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Victims of domestic violence frustrated over system faults

Updated: 
October 24, 2017 - 12:05am

HILO — Domestic violence victims told lawmakers Monday they feel let down by the judicial system and that not enough is done to protect them and their children.

Hosted by the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, the listening session in Hilo included victims, organizations that advocate for them, and the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, among others. It was the second meeting the caucus has hosted throughout the state, with the first being held on Maui.

Victims recounted, often through tears, physical and emotional abuse by their partners, and expressed frustration with the hurdles they face when trying to hold their abusers accountable.

“Our system doesn’t help any victims,” one woman said.

“The courts just make me revisit everything again.”

Carmen Booth, a development specialist with the nonprofit Child and Family Service, said hearings for restraining orders are too easily delayed and there’s sometimes confusion about whether a respondent was served.

“A lot of these respondents are smart,” she said. “They can drag it out.”

Booth said she tries to help victims but is not allowed to give legal advice.

Some victims complained of police officers not taking their cases seriously or making callous comments.

Jensie Ramos, client advocate and safety coordinator at CFS’ abuse shelter in Hilo, said there have been times when an abuser shows up outside the facility’s fence and police don’t arrive for another hour or sometimes not at all.

That makes it harder for victims to feel safe, she said.

“It’s getting to the point where staff are giving up on calling the police,” Ramos said.

She said one incident involved someone flashing their car’s headlights at the shelter from the driveway, while another left behind a machete.

Hawaii Police Capt. Randall Medeiros said he wasn’t aware of that issue but added such complaints should be directed to police supervisors.

“We take it very seriously,” he said. “That’s why we train our officers to the extent that we do.”

Medeiros said detectives receive specialized training on domestic violence issues and recruits are trained to “treat every victim with respect and empathy, especially in cases of violence.”

“If that’s not happening, we want to know,” he said.

Denby Toci, CFS program director, said a solution would be to create a domestic violence court, similar to what’s done in New York. That would make it easier to keep abusers accountable, she said.

“It’s all in one court, rather than court by court,” Toci said. “Here, it’s broken.”

She also passed out copies of a state Department of Health report issued in 2006 that included recommendations she said fell by the wayside during the recession. Recommendations included creation of a public-private oversight body.

The last half of the meeting was held in private as legislators talked among themselves and with other officials.

Sen. Laura Thielen, D-Oahu, said the intent is to follow up with legislation next session to help deal with the problem statewide.

“Everyone recognizes this is a huge issue,” she said.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, North Hawaii, said she is planning to introduce legislation next year to increase funding for family court.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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