More than a decade after she was shot twice by her boyfriend at point-blank range, a domestic violence survivor is joining forces with local lawmaker to close the legal loophole that left her unprotected.
Diona Clark had been dating her boyfriend, Larry Belcher, for under a year when she said she started fearing for her safety in the fall of 2005. Clark said alcohol abuse led to verbal abuse and she was worried that their relationship issues were going to escalate.
She was living in her own apartment in Columbus but her family pushed her to get a protection order.
Clark was uncomfortable with the idea of applying and she would later learn that she didn’t qualify because they were not a co-habitating couple.
One night, Belcher came to Clark’s home with a gun and held her hostage, telling her he was going to commit suicide.
“I went to go grab for the doorknob and that's when he raised the gun up towards me and he pulled the trigger,” she said.
Clark was struck twice at point-blank range. One bullet tore through her chest and another ripped through her wrist.
“I felt it explode inside of me,” said Clark, who was told by doctors that she was lucky she survived.
More then a decade since the accident, she was shocked to learn that the victims in her situation are often still unable to get protection orders.
Ohio State Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-34) told has been working on the issue for years.
Sykes explained that currently, Ohio’s domestic violence laws apply to people who abuse a family or household member in very specific relationships.
Those relationships include a spouse, a person living as a spouse, or a former spouse of the abuser, a parent, foster parent, or child of the abuser, or another person related by blood or marriage to the abuser, a parent or a child of a spouse, person living as a spouse, or former spouse of the offender, or another person related by blood or marriage to a spouse, person living as a spouse, or former spouse of the abuser.
She said Ohio and Georgia are the only states where the law does not specifically apply to couples who are dating and living separately.
“We have left this loophole wide open,” Sykes said. “We’re essentially telling people to subject themselves to more violence in order for us to protect you as a state.”
Sykes introduced House Bill 1 earlier this month, which would extend the domestic violence law to apply to victims of dating violence.
An identical bill, HB 392, passed the House unanimously in the spring of 2016 but failed to become law.
“I hope that this time we’re going to see this bill to the finish line,” she said.
Victims like Diona Clark are joining Sykes to push for its passage.
“I think that this bill will give those survivors the empowerment to be able to step up and say I’ve had enough and now that I have the law backing me up I can move forward,” Clark said.
The bill had its first hearing on Wednesday and Sykes is hopeful that it will be voted out of committee next week.
“’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.