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Smart Text

Under a pilot program, victims of domestic violence can call for help.



On Monday, October 16th, a text message saved Louise Sowers' life.

She, her two children, and a friend were sitting in a car at a gas station when Sowers' ex-boyfriend, Christopher Deener, pulled up beside them. Angry that Sowers was seeing someone else, Deener ordered Sowers into his Chevrolet Impala.

When she refused, Deener grabbed Sowers and forced her and the kids into his car. Once in the vehicle, Deener began driving toward Sowers' home, threatening to kill her if she didn't stop dating other people.

Sowers secretly sent a text message to her friend, requesting that she call the police and have them send officers to her home.

"The message she sent to her friend was very [helpful] in the police working fast," says Joe Griffin, a Memphis Police Department public information officer.

Deener was arrested and charged with simple assault and domestic violence. A handgun was found under the driver's seat of his car.

Though Sowers owned a cell phone, many domestic-violence victims in Memphis do not. But a new program launched last week will provide cell phones to some of the county's most high-risk victims.

"Many of these people tend to be a transient population, so we can't call their homes, and we lose contact with the victim," says Heidi Verbeek, executive director of the Shelby County Crime Victims Center. "Having a cell phone will ensure that we're able to make sure they're okay."

Traditionally, when victims get protective orders against their abusers, enforcement is difficult. Even when police are called, the abuser usually leaves before officers make the scene.

Last year, while dropping her child off for daycare, Christie Thurmond was shot and killed by her ex-husband, despite a protective order against him. The next day, attorney general Bill Gibbons received a certified letter from Thurmond in which she said she feared for her life.

Domestic violence victims who receive the phones as part of the pilot program are instructed to use them only for emergencies, such as when they come into contact with their abuser, and to check in with the Crime Victims Center twice a week.

For the program, 12 cell phones have been donated by Cricket Communications. Two will be given out each month to domestic-violence victims through April. At that time, the program will be evaluated. If deemed effective in aiding victims and preventing violence, Cricket will donate additional phones.

"Since cell phones are portable, they should be very helpful. A woman may be nowhere near a phone, just like the case where [Sowers] was kidnapped," says Verbeek.

René Parson, area general manager for Cricket, says the text option can be very helpful in times of trouble and suggests victims use the camera feature on their phones to document abuse.

"We'd also suggest victims dial 911 with the cell phones and leave it on," says Verbeek. "Then they could use GPS tracking to determine where the call is coming from."

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