One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

“Not Guilty”: The Barbara Sheehan trial October 7, 2011

Barbara Sheehan killed her husband. That fact has never been debated. Yet, in the month long trial that reached its end just yesterday: Thursday, October 6 there was constant debate. The debate was over Ms. Sheehan’s claim of the battered woman’s defense. Ms. Sheehan’s attorney, Michael Dowd, a lawyer who has defended many battered women, portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a chronically abused wife who shot her husband in self-defense. The prosecution portrayed Ms. Sheehan as a cold, exacting killer who hated her husband, killed him, and then fabricated an abuse narrative to escape justice.

The battered woman’s defense came about in the late 1970s as an extension of the battered woman’s syndrome, coined by Dr. Leonore Walker. Battered woman’s syndrome attempts to explain the mindset and emotional state of women who have suffered long term abuse. It is based on the idea that abuse victims begin to operate in a reality different from non-victims due to the continual violence, fear, and manipulation connected to the abuse.  This syndrome has been more recently linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. Legally, the battered woman’s defense, allows the use of domestic violence related testimony, which otherwise would not play a large bearing in a murder trial.

The problem with using the battered woman’s defense is that the defense still has to maneuver the jury’s opinions and perceptions of victims of domestic violence. The prosecution used a barrage of domestic violence myth based questions in the examination of Barbara Sheehan and her son. They exploited the fact that Barbara stayed with her husband; that there were no police records of violence; that some neighbors and friends described her husband as a “nice guy” who coached youth leagues and threw his daughter a sweet sixteen party. Reading the comment boards on some news sites, this line of prosecution was more effective than one would wish to think.

Abusive relationships are very difficult to get out of. Victims are often in very powerless situations and have very limited options if they want to leave. It is also a fact that lethality drastically increases aftera victim leaves an abusive situation.

And while the prosecution of the Sheehan case was more than willing to portray Raymond Sheehan as a dutiful police officer that helped in the aftermath of 9/11, what was left unsaid were exactly what options the wife of an abusive police officer husband would have by way of reporting the crime.

The surprise by outsiders that Mr. Sheehan was abusive is actually not shocking when coupled with an understanding of domestic violence and abuser methodology. It is to be expected. Abusers tend to be very charming and gregarious when they want to be. Despite popular belief, they do not walk around with an “A” tattooed on their forehead. Only in a society where domestic violence is not as widely understood as the pervasive and serious issue that it is, would a prosecution consider those lines of questioning the best route in swaying a jury.

While the jury in the Sheehan case, acquitted Barbara Sheehan of murder yesterday, the attitudes about the case in newspaper articles and websites, the comments made by those following the case, and the language used in reports of the case, make it very clear that domestic violence is still largely misunderstood.  It is important for the silence around domestic violence to be broken.

You can help debunk the myths and change the attitudes about domestic violence! Become informed. Reading this blog is a great first step! Talk to your friends, coworkers and family members about domestic violence and its effects. Speak up when you hear victim blaming or perpetuation of dv myths. Continue your support of FVPC and its efforts to educate others about domestic violence, and be an ally for those who have/are experiencing it.

 

New DV Laws Have Mixed Results August 15, 2011

New laws intended to better protect victims of domestic violence have been passed in Connecticut and Kentucky.  Connecticut’s state legislature recently passed a bill that implements several critical measures aimed at protecting domestic violence victims from future harm.  The law gets rid of a provision which exempted abusers in dating relationships from being arrested for domestic violence.  Similarly the law allows people of any age, including minors, to get restraining orders against abusive partners.  This is particularly good news for teenagers because until now minors could only obtain protective orders against adults.  Lastly, the new law requires domestic violence offenders, who have been banned from possessing firearms, to surrender their weapons to police or federally-licensed firearms dealers.  Shockingly, before this bill was passed, these abusers had the right to surrender firearms to friends or family members.  This new law represents a major victory for domestic violence programs around the state.  Susan DeLeon, the director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven stated, “This is going to prevent people from dying.  It’s going to save lives.”

Similar efforts are being made in Kentucky.  In late 2009, Amanda Ross was fatally shot by former state legislator Steve Nunn.  Ross had obtained a protective order against Nunn six months before the murder.  Her death prompted House Speaker Greg Stumbo to propose Amanda’s Law.  Stumbo’s initial proposal would have allowed victims to request GPS monitoring of an abuser as soon as a domestic violence charge was filed in civil or criminal court.  However, the State Senate modified the bill.  Under the altered bill, an offender must commit a “substantial violation” of the protective order before GPS tracking can be requested.  A “substantial violation” includes kidnapping, terroristic threatening, or assault.  However, Amanda’s Law has had some positive effects.  The law requires judges, if requested by the petitioner, to review criminal backgrounds of offenders to determine if they have a pattern of violent behavior.  Since the law was enacted one year ago 25,843 background checks have been processed.

