The tragic story of the death of Kay Letson Stevens, who a jury ruled Wednesday was killed by her ex-husband Roger Stevens the day after their divorce was finalized, is a wake-up call for anyone who fails to take domestic abuse seriously.

A year before her death, Kay Stevens had petitioned the court for a protection-from-abuse order, which was denied. Evidence at trial indicated that she was the target of numerous threats before those threats turned into deadly action.

Mental health experts tell us that all the usual stressors in domestic relationships are exacerbated by the pandemic that is now raging locally and in much of the nation. Social isolation limits a woman’s ability to reach out for help, especially if she is isolated with her abuser. Financial problems stemming from the pandemic and from efforts to control it create tensions. Typical social outlets for the abuser are less feasible, leaving the abused more vulnerable.

It is a rare day since the pandemic began when at least one protection-from-abuse petition is not filed in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone courts, and usually several are filed. From the distressingly large number of examples comes one filed in Morgan County this week.

A jealous man, according to the petition, has been threatening his wife. “He told me he’d put a bullet in (another man’s) head, have his head laying in my lap, and then put a bullet in my head as well,” the wife wrote in her petition.

Or another, also this week, also in Morgan County. The husband allegedly “cornered me in my minivan with our son in the car so we could not leave. He choked me and hit me. … (He) harassed and threatened all my friends who have tried to help me and took a 2-by-4 to my van and broke headlights and window in front of our son. … I am scared to death and I just want protection for my son and myself.”

These are just two of the hundreds of protection-from-abuse petitions filed locally this year. Each petition tells a horror story of a woman who believes her life is at risk and is stymied in her attempt to escape her abuser. And it may well be that these women are unique in that they were able to take their abusers to court and have at least some hope of receiving protection.

Now more than ever, it is essential that friends check in on those who may be a target of domestic violence. It is critical that courts and police respond quickly and aggressively to protect those who allege abuse. No doubt some such claims are spurious, an effort to get an advantage in a custody dispute or financial settlement, but many ring true.

Women who are subject to abuse must also find the courage to escape. Call 911 if you are at immediate risk. Numerous other resources are also available, including Crisis Services of North Alabama (csna.org) at 256-716-1000 or its text line at 256-722-8219. A national crisis line available 24/7 can be reached by texting 741741.

The lesson of the murder of Kay Letson Stevens is that domestic violence is real, and that it too often ends in tragedy.

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