Cockerham got a job as an assistant manager at the Quiznos sub shop in Elkin, a town across the Yadkin River, in the next county. The order applied there, too, but on November 2, Ellerbee showed up during her shift. Through the window, she could see him pacing, motioning to her to come outside. Cockerham called the Elkin police, but they didn't have a copy of her protective order—nor could she find hers, which she thought she'd put in the car—and they said there was nothing they could do. Not wanting to endanger the others in the shop, Cockerham went out to meet her husband.

He grabbed her by the shoulder, half dragged her to her Explorer, and demanded that she drive him to the one-story brick house he'd rented in Elkin. Terrified, she got into the car. He kept his hand on the steering wheel the whole time, telling her where to turn. At the house, Cockerham screamed at the top of her lungs for help, but no one responded. Ellerbee opened her car door and tried to pull her out. Cockerham took her chance, reached for the pistol under the seat, and hit him on the forehead, hard, with the butt end. But he snatched the gun, she says, threw it on the pavement, then yanked her from the car. After wrestling her to the ground, he slammed her head against the gravel and dirt. Cockerham heard him call the police from his cell phone.

He had set her up perfectly. She was at his house, with her Explorer, and she had a gun. That day Cockerham was charged with assault, while Ellerbee went free. She spent the weekend in jail, with her hair and bits of gravel matted to a throbbing wound on her forehead.

Monday morning, Tom Langan, an assistant district attorney in Surry County, which has jurisdiction in Elkin, took one look at the wound on Cockerham's forehead and knew right away that police had charged the wrong person. He was furious. "In speaking to her, it became obvious to me that she was the victim," Langan says. "This did not seem like something that would go away unless someone went to prison for a long time. Or someone died."

In 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which set aside more than $300 million last year for training law enforcement and victims' services. And to some extent, the effort has been successful. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of women killed by their boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands dropped by almost 26 percent (from 1,587 to 1,181) between 1976 and 2005, the last year for which there are statistics, while the number of men killed by intimate partners fell by 75 percent (to 329). Nevertheless, the Justice Department today estimates that more than 1.8 million women a year are raped, assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner, and 30 percent of female homicide victims are murdered by one.


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