It will take more than legislation to end domestic violence, but improvements in the laws are necessary.  What do you think a good domestic violence law looks like?  How can you get involved to implement change?  Leave us a comment!

 

Rihanna’s “Man Down” Video Draws Controversy June 23, 2011

The musical artist Rihanna is no stranger to controversy and her video for her new single “Man Down” is no exception. The video opens up to show Rihanna in a train station shooting a man in the back of the head. It then flashes back to the previous day, where Rihanna is shown dancing in a club with the same man, before she pushes him away and leaves by herself. He comes after her and while the video does not show anything explicitly, it implies that he sexually assaults her.

The “Man Down” video faces criticism from organizations like Parents Television Council, Fox News and Enough is Enough Campaign who claim that the video is overly violent and sends a bad message to young viewers. According to Paul Porter, the co-founder of Industry Ears, the video is “inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song”.  Organizations like these have often criticized musical artists for including violent images in videos or violent lyrics in their songs, but their criticism of Rihanna has other disturbing implications about the tacit acceptance of sexual assault in our society, as well as the right for a woman who has been victimized to express herself artistically, if it includes violence.  From our perspective, there are a few problematic pieces in the backlash concerning Rihanna’s video.

First- criticism tends to focus  on the murder that occurs, while only lightly touching on the sexual assault.  Without the scene that shows the rapist being shot, this video would likely not have become national news for its overt violence.  None of the criticism of the video’s violence mentions Rihanna’s abuser pushing her against a wall, threatening her or throwing her to the ground after assaulting her.  These actions apparently don’t qualify as “too violent”. This disregard is alarming because it appears to reinforce the notion that the media fail to acknowledge violence against women as “real violence”.  “Real” violence is of course murder, like that shown in the video.   But while murder is a horrible crime, it is no less horrible than the physical abuse shown and implied sexual assault in the video.

Another problematic piece of this backlash is the implication that Rihanna is somehow a hypocrite in daring to release a video showing violence when she herself has been a victim of violence.  FOXNews’ Marc Rudov said, “Rihanna gets to have it both ways-accuse Chris Brown of domestic violence and be violent herself-because she’s a woman.”  The Parents Television Council offered similar thoughts, “Rihanna’s personal story…provided a golden opportunity for the singer to send an important message to female victims of rape and domestic violence. Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability.”  These reactions are alarming for a couple of reasons.  First, the implication that Rihanna’s depictions of violence in her video  negates her experiences as a survivor is both cruel and ignorant.  While we do  not condone violence of any kind, it’s important to recognize that IPV/SA survivors deal with the abuse that they have suffered in a variety of ways, often involving the use of art.  Secondly, one could argue that retaliation against a rapist is not the same as the senseless gratuitous violence that many mainstream videos feature.  Rihanna’s video doesn’t attempt to glamorize the killing of her rapist but, in her own words , seeks to warn women, “We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and listen to yo mama! I love you and I care!”

Lastly, the media focus of Rihanna exclusively as a victim of violence, as opposed to a successful recording artist who has sold millions of CDs, they rob her of personal individuality as well as the right to heal from her abuse in the best way for her.  It’s important to remember that victims of IPV/SA can experience PTSD type symptoms during and/or after their abusive relationship.  We also know that victims may also slowly lose their sense of self as a result of the abuse.   Victims deal with their abuse in different ways.  Consider Elizabeth Smart and Rihanna.  Both are “victims” but reconcile their abuse very differently.  Both ways are okay. To help all victims’ healing and to be an effective ally, we must respect the choices that they make towards their own healing.  As Leslie Morgan Steiner at CNN says, “The only way to eradicate rape and violence against women is to respect victims who speak out, even when their stories are filled with rage and revenge fantasies that are, indeed, excruciating to listen to, because they ring true.”

There are no easy answers to the idea of victims of abuse responding with violence.  But by criticizing Rihanna’s video without critically analyzing a culture which condones and perpetuates rape we do a disservice to all survivors.

What do you think about Rhianna’s video?  Leave us your thoughts!

