On November 2, 2012, Kate Ranta’s husband, Thomas Maffei, came over to her Coral Springs, Florida apartment unannounced while her father was visiting. When she saw him, Ranta and her father shut the door. Maffei, a retired Air Force officer, pulled out a gun and fired shots through the door. He made his way into the apartment and shot Ranta and her father. One bullet hit her hand and the other went through her left breast, barely missing her heart. Her 4-year-old son witnessed it all. Thankfully, Ranta and her father survived.
Two years prior to the shooting, Ranta tried leaving Maffei. When Maffei picked a fight and tried to leave with their then 2-year-old son, she demanded that he hand over her child. Then, he raised his fist and threatened to punch her. That was the moment she started to realize that his mean streak was not harmless—he had never been physically violent before. Ranta called 911, but Maffei was calm when the officers arrived.
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“I’m running up looking like the ‘hysterical wife who loves drama,’ but in reality, I was highly traumatized,” Ranta recalls.
While the other cops spoke to Maffei, one officer took her back in the house to warn her, saying: “If he didn’t hit you this time, he’ll hit you next time. Go get a restraining order against him tomorrow.”
Ranta took the officer’s advice. But it took two years, multiple visits to the courthouse, and a near-death attack before Ranta was granted a permanent order of protection.
Ranta’s experience is not uncommon. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women in the United States have been abused by an intimate partner. And according to Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski, director of the Economic Security for Survivors Project at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, one of the main reasons survivors don’t leave is because their partners use sinister tactics to trap them into staying.
For 99 percent of domestic violence victims, that includes financial abuse that can leave victims facing economic insecurity and poor credit. Financial abuse is insidious—it gradually takes away a survivor’s agency by controlling their money, hindering their ability to keep a job, and withholding necessities like food and medicine. Despite its prevalence, 78 percent of Americans had not heard about financial abuse as it relates to domestic violence.
Throughout their marriage, Maffei never took out credit cards in his name. He left that to Ranta, telling her she was “doing her part for the family.” He kept all his money separate from hers, so that Ranta built up debt while Maffei accrued savings.
A University of Kentucky study headed by T.K. Logan showed that victims incur an average of $1,114 in property losses six months prior to petitioning for a protective order. That leaves victims extraordinarily cash-strapped, especially since most Americans would not be able to come up with a third of that amount in an emergency. And getting a protective order—much less a new place to live—is not free.
Filing fees for protective orders vary by state, but can cost up to $400. Many courts will waive fees for survivors of domestic violence and stalking—but there are still hidden costs that add up. Survivors must miss work, arrange for child care, and find a way to get to the courthouse. This can require multiple attempts, especially if a judge is unable or unwilling to hear a case at a time that works for a survivor’s schedule. Even if a survivor qualifies for legal aid, it usually doesn’t reduce the costs of child care and transportation. Nor does it make up for the hours they missed from work at a time when they are tucking away savings for divorce and child custody proceedings, which can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000 or more.
“It costs money to be safe,” Logan says. “It takes extraordinary time, effort, and money to get a protective order; there’s taking time off work, the child care costs, travel, legal expenses, and more.”
After Ranta submitted her paperwork, a courthouse employee told her that Broward County’s judge looked at protective orders at the end of the day. She waited about six hours before Judge Michael G. Kaplan granted her a temporary order of protection. Maffei was served later that evening—he was legally mandated to stay away from Ranta. She filed for divorce shortly after.
But again, the costs continued to accumulate. After the judge granted the temporary order, Maffei stopped making payments to the credit cards and the mortgage on their home. He didn’t help with child care costs, which were $1,100 per month. Their house went into foreclosure and her car was repossessed. “Getting the protective order was the first step in financial devastation for me,” Ranta says.
Two weeks later, Ranta had to take time off work to testify in court. In most states, after a victim receives a temporary protective order, they must prove in court that their partner was abusive to be granted a permanent one.
Judge Kaplan refused to grant a permanent order of protection after the hearing, which meant that she’d have to go back to court often to re-file after the temporary ones expired. Before the divorce proceedings even started, Ranta owed $25,000 to her lawyer. Ranta describes herself during that period as “severely depressed and just kind of like a shell of myself.”
Maffei promised that if Ranta came back, he’d use his pension from the Air Force to help with finances. She wanted to believe him. Six weeks later, Ranta said she had to take her son to the hospital; she believes Maffei gave him an Ambien to make him fall asleep.
That’s when Ranta left Maffei for the last time, and filed for another restraining order. Kaplan turned her down three times due to “insufficient evidence.”
In order to stay safe, Ranta had to move with her son several times. One day, while no one was home, Maffei broke into her first apartment, Ranta says. Nothing was stolen, but it was vandalized: There was obscene graffiti in her son’s room, and damage to her car. Even though Ranta felt like she was in danger, the leasing office for the apartment didn’t let her get out of the lease early. She moved, but refused to pay the costs of breaking the lease. To this day, she’s still suffering from a bad mark on her credit. “This guy cost me probably $100,000 from running away from him,” she says.
Ranta wasn’t granted a permanent order of protection and divorce from Maffei until after the shooting. When they went to court that time, Kaplan didn’t even see Ranta, her dad, and her son before he granted all of them permanent protective orders. She believes that Kaplan couldn’t face them because “he knew he had blood on his hands.”
Five years after the shooting, Ranta is finally safe. This April, Maffei was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his attempt to murder Ranta and 60 years in prison for his attempt to murder her father, with no chance of parole.
Jail time will not rectify the economic injustice she’s faced. “He should have to pay for everything—legal fees and all the damages he caused,” she says.
But with the current #MeToo movement drawing attention to harassment, assault, and abuse, Ranta at least feels vindicated that survivors’ testimonies aren’t being dismissed.
“Believe all women when they tell you they aren’t safe,” she says. “You cannot co-parent with an abuser.”