Phone calls by jailed abusers intimidate victims

Abuse continues from behind bars as abusers get victims to change stories

ORLANDO, Fla - Orange County has the highest rate of abuse in Florida, yet 90 percent of suspected abuser will never be charged.

Now, the results of a recent study begs the question, do jailhouse phone calls make it possible to get away with abuse?

Those who have listened say the calls are disturbing. Not because there are threats of violence. In fact, it's the opposite. They are taped tales of sorrow and pledges of devotion.

But experts say the abuser's ultimate goal remains the same: power and control.

Sometimes the tactic is obvious -- when the jailed suspect said, "You gotta tell them what you wrote on the police report was a lie."

And even as he explains she might be charged with a crime, the tapes show the abuser angling for his victim's sympathy.

He said, "You know I love you. You might get 5 to 10 days."

To which the victim responded, "Me?"

The abuser then said, "Yeah, but that's better than me getting 60 to 90 days."

And that was quickly followed by a guilt trip.

He said, "Babe, I just did five days in the hole for you, you can't do five days for me?"

(Watch Local 6 reporter Jessica Sanchez's second interview.)

In another call, a batterer actually blamed his victim for the abuse.

He said, "You hit me so f***'n hard mentally, I'm a very fragile person."

Amy Bonomi, the Ohio State professor who studied the tapes, is passionate in her efforts to get victims and prosecutors to understand just how manipulative abusers can be.

"Our results contradict the common belief that the abuser threatens the victim," said Bonomi.

Michelle Latham, the head of the domestic violence unit for the state attorney's office in Orange County, isn't surprised by the study. She lives it.

"You hear it over and over, ‘I told you don't call those people, look what you did, look what you did,' and you hear the victim apologizing," said Latham.

Latham's office shared a transcript from 2010 abuse case.

The Orange County Jail taped over 15 hours of calls between Alexis Hernandez and his wife.

In one tape, Hernandez talks of their future, saying, "When I get out of here, we are going to church, love, and we get a head start."

In another conversation, he talked his wife into changing her story.

She said, "That is what we are going to say. That the kitchen was dark, and I don't know who it was that broke in to steal from us."

"It's getting the victim to stay the course that is the greatest challenge for us and law enforcement," explained State Attorney Lawson Lamar.

And that's why Lamar now requires his people to work a domestic violence case much like they'd work a homicide, a case where the victim cannot testify.

Because, as Carol Wick of Harbor House explains, victims don't really want their abuser to get away with it. They are simply made to believe they have no other choice.

"As long as we're blaming the victim, we'll never hold the batter accountable," said Wick.

This summer, thanks to extra legislative funds, the State Attorney's office actually beefed up the domestic violence unit.

Lamar added three more felony prosecutors and one more victim advocate.

Wick says while that's a good start, there are not enough courtrooms, judges, or enough time to legally prosecute the 5,300 cases brought in by police last year.

If you are in an abusive relationship you can call the Harbor House Hotline at 407-886-2856 or the Florida Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-500-1119.

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