LANDOVER – Laronn Burton will never forget the date of December 21, 2005. It was the day she decided to leave her husband of 18 years due to the verbal and physical abuse that she had received more than half a decade.
However, Burton considered herself one of the lucky ones. Her parents provided Burton shelter for a year until she got back on her feet. Meanwhile, people suffering from the same dangerous situation have options but are unsure how to proceed.
“I just try to advise people to talk to someone (for advice) or seek professional counseling,” said Burton, who is now a domestic violence advocate. “Some people don’t even know they are being abused and think that it is normal…You shouldn’t be disrespected in your home or belittled in no capacity.”
To shed light on the struggles for victims once they decide to walk away, One Safe Night Ministry organized a luncheon on June 2. The central message at the event, hosted at Little David Baptist Church in Landover, was helping victims free themselves from their pain, spiritually and legally.
Attorney Luann Edwards from the House of Ruth Maryland’s Marjorie Cook Domestic Violence Legal Clinic spoke to the audience of more than 35 guests about law changes over the past two decades, making it easier to file for a protective order. According to the Maryland Courts Violence Monthly Reports, county judges have granted 1,414 peace or protective orders out of the 3,046 orders that were filed this year.
While 46 percent were granted, more are not due to victims not carrying through the full process of completing a protection order. State courts report data also shows that 23.5 percent of orders filed this year (715 cases) have been dismissed as the “petitioner” failed to appear in court.
While the law allows a person to file a petition and appear for a temporary hearing before a judge to start the order right away, they must provide “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse took place.
According to Edwards, while mobile devices have helped prove physical violence with photos and video, some partners fear separation due to financial, housing and childcare reasons. The fear of the unknown forces many to stay with their partners and not appear in court.
Burton understands the feeling victims face after filing a protective order. Before her 2005 exit, she left her husband once before but returned out of “pride.” She recalled the promises made for improved behavior not lasting long and after several nights of crying in the car after work, Burton said could not take the abuse anymore.
“I was more worried about what my family was going to say, and I didn’t want nobody to know, that was my biggest issue,” Burton said. “And then I realized that I could not do this anymore and (wondered) why I am still doing this just to be with somebody.”
Despite all the law changes, improvements can still be made, Edwards said. The county has only one emergency domestic violence shelter for women and children, operated by Family Crisis Center. However, the facility’s poor conditions, including growing mold and mice infestation, made headlines, forcing the firing of the organization’s director in late 2017.
“In Prince George’s County, we need affordable housing,” Edwards said. “And not just shelters, transitional housing because the problem with a shelter is it is for emergency response and frequently, people are limited to fewer than 100 days (to stay). It is really hard to get up on your feet in 100 days.”
Democratic candidate for county executive Donna Edwards made an appearance at the event, echoing the need for more housing and shelters for domestic violence victims.
“I believe we should have shelters in every single region of the county,” the former congresswoman said. “If you are in the (southern part of the) county, you are not driving all the way up the center part of the county, and that may mean you have to displace your kids away from their schools and all the rest (they know).”
During her remarks, Donna Edwards challenged county officials who commented on crime rate decreasing, she said, “If you are going to take ownership on crime coming down, you have to take responsibility for the fact that Prince George’s County has the highest rate of domestic violence homicides in the state and one of the highest in the nation.”
The luncheon, which is the second event produced by One Safe Night Ministry, was filled with prayer, signing and a dance performance before the informative sessions. Plans are to have more events similar to the luncheon throughout the year to spread domestic violence awareness, according to organizer Shereen Cade-Jackson.
The goal in the future would be to create partnerships with other churches and hotels to develop housing and shelters for displaced victims, Cade-Jackson said.