“I Don’t Want to Die”

By Linda Dooley Johanek, Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center, CEO

*This post includes accounts of sexual assault and violence that may be triggering to some readers.*

“NO”, said the court; “You cannot have a protection order”. These are the words that 18-year old Johanna heard from the judge when she asked for a protection order from her abusive ex-boyfriend, after he broke into her house and raped her at knifepoint. Why on earth, would the court deny her request after such an invasive trauma? The answer: The state of Ohio did not allow protection orders against juveniles. Her ex was only 17 years old.

What happened next, was horrific. Her ex was released from jail, began stalking her, and then snuck up on her one night and shot her in the face at close range, in her driveway. Shocked, bleeding, and in pain, she fell into her car. Rushed to the hospital, a team of doctors descended upon her and took quick action. The last thing she said before surgery was, “I don’t want to die.”

 A Turning Point

Johanna survived but her life was changed forever. After a dozen surgeries, Johanna decided to make it her mission to prevent other teens from experiencing this same tragedy. She became an Advocate and Teen Educator for the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) in Cleveland, OH, giving presentations to teens in schools. She was driven! Her goal was to educate teens on the signs of abuse, know the resources, and reduce teen dating violence. Nothing would stop her from changing other people’s lives.

I remember talking with her about pending legislation that would allow protection orders against juveniles and she immediately perked up, wanting to help. I prepared her for testimony, drove to the capitol in Columbus and worked in partnership with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) who scheduled meetings with legislators. She told her story to individual politicians. Her face, disfigured from the shooting, told the story in and of itself. She also testified in a hearing on the bill, and then she waited, hoping the legislators would do the right thing. 

Sweet Victory

When the news was finally reported, we were ecstatic. After years of this bill pending, IT PASSED! What a sweet victory! Johanna, DVCAC, ODVN, and the entire state celebrated the bill becoming law. And I must say, Johanna was the influencing factor – her story, her voice, and most importantly, her courage! It truly was a day to celebrate! Today, ALL teenagers in Ohio can get a protection order against a juvenile, when warranted! Thanks to Johanna…

Call To Action

DVCAC was recognized by the national organization, Break The Cycle, for being a Trailblazer by helping to change the law, and for excellence and innovation in working with teen dating violence. Please visit our website at www.dvcac.org to see a copy of Ohio’s law, as a potential template. The Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center wants to ensure every state enacts a similar law, and we are asking for your help. Our website also has a link to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find the contact information for your state coalition; and to learn if your state has enacted a law to keep victims safe against juvenile domestic violence offenders. If this law is not in effect, please call, email, send letters, and lobby legislators. No matter what state we live in, we can all mobilize our communities against teen dating violence, and in favor of protection orders. Every person deserves to be safe. Let’s make it happen!