A Lexington mother was murdered three days after her request for an emergency protection order was denied. Judges use information on the EPO petition completed by the victim to determine if the respondent is an immediate threat, and the judge who saw Talina Henderson’s petition made the wrong call. It’s time to update the petition form.
Instead of relying on a narrative written by the petitioner, the form should include more checkboxes with easy to answer questions that the judge can use to determine the number of risk factors involved in the case. The courts can take a lesson from healthcare settings and use screening assessments for intimate partner violence like the ones in this booklet provided by the CDC.
When filling out a petition for an EPO, victims are literally fleeing from danger — they are in a state of fight-or-flight — which impairs cognitive functioning. It’s good that there are advocates at the courthouse available to help, but a simpler petition form would make things easier for all involved. Yes/No responses to specific questions that spell out the type of abuse would also provide more information for the judge because they won’t be relying on the victim’s memory or their reasoning at a high-stress moment.
One example of a screener used to determine if the victim is in danger of being killed is the Danger Assessment created by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It begins with five questions that show an increase in severity of violence. Including those questions to the petition could look like this:
1. Were you grabbed, pushed, or slapped? Yes/No
2. Were you punched or kicked or did you have bruises, cuts, and/or continuing pain? Yes/No
3. Were you “beat up” or did you have severe bruises, burns, or broken bones? Yes/No
4. Did they threaten to use a weapon or did you suffer a head injury, internal injury, permanent injury, or miscarriage, or were you choked, strangled, or have your breathing cut off? Yes/No
5. Did they use a weapon or were you wounded by a weapon? Yes/No
Thanks to research from a variety of organizations, we know more about domestic violence than we used to, and it’s time to put that information to use. Access to a firearm, a history of violence toward others, and the victim breaking up with the perpetrator were all factors in the Henderson case that the judge needed to know about. I don’t know what Talina wrote on her petition, but if there were questions specifically asking for that information, the petition would have been more effective.
There are a number of red flags indicating abuse that should be on the EPO petition, including controlling behavior, damaging property, drug/alcohol use, choking/strangulation, and past sexual assault. The Danger Assessment lists 20 risk factors that would provide valuable information to judges granting EPOs and could be listed on the petition in simple Yes/No checkboxes.
Is there more that could be done to stop domestic violence murders? Of course. But updating the emergency protection order petition is a start, and it could save lives in the meantime.
Amanda Corbin of Lexington is a domestic violence survivor.