Victim advocate believes NC needs tougher laws for violating restraining orders

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- If you're a victim of domestic violence, the last thing you should have to worry about is a legal process and a system that isn't working in your favor.

"Victims of domestic violence need somewhere to go to help them navigate the system," said Victim Advocacy Coordinator at the Family Service of the Piedmont Meredith Hooks.

That's why thousands in Guilford County go to the center in Greensboro. As Hooks describes it, people want someone to be on their side through the convoluted court system.

"They feel like it's not being taken seriously," she said.

Hooks sees that frustration from victims all the time. They go through the work of filing a restraining order, or a 50-B in North Carolina, and it doesn't stop the domestic violence.

"We tell our clients it's still a piece of paper," Hooks said. "You got to [have a] safety plan. There's always those who thumb their nose at the law in general."

She says it's also hard to prove violations because prosecutors need concrete proof in a court of law. Often times she'll hear stories of victims being called from a blocked number, knowing it's "him" or see an unfamiliar car repeatedly around their home.

In a little over a week, FOX8 has reported on a handful of stories where criminals have violated these orders. In Burlington, a man was accused of threatening a woman with a gun in her home. In High Point, a man was accused of shooting a woman in the stomach and the head. And last Friday, the man who was accidentally released from custody due to a clerk's mistake was facing a misdemeanor restraining order violation.

Hooks says part of the problem of why people keep violating these orders is the law in North Carolina. Because it's a misdemeanor, violating a protective order can land you up to 60 days behind bars for a first-time offender and up to 150 days at the highest level of a repeat offender.

If you commit a felony while violating the restraining order, it's bumped up a level. But Hooks believes the law needs more teeth for a stand-alone violation.

In Georgia, violating a restraining order is considered aggravated stalking, which is a felony in itself that could lead from one to 10 years in prison.

But protective orders aren't the only weapon victims have at their disposal to stop domestic violence.

"There is help available, protective order is just one of the tools in our toolbox. So we have many options, there is support," Hooks said. "You can do this."

FOX8 has reached out to lawmakers and the governor's office to see what the latest efforts have been to deter people from violating restraining orders in our state but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Another factor making it difficult for victims to even obtain one of these orders in Guilford County is a unique rule for the time people can file. Courts in the county only accept these files between 8 a.m. and noon on weekdays, which victims call "extremely inconvenient."

If you're looking for help in a domestic violence case, the Family Service of the Piedmont has a 24-hour hotline (336) 273-7273.