A teen girl asked a judge for a protection order, hoping it would keep her ex-boyfriend from abusing her. The judge’s response: No. Everyone needs to see what she looked like after her ex’s attack.
Seventeen-year-old Sophia Putney-Wilcox of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was hospitalized at Bronson Methodist Hospital after her 18-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adam Shigwadja, broke into her home, assaulted her, and set her room on fire on a Monday night. She was left with a row of stitches along the top of her head, but she’s grateful for the scar.
It’s a reminder that someone tried to protect her when our court system didn’t. Pointing to the mended wound on her shaved head as she recovered in the hospital from her injuries, the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School senior admitted, “If it wasn’t for this scar, I wouldn’t be here.”
Sophia first met Adam Shigwadja when she was a 14-year-old freshman. She was happy when they started dating. “I was really insecure. And, he was really popular, and a lot of people liked him, so I felt really cool,” she recalled. “I did whatever I could to stay with him.”
That changed when she learned Shigwadja had been keeping a secret from her. He was cheating on her. Sophia decided to break off their relationship after dating for 17 months. But, Sophia had been hiding a secret of her own — one she kept from everyone.
“I felt very special at first,” Sophia said, recalling the heartwarming moments she experienced with Shigwadja. “He used to come outside my window and draw a heart,” she added. But, over time, her sweet and affectionate boyfriend became controlling and abusive.
“He didn’t want me to hang out with my friends. He wanted me all to himself. He’d go through my phone,” Sophia said. “He told me that nobody would ever love me,” she added. “I honestly thought, ‘What did I do to make him this upset?'”
Sophia was fearful of Shigwadja, and he would prove she had good reason to be. “He held a knife to my throat and was trying to get me to go outside. I was in my underwear and a T-shirt,” Sophia said. The police were called, and Shigwadja was arrested. He was given a $10,000 cash/surety bond and ordered to stay away from Sophia.
Sophia wanted additional protection. She sought a personal protection order, but Circuit Judge Alexander C. Lipsey denied her request the same day it was filed, court records show. “I wanted as much protection as possible,” Sophia said. Sadly, she didn’t get it from the courts. And, as she pointed out, “The conditional bond didn’t work.”
Even Shigwadja’s mother, Susan Thomas, saw a problem and feared trouble was on the horizon. “My husband and I spoke with Adam, and he said, ‘You know, this girl is going to get you in trouble. She’s either gonna get you killed or put in jail if you stay with her. This drama has to stop,'” Susan recalled.
Her son didn’t listen. “It was the following evening that he went over to her house,” Susan added. Shigwadja broke into Sophia’s family home again, assaulted her with a knife, cutting her across her chest, and set her bedroom on fire.
Luckily, Sophia’s brother, Kiely, heard the commotion and was determined to defend his sister. After entering her room with a baseball bat, he began hitting Shigwadja, who eventually escaped through a window. During the scuffle, Sophia was accidentally hit in the head with the bat.
Sophia was left with the scar she pointed to as a reminder that she’s lucky to be alive. Adam Shigwadja was arrested the next day with police seeking attempted murder, arson, home invasion, unlawful imprisonment, and violation of conditional bond charges. But, Circuit Judge Pamela Lightvoet ruled that Shigwadja did not intend to kill Sophia.
Adam Shigwadja didn’t get off scot-free, however. Judge Lightvoet found him guilty of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, first-degree home invasion, and second-degree arson. And, she dished out a fitting sentence for the man she said was “very disturbed,” “out of control,” and needed “to be put away for a very long time.”
Calling Shigwadja a danger to society as a second-time habitual offender, the judge ordered him to serve consecutive sentences for each charge, putting him in prison for a minimum of almost 30 years before he’s eligible for parole. But, he could serve as many as 60 years behind bars.
Knowing other girls are in unhealthy relationships like she was, Sophia Putney-Wilcox is encouraging them to contact their local Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which is where she received help. She hopes sharing her story will encourage those suffering domestic abuse to seek help, something she didn’t initially do.
Sophia’s mother, Kristin Putney, admits that, although she is close with her daughter, she wasn’t told about the abuse until it was too late. “As a parent, I believed her when she said nothing was happening. Why are people so afraid about speaking up?” Kristin asked.
Sophia answered, saying fear of the abuser keeps some women silent. “All they have is the abuser making threats. Nobody will want you, nobody will believe you,” she explained. “And, you won’t speak out until you decide that you are better than that and learn to really love yourself,” which is exactly what she has done.
Although the situation has made it difficult to sleep with the lights off and has made her cautious around men, Sophia said it has also made her a stronger person.
“I was really insecure about myself, down, depressed,” Sophia admitted. “But now that all of this is finally coming to an end, I feel a lot more confident in myself. I can find better people in my life. If I meet a guy, I will know when he treats me right.”
As for others who are still stuck in situations of abuse, Sophia has a message for them: “I want to let girls know that they don’t have to go through it. You deserve so much better,” she said. “Every single person deserves better than what I went through and a lot of women are going through.”