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Relationship Violence: What Options Are Available

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Wed, September 4 2013 at 6:20 PM, Updated: Wed, September 4 2013 at 7:48 PM

Police said Maria Rodriguez and Jose Valencia-Gaona had some sort of relationship.

While Rodriguez did not have a restraining order against him...

"In this particular case, the information we have is she might have expressed concerns to family and friends about him," said Sgt. Brent Mak with the Medford Police Department.

However, if Maria Rodriguez did express concern, what else could she have done? What could anyone feeling unsafe in a relationship do in a similar situation?

Option 1: Getting a Restraining Order

Vanessa Espino, a victim advocate with Community Works and Medford Police walked us through how to get started to protect yourself at the Jackson County Courthouse.

"Usually a restraining order is going to keep the other person from contacting you by e-mail, phone, personally, third party, any kind of contact," said Espino.

She said while the restraining order is just a piece of paper, it could come in handy.

"Physically it's not going to stop them, but the consequence of breaking that paperwork [...] it's gonna be jail and mandatory arrest right away," Espino said.

"A restraining order doesn't put a tracker on somebody. All it does is gives us power to enforce any violation of that contact [...] The restraining order is what really offers the victim a different level of protection," said Sgt. Mak.

"It talks about staying away from the victim, staying away 500-feet from them, their place of employment, their residence [...] In some cases where guys will try to hound their victim, if they even come near her house we can arrest them," he continued.

Steps to File a Restraining Order

People interested in filing a restraining order can get the paperwork at the "Family Law/Civil Restraining Orders" window at the county courthouse.

Because all the paperwork can be daunting, Espino said advocates at the Jackson County Courthouse are there to help.

"After you get the packet, we're gonna go to the 3rd floor which is upstairs of course [...] after you get to the third floor you look for room 325."

It's where people are stationed to help fill out paperwork. The same person in room 325 is also a domestic violence advocate. Another advocate can be found at the Medford Police Department.

Timeline to Get a Restraining Order

Espino said the entire process can be completed in one day.

"I can say because you can submit your paperwork before 10:30 to the window and then you're going to have to return around one for the hearing before the judge. The judge is going to read your restraining order, see your situation and probably [ask] you some questions about the situation and then from there he is going to decide whether he grants you or not."

She said it's possible that by 2pm the applicant will have their restraining order.

Any of the domestic violence advocates at the police station or the courthouse can accompany the person filing the restraining order when they go in front of a judge.

How to Qualify

However, there are specific details that come into play. According to Espino, the relationship has to be currently or previously intimate in nature or the two people must be relatives.

Espino said the judge will take into account any documentation of abuse (verbal or physical). In her roughly three years of working as a victim advocate, she said judges have rarely denied a restraining order request. Each situation is looked into on a case-by-case basis.

Other Options for People Who Feel Unsafe

Medford Police Chief Tim George said other options for people worried about their safety include moving to another location, staying with friends and just making sure they're not isolated. Espino said another option is going to a shelter like the Dunn House.

One more option is filing a stalking order. Sgt. Mak said to do this, a person has to file a police report. The more documentation of what's going on, the better. He said an officer will then serve the alleged stalker with a stalking citation and within three days both parties will appear in front of a judge. The judge will make the decision to grant or deny the stalking order, which can be good for any number of years.

Police say a restraining or stalking order remains valid anywhere in the U.S.

Sgt. Mak said restraining orders are not used enough, as it gives law enforcement more authority to arrest someone.

In the specific case involving the stabbing death of 38-yr-old Maria Rodriguez, police said a restraining order may not have worked because they say the suspect was lying in wait for Maria to come home. Instead one of the other options may have worked better if she truly felt unsafe.

What do you think? Sound off on our Facebook page and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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