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Family Court Judge: ‘Machetes Seem To Be the Thing These Days’

September 18, 1992

CUTLER RIDGE, Fla. (AP) _ A doubling of the number of violent abuse cases since Hurricane Andrew has prompted officials to open a special domestic court and a new shelter for battered women.

Before Andrew, the domestic courts dealt with 35 to 40 emergency cases a day. ″Now we’re in the 70s,″ and there is no sign of a letup, acting Circuit Judge Linda Dakis said Thursday.

″I had a woman yesterday with a chunk taken out of her shoulder by a machete,″ she said. ″Machetes seem to be the thing these days.″

And the task of serving emergency injunctions has fallen on a few overworked police, many of whom lost their own homes in the Aug. 24 storm.

The domestic court that opened Thursday is sharing a county building with the Army, which commandeered part of it as a headquarters for troops helping to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged neighborhood.

Soldiers strolled the corridors past the first group of nervous women to use the domestic court. One young wife spoke softly to an attorney, briefly flashing a smile that showed a gap where her husband punched out her front tooth.

Most of the cases involve men with a history of family violence, often coupled with drinking, said Leonel Mesa, a domestic violence counselor.

The violence is also directed against children, many of whom were traumatized by the hurricane and have been acting up at home. Newly homeless fathers and boyfriends, already pushed to the edge, react violently.

Mesa said the hurricane not only increased stress on men, it made women and their children more vulnerable.

″The house is devastated, their defenses are low, they feel that regardless of the past, they have to rebuild,″ he said.

Too often their optimisim is unfounded.

One of the most serious problems, Mesa said, is the lack of space to separate battling spouses. Not only have their homes been destroyed, but so have those of their friends and relatives.

On Thursday, the domestic violence unit opened a new shelter for battered women in Homestead, the first available in the region since the hurricane, he said.

When the victims come to court, Dakis and other domestic judges can issue an emergency injunction that immediately winds up on the desk of Sgt. James Dautel.

Before Andrew, he had seven officers plus a pool of deputies to serve notices to abusive spouses. Now he has four deputies, all working 12- and 14- hour shifts. Some of them - including Dautel - lost their own homes in the hurricane.

The work is harder now, he said. One day after the hurricane his office received 160 emergency service notices. And finding the suspect is more difficult.

″We see an address on an injunction, but when we get there, the house is gone,″ Dautel said. ″We try to call the domestic violence office to get a lead on them, but there are no telephones nearby.″

Even so, the unit successfully serves about 40 percent of the injunctions, compared to 50 percent or 60 percent before Andrew.

Once an injunction is served, a judge can send an abusive spouse to jail for up to six months if the victim is harassed again. She also can refer the spouse to criminal court for prosecution on the original assault charges.

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