MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Domestic violence is a huge problem in our community. Often victims are encouraged to get an order of protection against their abusers.

But some say it doesn’t really work.

Jacquinsia Armstrong’s family says she was trying to get away and move on from a boyfriend who was abusing her. She filed an order of protection, but he ended up killing her the night of May 5th.

Roshunda Johnson is Armstrong’s mother and she is left to live with the question: What went wrong?

“How do the law protect you when you are reporting it, and you are doing everything you are supposed to do?” Johnson said. “At what point am I protected?” 

Orders of protection are designed to keep abusers away from victims so that cases like Jacquinsia Armstrong’s don’t happen. Memphis Police tell us from the first of this year to July 27, they handled 1,325 Orders of Protection. 

When orders are granted, the person they are against is not to make contact with the victim. But many will tell you that the order is a piece of paper often shunned by the abuser.

‘A very dangerous time’

“Actually getting an order of protection for some people could be a very dangerous time,” said Charlotte Ray, director of Client Services at the Family Safety Center. “Sometimes, you know, the law enforcement will also concur with this, that when a person, a victim, tries to leave, sometimes can can make matters worse for him or her. But I say love yourself, respect yourself. And if someone’s putting their hands on you don’t don’t accept that as being normal.”

Ray walks victims through the process of getting an order of protection and says the center files requests for, on average, 100 to 130 temporary orders of protection a month. About 120 of those are actually granted.

But that’s just one step.

“When you feel that your life is in danger, April, you know, you have to be safe on purpose,” Ray said. “So you’d have to start thinking about how you’re going to live your life. You know, you have to start thinking about who you’re going to socialize with. And where are you going to socialize.”

She says having a safety plan and thinking ahead is crucial.

“Try to be in a safe place. I don’t know what that looks like for everybody. For some people, that may be just a matter of changing an address. It may be just a matter of if you may even have to move out of town,” Ray said. “It may be just a matter of getting your phone number changed. But the each person, I think, has to stop and ask themselves ‘Okay, how do I choose to lay out? How do I choose to walk this out?’ You know, in the future.”

There is also a statewide program designed to help victims by making it harder to find them in the first place.

The Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program gives applicants a substitute address that can be used for government services and keeps abusers from locating victims through public records searches.

“Once they get a new address, keep that address private, and that offender will have difficulty finding that address and may not be able to at all,” Ray said. “So hopefully that will help to keep the the victim safe.”

Orders often violated by abusers

Memphis Police declined an interview but did provide a look at how often orders of protection are violated.

In 2019, they got 435 reports of Order of Protection violations. In 2020, they got 330. In 2021, they got 341.

As of July of this year, there have been 219 cases of offenders violating their order to stay away from their victims.

Family counselors say victims must also be willing to follow through the legal courses in court, where emotions can be high.

“If I get this ordered protection, am I willing to walk it out?” Ray said. “Which means every time I have an unwanted contact, whether it’s telephone texts or or the person popping up, you know, at my favorite restaurant or while I’m out shopping, you know. Am I going to make that police call, and we’re going to follow up and do that? You know? Am I going to draw the line and not engage a person?”

Steps are taken to keep the abuser at bay and keep another tragedy from devasting another family.

“When people realize that there is a court procedure, sometimes they do balk at that. They don’t want to see the person that’s harmed them,” Ray said.

Some have asked if a red flag law, like that in other states, would help to protect victims. That law removes firearms from a person who police believe may be a danger.

So far, there is no indication that Tennessee has any plans to implement a red flag law.

More info on the Safe At Home Program

The Secretary of State’s Safe at Home address confidentiality program is free for anyone who has experienced domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking or any sexual offense. Safe at Home prevents abusers from locating their victims through public records by providing approved applicants a substitute address that may be used for legal purposes, including voter registration and government services such as a driver’s license and access to assistance programs. To enroll in Safe at Home, participants must complete an application with a partnering agency in their community. For more information about the Safe at Home program or to find a partner agency in your community, visit SafeAtHomeTN.com or call 615-253-3043.