Some days Patrice Ball-Reed hears as many as 50 of them.
On this particular Friday – a comparatively easy day – she heard 23.
Ball-Reed is a judge in Cook County Circuit Court who hears domestic violence cases. She said that domestic violence has always been around. One tool in the fight to stem the violence is an order of protection, most of the time from a woman asking the court to tell a husband or boyfriend or former husband or boyfriend to stay away.
“It’s very disheartening to see someone so beat down and frustrated and they come to me to solve this personal contact,” Ball-Reed said.
At exactly 9:30 a.m., she walked into Room 201, sat down, looked through the papers in front of her and began calling names of people who were asking for orders of protection.
Not all are granted, pointing out the difficulty some women have in making a case that they are being threatened. The orders aren’t taken lightly, but several advocacy groups help women navigate the process.
One group, Between Friends, has been around for about 25 years, working with battered women and their children to break the cycle of violence they face.
The group, since July, has worked on 297 order of protection cases. In 284 of those cases, the orders were granted.
That success rate is somewhat deceiving. Leslie Cook, a Between Friends court advocate, said that sometimes getting an order of protection is not all that easy, for a variety of reasons.
“I think the court process is first of all extremely traumatizing and very intimidating,” Cook said. “Getting an order of protection is not just you come in and you get it right away.”
She said that the process can be very difficult for some women as they have to commit at least half a day to a full day the first time to file all the paperwork. Once paperwork is done, they have to go in front of a judge to testify and come back at least twice.
“Once the [respondent] is served, they have to be ready to go up and be next to him and a lot of people aren’t ready for that,” Cook said.
One case illustrated that the lines aren’t always clear and the cases aren’t always black and white.
A woman who preferred not to give her name went before Ball-Reed mid-morning. Her boyfriend and an interpreter were standing next to her. She was seeking information about the status of an order of protection against her estranged husband.
“I’m scared,” she said outside the courtroom before her case was heard. “I think one day maybe he can follow me with my kids and take my kids. I came to the Circuit Court and sought help. I asked the clerks what I needed to do to get an order of protection and they helped me,” she added.
She had lived with the man for six years before getting married to him two years ago. They have two kids together. She said her family did not like him because he was too jealous and overprotective of her.
They were separated for a short period four years ago, she said, because of his overprotective behavior.
“At some point, I got tired. I thought about myself. I’m tired and I have my kids and I can’t stay like this, no,” she said. They have been separated for seven months now and she filed for divorce about four months ago.
His behavior since their separation led her to court. She said he “started sending me text messages and used bad words. He told me, ‘I follow you all the time,’ and I am scared about that.”
She applied for an order of protection two months ago and came to court this day for a second time because he is nowhere to be found. Since he’s been missing, he has not been served with the order of protection. He also hasn’t sent her any recent texts.
“I need to know if they found my ex and if he knows that I have an order of protection against him,” she said. “The last time I talked to him was two months ago and I told him to leave me alone, don’t call me and that I’m getting an order of protection.”
Ball-Reed said there are different kinds of orders. She said she only grants an emergency order of protection if an incident occurs within the last few days. If it has been two weeks, then it’s not an emergency situation.
“It’s not so much about protection,” she said. “A lot of times they need emotional, physical, psychological help and sometimes the parties not realizing that there is a problem is hard.”
April Fehrenbacher, also a Between Friends court advocate, said another problem is that a lack of translators makes it difficult for women who don’t speak English to seek orders of protection.
“If we have a client that is Hispanic, we have difficulty getting translators,” she said. “We are not supposed to translate, it’s a conflict of interest and there have been times a client will have to wait hours just to be heard.”
At Between Friends, protection orders are just one part of the work they offer women who come to them for help, and the orders aren’t even the biggest part of the service.
Cook said the orders can mean little if the woman isn’t taken out of the situation and made safe. That, she said, is the key.
“The biggest thing we always do as a role of advocate is to do the safety planning,” she said. “So we do it regardless of if they get the order of protection or if they don’t. We assess that before we even file for an order of protection: Is getting this order of protection going to keep you safer or is it not?”