Family, experts talk about domestic violence during COVID-19

Michelle Dorsey stands with her three sons, from left, Logan, Cameron and Carson. Courtesy photo.
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Michelle Dorsey was planning to file for a restraining order against her estranged husband before he allegedly stabbed her to death earlier this month in the Saugus home she shared with her three sons, according to investigators and family members. 

“I believe she was pushing forward on (the restraining order), but had to wait until next week due to COVID regulations and (the courts) being backed up,” said Danielle Quemuel, a lifelong friend of the family and their spokeswoman. “No one really knows why it wasn’t pushed through.” 

Dorsey had previously filed for a temporary restraining order against James “Matthew” Dorsey, who’s accused of committing her murder, which she requested when she sought legal separation from her spouse almost two years ago, according to court records. 

Michelle Dorsey reportedly filed for the temporary restraining order in 2019. However, paperwork for a new order had been filled out but not yet submitted the courts, according to investigators. 

Investigators are looking into any potential role the couple’s past, including any domestic violence allegations, might have played in Michelle Dorsey’s murder. So far, they’ve refused to comment on any past investigations into such allegations, or the most recent status of the couple’s court proceedings.  

While investigators try to prove the allegations against James Dorsey, 41, a local domestic violence advocate noted the system put in place to address domestic violence — which is meant to protect victims from abusers — was overburdened before the COVID-19 pandemic created an enormous backlog of court cases.  

“Ultimately, before, you could just walk into court if you felt that you were in danger, and you came early in the morning, you would be able to file for a restraining order that same day,” said Krysta Warfield, program director of the domestic violence program at the SCV Child & Family Center. “That’s not typically happening now.”  

A host of reasons can contribute to the lack of a restraining order being put in place, Warfield said, from lack of evidence to not knowing how to fill out the paperwork to there being an absence of police reports.  

However, even when the orders are filed and granted, there’s no guarantee of safety for the victim, she notes. 

“Ultimately, like people say, this is just a piece of paper,” said Warfield. “There are a majority of people (70%) who file for restraining orders that stand by the restrictions and guidelines of the orders, and say that they have found it to be successful.” 

Warfield said other tools can be successful in impeding domestic violence, in addition to or instead of a restraining order, such as using a confidential shelter that exercises discretion for you and your family; or coming up with code words that can be used either audibly or over text; asking a third party to come stay with you; or simply realizing that domestic violence strikes without prejudice.  

Warfield, citing the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, and intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.  

“It’s very important you know there’s a lot of stigmas that go in with domestic violence, such as ‘it doesn’t happen here,’ ‘it only happens to a certain kind of people,’ ‘if you’re not safe, file a restraining order,’ ‘if you’re being abused, just leave,’” said Warfield, who later added, “This is a prime example that domestic violence happens to all — it is not prejudiced.” 

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