Thousands of domestic violence victims may not be getting the help they need. A program designed to protect women from their abusers is rarely being court ordered.
Eye-opening statistics from the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force found in 81 percent of domestic violence situations that end in murder, the abuser was never forced to take a batterers' intervention program. In Pinellas County, judges only order 11 percent of violent convicts to take the 26 week program because it’s more expensive and time consuming for the offender.
"It is a longer program and it costs the abuser more than an 8-hour domestic violence program, but it works," explained David Swindall, who heads up a batterers' intervention program in Pinellas Park.
The statistics are heartbreaking for family of Nellie Denise Collins, who was charged with murdering his girlfriend Tuesday night at the home they shared in Pinellas Park.
Ruth Quinlan, Collin's sister choked back tears as she said, “I’m going to miss how much she cared for me.”
Overcome by emotion, Quinlan can’t stop thinking about her last conversation with her sister. “She was afraid for her life that he was going to kill her.”
The man behind the trigger, Thomas Lee Owens, was Collin’s boyfriend of 28 years. He admitted to officers he shot Collins because “she was trying to be the boss.”
Owens has a long history of violence, but he never once was sentenced to a batterers' intervention program.
Bobbie Hodson, with the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force, wonders if the program could have prevented the crime. “We are missing opportunities every day. Our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers are suffering needlessly. We could be doing more.”
Samantha Cruise credits the batterers' intervention course with saving her life and her relationship. “I never thought we would be able to work it out," she said tearfully referring to her fiance Mike. Mike hit Cruise so hard that she got a concussion, and a judge forced Mike to take batterers' intervention. “After the counciling, it was kind of like he was a different person, a better version of himself,” Cruise said with a smile.
The program helped Mike so much, that he and Cruise are engaged, for a second time. “Thanks to the tools we were given, he was given, we’ve been able to overcome it all,” Cruise explained.
The Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force is hoping Cruise and Collin’s stories, with drastically different outcomes, will convince judges to put more abusers into the batterers' intervention program, instead of simply assigning them to the quicker fix anger management course.
That way, fewer families, like Collins, may have to wonder what would’ve happened if someone stepped in, “Because if we would have just done something, it could have turned out differently for for my sister," Quinlan said tearfully.
In 2016, there were 21,169 domestic violence calls placed to police and sheriff offices in Pinellas County alone.