SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — One in four women in the United States has been the victim of domestic violence. Every year, one in three murdered women is killed by a current or former partner. 

In South Dakota, over 150 thousand people will experience violence from their intimate partners. Protection orders and no contact orders are designed to protect victims from being targeted again. But that isn’t the reality of all domestic abuse cases.

Randi Gerlach

On March 1st, the body of 20-year-old Randi Gerlach was found in a southern Sioux Falls home. Shortly after, authorities arrested 22-year-old Jackson Phillips and charged him with domestic assault. Court papers say he choked Gerlach. He was also charged with violating a no contact order.

The young mother’s family is frustrated that that order didn’t stop Phillips.

“We didn’t see it coming. The sign was there, the restraining order was done,” Jody Gerlach, Randi’s dad, said.

“Those don’t really mean anything. Those don’t protect you. It’s just a piece of paper,” Kara Riedel, Randi’s mom, said.

A frustration they’ve heard from others who have reached out in support.

“A lot of people said that protection orders out here don’t do anything,” Kiley Riedel, Randi Gerlach’s sister, said.

Randi Gerlach

Phillips was later re-charged with two counts of murder and two counts of manslaughter. Since her death, Gerlach’s family has been trying to raise awareness about domestic violence.

“There’s not really a lot that can currently be done before something very bad happens. And that tends to lead to things like happened in Randi’s case. I don’t know what the answer to that is but we need to be looking for something better,” Zoey Goetzinger, Randi Gerlach’s sister said.

Phillips had a no contact order issued by the judge as part of his bond from a different domestic abuse charge in December 2021. Court papers say he strangled Gerlach in that case as well.

“Unfortunately, protection orders are not automatically going to stop the abuse or stop that person from violating that, but it is a tool,” Amy Carter, the Operations Director at Children’s Inn, said.

Carter has also heard of the frustrations of victims and their families have when protection orders and no contact orders are violated.

“That cycle of domestic violence is so powerful and so, unfortunately, yes, there are cases where a victim gets out of that situation, applies for a protection order, gets a no contact order temporarily or protection order temporarily while waiting for the court process,” Carter said. “And during that time that abuser starts to use all the tactics that we know through power and control — the manipulation, the threats, the isolation — all of the things that then oftentimes draw that victim back into that situation.”

She says protection orders and no contact orders are just one piece in the puzzle of keeping victims safe.

Randi Gerlach

“So, when we talk about safety planning, it’s things like, okay, maybe can you take a different route to work if your abuser knows your route to work,” Carter said. “Or is it possible to have a different shift at work so that that changes up your routine a little bit? When you’re in your home, make sure the doors are locked all of the time. Can you exit your vehicle in your garage and go straight into your home? You know, lots of different things that, when you’re in crisis and when you really have just been living in chaos and fear for so long, it’s hard to think clearly sometimes. So again, that’s where advocates can step in and just help point out some of those things and just help really individualize how to keep that person safe.”

Believing victims and listening to their stories is also important.

“So often, victims are hearing the exact opposite of that, that nobody cares about them, that they’re worthless and things like that,” Carter said. “And so for somebody to be able to sit across from them and say, ‘you do matter, I’m worried about you, there are ways that we can help and I want to be there by your side to do that.’ That can go a long way for somebody.”

Randi Gerlach’s family doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to helping domestic violence victims. But raising awareness has been an important factor in their grieving process.

“Randi would advocate. She would want us to advocate to make sure that we bring awareness to this. How will we make a change,” Kara Riedel said.

“We hope for a better future for everybody else,” Jody Gerlach said.

Phillips pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. His jury trial is scheduled for July.

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