'Til death: How Ohio fails to protect women trying to escape abusive relationships

Posted at 4:17 PM, Dec 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-27 09:31:45-05

“’til Death — Ohio Women at Risk” is the culmination of a year-long News 5 investigation uncovering widespread and systemic failures in Ohio’s criminal justice system, placing women at increased risk for injury or death as a result of domestic violence.

An exclusive News 5 investigation uncovered potentially deadly loopholes in Ohio law regarding protection orders, which are designed to keep victims safe from abusers, and a legal system that allows abusers to obtain guns. We found only a fraction of abusers ever spend a day behind bars.

WATCH our full hour-long investigative special here.

Overview of Findings

Our investigation found Ohio has no state law barring abusers from buying guns. In addition, we found emergency protection orders are not filed in a federal database that allows abusers to legally purchases guns.

Plus, Ohio has no central registry that allows law enforcement officers to quickly identify whether abusers have protection orders on file in courts across the state, which allows abusers to go free instead of getting arrested for violations.


Even more alarming, Ohio has no state law authorizing police to take guns away from abusers.

We also found abusers are intent on exploiting the system.

Over nearly two decades, we found 113,000 abusers and nearly 48,000 more under protection orders, still walked into gun shops around the country and tried to buy deadly weapons.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.

Just as troubling, abusers easily evade enforcement of protection orders because law enforcement fails to prioritize serving abusers.   

Our review of more than two years of data from Cuyahoga County revealed the sheriff’s department failed to serve 61 percent of temporary protection orders.

It’s even worse in the City of Cleveland. We found no one in the city is assigned to serve abusers with temporary protection orders.

An exhaustive review of 700 felony domestic violence cases in Cuyahoga County revealed 1 of every 3 abusers never spent a day behind bars, and 8 out 10 repeatedly abused women.

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Our review also uncovered only 161 abusers actually went to prison and 225 more never spent a day behind bars.

How We Did It

Our News 5 Investigative Team reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, protective orders and crime reports.

We also spoke with victims, abusers and court officials to reveal a broken system in need of change. 


News 5’s year-long investigation has already sparked changes.

Ohio Representative Nikki Antonio introduced a bill to keep guns out of abusers’ hands. In addition, Governor John Kasich signed a law that protects victims’ personal information from abusers, and there are renewed efforts to establish a protection order registry in Ohio.

Ohio has no state law authorizing police to take guns away from abusers.

We took our findings, which underscore the need for significant change in Ohio, to members of the Ohio Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee that focuses on issues like domestic violence, including extending the right to receive a protection order to unmarried couples.

OH Senator John Eklund (R-District 18), who chairs the committee, was concerned when we showed him the systemic barriers that prevent the enforcement of protection order violations – a problem 29 states solved by creating a registry that instantly provides law enforcement information about abusers.

As a result of our investigation, Eklund pledged to take steps that could lead to legislation, the creation of a protection order registry, and further protections for domestic violence victims in Ohio.

Our investigation into deadly domestic violence loopholes isn’t over. We will continue to hold lawmakers accountable, investigate abuse cases and question why the system continues to fail Ohio women.

You can anonymously share your experiences with law enforcement and the court system when it comes to domestic violence, as well as learn how other states enforce protection orders, by visiting our interactive page here.

Has the system failed you? We want to hear about your experiences with law enforcement and the court system when it comes to domestic violence. Share your story using our feedback form here.