By Chris Eversole
Shelia’s experience with the criminal justice system was not good for many years.
Law enforcement officers sometimes didn’t believe her when they responded to her calls for help with domestic violence.
Despite court protective orders, her ex-husband harassed her, her extended family and her employers through 6,000 derogatory text messages and in other ways.
The system denied her requests to terminate the parental rights of her ex-husband despite his actions that endangered her children.
On Tuesday, Shelia (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) spoke her truth.
She had a receptive audience – members of the criminal justice system as well as pastors and members of civic and social service agencies.
In fact, she was the keynote speaker at an event devoted to making the system work better.
The group met Tuesday and Wednesday at Trinity Baptist Church south of Yukon to develop a strategic plan for a Canadian County family justice center – a one-stop-shop at which victims of domestic violence could receive help from multiple providers.
Listening intently were sheriff and police officials, members of the district attorney’s office, children’s advocates as well as Yukon Chamber CEO Pam Shelton and Mustang City Council Member Brian Grider.
Shelia noted that the system eventually worked for her, starting after she recorded the final incident before she left her former husband – an incident in which she thought he was going to kill her.
With the phone recording as proof, law enforcement officers believed her.
Carolyn Husmann, executive director of ICAN (Intervention & Crisis Advocacy Network) took action to help her on an ongoing basis.
“She held my hand with all the court dates,” Shelia said.
While her parents assisted with both emotional support and money for lawyers and court costs, many women aren’t as fortunate, she said.
Shelia applauded work on the family justice center.
“I hope the next victim has a place to go,” she said.
The family justice center would be modeled after similar centers that have developed over the past quarter century, including three in Oklahoma.
But it would have its own approach based on the uniqueness of the community.
The Alliance for Hope International is helping plan the family justice center through a $70,000 contract.
“This is your vision,” said Casey Gwinn, the company’s president. “You can make a difference in every life you touch.”
The Alliance for Hope will prepare a report on the strategic planning meeting.
“This is a great opportunity for Canadian County,” said Canadian County Associate District Judge Bob Hughey. “No one agency has all the services that victims need.”
County Comm-issioner Dave Anderson applauded the involvement of churches and nonprofits.
“They have a desire to serve people,” he said.