Ohio domestic violence survivor fights for more legal protections

Diona Clark at the signing of House Bill 1
Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 23:15:41-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The majority of domestic violence survivors in the state reported feeling satisfied with law enforcement and legal services, according to a new survey conducted by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN). However, bias among race played a huge factor in the treatment the victims receive.

The day Diona Clark's ex boyfriend came to pick up dinner plates from her was a moment that altered her life forever, but it also impacted Ohio legislation.

She had been dating her boyfriend for under a year when she said she started fearing for her safety in the fall of 2005. Alcohol abuse led to verbal abuse and she was worried that their relationship issues were going to escalate so she broke up with him.

When he got to her house, an argument ensued. He brought out a gun and held her hostage, telling her he was going to commit suicide. She tried to run, but it was too late.

"He pointed it at me and he shot me twice at point-blank range," Clark said.

One shot to the chest, the other to what should have been her head. She instinctively put her arms up to protect her head, and the bullet tore through her wrist.

"I didn't want my mother to see me in a casket," she added.

Doctors told her she shouldn't have survived, but she did.

Unfortunately, her story continues to happen to others in the state.

In the ODVN report, survivors who are Black, other women of color, LGBTQ+, immigrants and deaf persons overwhelmingly reported feeling underserved and not being taken seriously by law enforcement.

Black and LGBTQ+ survivors feared violence from the police about one third of the time, the study said. Almost twice as many Black survivors as white survivors cited their "fear of violence from the police as the reason they were unlikely to call the police in in the future."

"It was dehumanizing, the experience with law enforcement," Clark said. "However, I think because of my experience, things are changing."

It was more than just the reactions by law enforcement that made Clark feel that way. She said the courts originally failed her when her case was dropped due to a legal technicality. But she worked with legislators to pass House Bill 1 — expanding the scope of abuse. It passed in 2018.

But there are still loopholes to close, she added.

"We are the last state in the country to not have a standalone strangulation offense on the books," Micaela Deming, policy director and staff attorney of ODVN, said. "We are the last ones to not recognize how lethal strangulation is and to name that as a separate offense in our criminal code."

A victim has a 1,000% percent higher chance of homicide after strangulation. That is 9.9x.

Now Clark is focusing on a new bill to pass, House Bill 3, or Aisha's Law. It is sponsored by Cleveland Heights Representative Janine Boyd.

Aisha Fraser was a beloved Shaker Heights teacher who was killed by her ex-husband. Her abuser was previously charged for domestic violence and spent time in prison.

House Bill 3 would expand the definition of domestic violence to include strangulation and require more in-depth rules and procedures for law enforcement officers. One of these is the implementation of a “lethality assessment” when responding to a domestic violence situation.

Clark and Deming said that victims often feel unheard. With the current laws in place, they don't feel like they will be helped, they added.

"It’s definitely giving those survivors and those victims the strength to be able to say, 'I need to go down to court now, I need to act now and not wait.'" Clark added.

She said she now knows why she survived. It is because her purpose is to help people who were in her shoes a decade ago.

Aisha's Law has passed in the House and should be introduced in the Senate soon.

RELATED: ‘Aisha’s Law’ on domestic violence passed out of committee

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