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Serving the Austin community since 1975 SAVE AND SUSTAIN BOOK-WOMAN Help save an endangered species: The independent women’s bookstore For details go to co roasters S5 shipping on all orders www.biglaendcoffee_com artisan-roasted in Marfa, Texas 10 0 % ORGANIC & FAIR TRADE a. wholesale inquiries welcome Asked if a woman is really safe in a home she shares with her batterer, Ybanez says, “[The officers] do encourage the complainant to go elsewhere. They can work with them and try to get them into a shelter:’ Houston area shelters are notoriously hard to get into. The only battered women’s shelter inside Houston city limits is the Houston Area Women’s Center, which has 125 beds and by its own estimate is full more than 90 percent of the time. “Many times:’ Ybanez says, “what [officers] will tell [complainants] is, you need to go to your best friend’s house, you need to go to your mom’s house, or maybe a place he doesn’t know. Maybe you have a friend at work that you could call whose house he hasn’t been to. But [women] are totally encouraged to get out of there, because obviously he’s going to return:’ If they don’t have somewhere to go? “Then basically they just have to call the police again if he returns,” she says. Had the officers who responded to Silvia Ramirez called intake, they could have obtained a warrant for her husband’s arrest. They also could have provided her another layer of safety that night: an emergency protective order. A protective order is like a restraining order, but applies specifically to domestic violence. Even if Ramirez’s husband had gone to jail that night and then been released, a protective order could have prevented him from going home or approaching her anywhere else. People who violate these orders end up back in jail. Emergency protective orders are issued when suspects appear before a judge, usually after officers tell victims about the order and have them fill out a simple form. The orders last up to 90 days, a window of safety in which a woman can apply for a full protective order, which lasts for two years. The short-term order Silvia could have received that night is called a magistrate’s order of emergency protection, or MOEP. A full protective order can take up to six weeks to get. Often women don’t know about emergency protective orders until they’re told about them by police, and they can’t get one unless an officer calls the intake office and has the suspect arrested. It is a good system in theory; if a woman is battered and she calls the police, even if her batterer flees, the police can obtain a warrant and, upon arresting him, provide an emergency protective order for her. So much security can come from a single callbut its not required. Women seeking protective orders have to get in line. The district attorney’s office that handles them sees applicants from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The office doesn’t take appointments, and interview slots for the day usually fill up by 10 a.m. A line forms in the hallway outside the office before the door is unlocked most mornings. Later arrivals can wait around hoping for a cancellation, or they can come back another day at the recommended time: 7:30 a.m. This often requires taking another day off work, or sneaking away from their abusers’ watch, or paying for another day of child care, or all of the above. While the office eventually sees most of the women, many are not seen until their second, third, or even fourth visits. And getting a protective order is easy compared with pressing charges. When Houston police officers do the minimum and file an incident report on behalf of women whose batterers have fled, the report is forwarded to the nearest of the four family violence units. Depending on the severity of the incident as reported, the unit may contact a woman to encourage her to come in and press charges. If she doesn’t, nothing happens, no matter the seriousness of her injuries. If she does come to the police to press charges, she’ll encounter an agency so overworked and understaffed as to be practically incapable of fulfilling its mandate. To cover an estimated 36,000 incidents a year, the Houston Police Department’s four family violence units employ a total of 15 officers. “The first thing I do when I get an incident report is prioritize it, one through five,” says Holbrook of the West Side Family Violence Unit. “Ones are hospital casesshootings, stabbings, beatings bad enough to put you in the hospital for a few days. … We’ll call and see if the victim is conscious and can communicate, and if they can, we’ll send an investigator down there to talk to them and see if they want to press charges. Of course, I can’t send an investigator to every hospital case:’ Second in priority, she says, are high-risk cases involving violations of protective orders, repeat offenses, assaults during pregnancy, and use of a weapon. Into this category also go injuries to the elderly, because the major assault unit is so understaffed, according to Holbrook. “With twos, we have counselors call the victim and ask if they want to press charges. Lesser hospital cases are twos.” MARCH 7, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9