For victims of domestic crimes, the process of filing a restraining order can be dangerous.
To help victims, a Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputy has created a safe space for those in need of help.
About two months ago, Maj. Mike Rolls had the idea to create a separate, private room for individuals to fill out the required paperwork to file an injunction, commonly known as a restraining order.
Last year, there were 1,174 injunctions filed in Marion County. So far in 2016, there have been 145.
The injunction places restrictions on a person who has committed violent acts against another person. An individual seeking an injunction after the Marion County Court House business hours must go to the jail’s visitation center to fill out the 20-plus pages of paperwork.
Though it can still take hours to receive a decision from the judge granting the injunction, Saturday’s opening of the injunction room at the sheriff’s office gives people a safe space to fill out the forms and wait.
“It’s thinking ahead and thinking about the victims of domestic violence that have to come here and go through this process,” Rolls said. “Being the victim of any kind of incident is somewhat embarrassing, and to have to come sit down in some open-bay area … it adds to that stress.”
There have been a few instances in the past in which the abuser would find out about her or his victim filing a restraining order and come into the visitation center, creating a potentially dangerous situation, Rolls said.
Those who still come into the jail’s visitation center to fill out the paperwork are now encouraged to do so in the new safe space.
The room is designed to meet the needs of all victims of domestic violence, Rolls said. It’s filled with tables and chairs, a television set, toys and books for young children, and pamphlets in English and Spanish for victims. It’s also equipped with a lock and key and an additional escape route for victims for added protection.
A trained crisis-intervention specialist is on call to meet with the victims to assist them in filling out the forms and help them navigate the situation.
Christine Wells, who has worked as a crisis-intervention specialist for the past five years, said she has helped all kinds of victims as they file injunctions.
Wells said she normally helps an average of one injunction every shift. She encourages victims to have what she calls a “go bag” with all their important documents and valuables ready to leave in an emergency situation.
“A lot of times when victims leave that situation, they have nothing but the clothes on their back,” she said. ” Sometimes purses get left, wallets get left.”
Wells said the safe space at the sheriff’s office “is going to be amazing.”
“It gives the parties involved a sense of security,” she said, “and it kind of feels like it’s something special just for them.”
Gemma Frencis, a Marion County Sheriff’s Office correction assistant, agrees.
“This was something good that they did, putting them in this private room all to themselves so they don’t have to worry about their significant other, whoever it may be, coming in to attack them,” said Frencis, who has been working with victims filing injunctions for eight years.
Frencis said she watched a couple come in to file injunctions against each other. What could have been a potentially volatile situation, she added, was avoided by putting the wife in the injunction room.
Rolls said he is pleased with the safety the room has provided in its short existence and hopes that by providing the space, more victims of domestic violence can be helped.
“If there is that victim out there that needs that injunction and was just a little hesitant about coming to get it because she didn’t want to be exposed to everybody coming into the visitation center … we’re here to help,” Rolls said.
Victims of domestic violence who would like information about resources or help filing an injunction can contact the Domestic Violence Center at 352-622-8495, the crisis-intervention specialist at Marion County Sheriff’s Office at 352-732-9111 or the victim advocate at the Ocala Police Department at 352-369-7139.