A former victim of domestic violence is working on a new tool to better protect people.
Paula Walters is the founder of the Standing Courageous group which wants the state to establish a violent offenders registry. Her attack was the germination of the idea, but the abduction and murder of Sierah Joughin this past summer put the issue in the forefront.
Walters formed Standing Courageous Oct. 1 2015, with a violent offenders registry as one of the goals. She and others began approaching Ohio legislators with their proposal in January and by March had enlisted state Sen. Cliff Hite.
“We had a big team working on this beforehand and Sierah’s death made people realize and say this is a good idea and we do need something like this,” Walters said. “And that’s why it’s been so public.”
Walters petitioned other legislators and got Sen. Edna Brown to join the cause. Hite got Sen. Randy Gardner to get on board.
Things got moving with the help of State Rep. Teresa Fedor who has been “steamrolling” the activity of the group and helped immensely with the “Ce the Light” event Dec. 1 in Fulton County. “Ce” was Sierah’s nickname.
The group also plans fundraisers called “Unmask the Night.”
“We decided to honor her in a positive way,” Walters said. “We changed ‘See the Light,’ to ‘Ce the light.’”
The purpose of the event was to raise community awareness of the group and what it is attempting to do. The group wants to launch a community awareness program every Oct. 1 and with the memory of Sierah’s death still strong, they went with the idea of telling people that violent offenders live in neighborhoods.
“People relate to her story,” Walters said. “People need to realize there is a lot more crime that’s hidden.
“It makes people want to know now.”
Walters has done research into violent crimes in northwest Ohio and was shocked to learn about the prevalence of human trafficking, domestic violence, menacing and stalking.
“We just got the numbers from the FBI that the normal stalking for a domestic partner is 1.8 years,” Walters said. “We are just gathering lots of data, letting the community know.”
The numbers tell Walters that a lot of social change has to happen first before a new registry becomes reality.
Those changes include not calling a 13-year-old victim of human trafficking a prostitute or asking a domestic violence victim “why didn’t you leave.” And people shouldn’t tell a rape victim “they should not have been drinking like that” or “wearing a skirt like that,” she said.
“We need to change the justification for that,” Walters said. “Along with the legal and political change that’s being done, there needs to be social change.”
“Our main focus is bridging the gap between the community and victim support.”
Walters’ passion comes from personal experience. She was a victim of assault June 25, 2006, and dealt with patronizing attitudes from the police investigating the attack.
“I was asked by a cop ‘are you sure you only had two beers?’” Walters said. “Like my alcohol consumption somehow related to him trying to strangle or kill me.”
From her perspective, that should never have been an issue. Even if she had been driving that question is not acceptable, she said.
Those attitudes are changing thanks to a seminar taught to local law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics by Walters and Perrysburg Township Police Detective Todd Curtis. Curtis also shares information on the matter from the Attorney General’s office which states officers are not to ask questions like that, she said,
Curtis is on the group’s board of directors.
“Our first program was first responder training,” Walters said. “We opened up my whole case and he uses it in his training.
“Did it matter if she had two beers?”
What mattered was she had thumb and fingerprints around her neck, Walter said.
Her case began as domestic violence and assault charge before being upgraded to felonious assault due to the level of injuries she had. It was later pleaded down to attempted menacing because of bad policies and documentation.
In the aftermath, she now helps hospitals rewrite policies for victims.
Right after the attack, she fell into the serial behavior of abuse victims. The attack breaks down the victim’s self-confidence and leaves them vulnerable.
“I dated a lot of abusers,” Walters said. “You seem to attract those people.
“I was a horrible binge drinker for five years.”
Her life turned around as she began to focus more on her career. She is now an EMS instructor and went to the World EMS Expo in Las Vegas where she heard a motivational speaker talk on “Life’s Choices: You can Be a Thermostat or Thermometer.”
The powerful talk changed the direction of her life. The message was clear.
“If you see something bad in EMS and we are not representing the patients right, do something about it and change it.”
She came back and two weeks later and filled out the paperwork to form Standing Courageous.
Her medical director helped her with her first presentation to make sure the EMS material was correct. She now trains others to handle victims differently than she was. In her work, she is often on the scene before the police or fire department arrives, so she has to be smart.
“In our first year we have trained over 600 first responders and medical personnel,” Walters said.
She shows them how to handle strangulation and domestic violence. It’s important because if the personnel are going to be taking pictures and documenting the scene, they need to do it right, she said.
“If we are not documenting it and doing our part, the cops and prosecutors and judges can’t do their part,” Walter said.
The crimes that would get a person on this registry do not involve sex, those end up on the sex offenders list. The types of crimes are felony 1, 2, or 3: human trafficking, abduction, kidnapping, permitting child abuse, felony domestic violence (two prior convictions), felonious assault, murder and attempted murder.
These are not simple assault cases like a bar fight, these are the cases where the suspect did not do something by accident.
“You don’t accidentally sell a 13-year-old girl, you don’t accidentally get two domestic violent convictions under your belt,” Walters said.
The battle will still focus on Columbus where the group will lobby legislators for support. Walters envisions the day she can take 100,000 people to the capital and let the House and Senate know 80 percent of the state supports the registry.
“It’s a non-partisan issue,” Walters said. “It can happen to anyone – there are male victims.
“There will be another Sierah if we don’t do something.”
In the meantime the group will have an event Jan. 11 at Evergreen High School to promote the coalition. The event will run 7-9 p.m., and will be the first of its kind for the group. Special guests will be the Bikers Against the Abuse and Neglect of Children (BAANC) who will share information about sexual predators and how to be more aware of them.
James Pruitt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org