Making variety of informational brochures available and offering assistance with filing for restraining orders among the ways staff seeks to help
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the offices of the Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller every year. And while the staff assists them with a wide variety of requests, the staff will never know how many of those customers also find help for agonizing situations the customers never mention.
With October designated Violence Awareness Month, the Clerk’s Office employees make certain that plenty of resource materials are easily accessible in each of the offices, Clerk Karen Rushing told The Sarasota News Leader in an Oct. 23 telephone interview. Years ago, Rushing added, Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC) in Sarasota was the only nonprofit that could aid domestic violence victims. Today, Rushing added, “More and more providers have various services that might help a person in need of support.”
“Often a victim feels trapped,” Rushing said. “They need help, and they don’t know where to get the help.”
They worry what will become of their children, for example, she said, or where they will live if they leave their homes.
The wide variety of materials answers those questions, Rushing pointed out, “so [people] can make the right choice about safety.”
One other key focus for her and her staff this month, Rushing said, is that “victims should know this is not their fault.”
The brochures enable people to learn, for example, how to help combat abuse of the elderly, the disabled and farm workers, as well as how to assist those who suffer because of cultural, racial or sexual situations.
Among them are materials from the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The Clerk of Court’s offices in Sarasota and Venice have Domestic Violence Awareness Resource Centers, a news release points out, and materials are displayed prominently in other facilities the office staffs, such as the Records Center and the jury pool waiting areas.
“One of the most important things is community awareness,” Rushing said. Domestic violence situations are not going to improve unless victims take the first steps to find help, she added.
“Domestic violence is a pervasive, life-threatening crime that does not discriminate,” the news release stresses. “It occurs regardless of ethnicity, age, religion, culture, or socioeconomic status.”
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, the release adds.
In this state, “Florida’s Department of Children and Families’ Domestic Violence Center (FCADV) says that in 2016, 105,668 crimes of domestic violence were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies, resulting in 63,193 arrests,” the release continues. “During the 2015-2016 fiscal year,” it adds, “advocates offered 412,454 hours of advocacy and counseling services, and received 122,999 hotline calls from individuals seeking emergency services, information, and safety planning assistance”: That is 337 calls a day, the release stresses.
In the 2017 fiscal year, which just ended on Sept. 30, 1,118 domestic violence injunctions for protection were filed at the Clerk’s Office in Sarasota County, the release points out. Of those, 674 — over 60% — were for domestic violence; 194, or 17.3%, were for stalking; and 156, or 13.9%, were for repeat violence.
Assistance with injunctions also offered
Most people also are unaware that they can seek assistance to obtain five different types of restraining orders, which are called injunctions for protection, Rushing pointed out: domestic, dating, repeat, sexual and stalking, which includes cyberstalking. The latter, Rushing added, is one about which the general public has even less knowledge.
“All of it can be very hurtful and damaging,” she said, “and we try to be as helpful as we can.
“A restraining order it is a court order against another person who has been physically violent with you, or has placed you in fear of physical violence,” the news release explains. “The injunction process is a civil court process,” the release adds; it is different from a criminal “no-contact” order.
The Clerk’s Office files for the restraining order on behalf of a victim, the release explains. Staff works with both the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Judge “to ensure the petition is correctly processed,” the release says.
“Injunctions can order the other person to stay away from your home, your car, your place of employment, and can include not contacting you by phone, in writing, or by email,” the release adds. “We recognize this process can be complex, particularly for those who are under enormous stress and fear for their safety,” the release says.
In another change from years past, no fee is charged of anyone filing a restraining order, Rushing added. “I think it’s very important that [one] not be [imposed],” Rushing said. “That should not be an impediment to getting help.”
Making it free to file for a restraining order, she said, “is the right public policy.”
As another visible sign of the importance of community awareness about domestic violence, Clerk’s Office personnel have been wearing purple on Mondays this month. “We do this to honor the victims who lost their lives at the hands of someone they knew, to support education, and to promote the prevention of domestic violence in our community,” a flyer explains.
“We have a great team,” Rushing told the News Leader. “They are really trying,” she said, to let everyone know “we’re here for people who need help.”
For more information, visit SarasotaClerk.com.
For assistance, visit or contact one of these locations:
- Clerk of Court’s Office in the Sarasota Historic Courthouse, located at 2000 Main St. in downtown Sarasota; Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Clerk of Court’s Office in the R.L. Anderson Administration Center, located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice; Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To file a restraining order outside of normal business hours, on a holiday or weekend, contact the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office at 861-5800 or go to the Sheriff’s Office at 2071 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.