one who is well-trained, who understands the cycle of violence, and who is dedicated to victims of domestic violence beyond the courtroom. I am excited to share that Delaware County now has just that prosecutor in Elizabeth Matune, who joined our office to specialize as a domestic violence prosecutor.
But just because domestic violence is so prevalent in our society does not mean there is no hope or no help for victims or for family members of victims. If you are in danger, call 911. The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office and the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office have victim advocates waiting to help victims and family members. Helpline offers support services as well. Most importantly though, there is a safe place for victims in Delaware County at Turning Point, our own domestic violence shelter. At Turning Point, victims can find respite, safety and peer support, and can get connected to services in the county.
Helpline: 1-800-684-2324, text 898211, or visit www.helplinedelmor.org. Turning Point: 1-800-232-6505 or 740-382-8988, or visit www.turningpoint6.org; Victim Services: 740-833-2845, 740-833-2843 or 740-833-2710.
Melissa A. Schiffel serves as the Delaware County prosecutor.