 

Dating Relationship Turned Deadly April 6, 2011

In 2009, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Sheriffs arrested Gary Daniels for the murder of his girlfriend, Charney Watts. Although tragic, the incident outlines how dangerous abusive relationships can be, as well as potential warning signs of abuse.

In 2009, cheerleader and track star Charney Watt was shot to death inside her boyfriend’s home in Mecklenburg County, at the age of 18.

Understandably, family and friends of the victim were stunned at the attack, but even more shocking than the attack itself, was the identity of Watt’s alleged killer–her boyfriend Gary Daniels, age 18.  Daniels  is currently on trial for her murder.

But tragically, Watt’s death was not an isolated incident.  According to a 2007 study conducted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, about 11 percent of teens surveyed said they had been hit, slapped or hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year.  And at the time of her death, Charney was already the second teen in three months to die in a domestic violence incident in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County.  But even beyond Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the number of incidents of partner related violence are staggering:

  • Women ages 16-24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate partner violence –almost 20 out of 1000 women. (DOJ special report: intimate partner violence 5/00)
  • 1 in 5 high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a partner. (http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/286/5/572.abstract)

What is not necessarily included in these statistics are conclusions about frequency of incidents.  Watt had secretly confided in a friend that her relationship with Daniels had become abusive, and that there had been  incidents of violence during the relationship. As with adults, teen victims of partner violence might not report abuse at all, whether out of fears that they will be discredited, judged, or disbelieved, or because of lingering feelings of affection and attachment towards their abusers.  But experts say the partner violence can be particularly hard to detect in adolescents, because teens worry more about the perceptions and judgments of parents and peers, in addition to the possibility of losing their relationship.

There are important warning signs for partner abuse that we can learn from this case, which can apply to domestic violence situations as a whole.  For example:

  • At  Daniels’ trial, a Charlotte police officer testified that just two hours before Watt’s death, he had responded to the scene of an automobile accident in which Watt asked for him to retrieve her phone from Daniels, after it had allegedly been taken from her.  From a DV perspective, this is significant, because  one partner placing limitations on the other’s ability to communicate outside the relationship indicates an uneven balance of  power and control in that relationship. These controlling tactics are often used by abusive partners to limit their partners’ ability to reach out and ask for help, should a situation escalate.  This kind of control might begin subtly (having to explain phone conversations or “report” in contact with friends and acquaintances) , in order to assuage their partner’s jealousy.  And while these requests might seem innocent or “sweet” initially,when one partner is intimidated or made to feel fearful or guilty over the other’s requests/demands, something is not right.
  • Another common “red flag” in this case were the overt threats of physical violence.  Prosecutors have said Daniels had threatened to kill Watt or himself if she ever dared leave him.  This is a common tactic (threats of harm to self or others) used by abusers to coerce compliance from their partners, and can be an indication of elevated lethality in a situation. Even if threats are geared toward the abuser himself/herself,  it can indicate a sign that the abuser no longer believes he or she has anything left to lose.
  • Another important warning sign that we can all watch out for is lack of respect for authority.  During the trial, Officer Norman noted that during his brief encounter with Daniels, the accused was remarkably argumentative and verbally combative towards him.  Disregard for authority may indicate that such abusers are unlikely to consider the potential consequences for their actions, legal or otherwise. This is an important consideration, especially in violent situations, since it can indicate a level of desperation or pattern of poor impulse control/decision-making that can lead to escalating levels of violence and abuse.

Lastly, its important to reiterate that while the above indicators are warning signs, every relationship is unique.

FVPC offers a 24-hour crisis hotline for victims and others to get the information and resources they need to help victims of domestic violence stay safe. If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, or would like more information about DV and how you can help, call our 24-hour hotline at (919) 929-7122, or visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org.

Update 4/6/11: Daniels has been sentenced to life in prison today for the death of Charney Watt.

 

Giving a girl a gun..an end to rape? February 24, 2011

Regis Giles recently appeared at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to discuss her idea for a new mass movement of girls possessing firearms to protect themselves from potential rapists and her website “Girls Just Wanna Have Guns”.  Regis stated that she was “sick and tired of seeing defenseless girls being abducted in broad daylight by some fruity freak who gets aroused by raping and abducting them.”   While some may view Giles’ statements as an example of  “take charge feminism” where rapists get what they deserve, the logic that carrying a weapon is the best way for women to protect themselves from sexual assault or rape blatantly ignores the fact that 73% of rape victims know their assailants.

Giles epitomizes the always frustrating combination of ill-informed but contagiously enthusiastic and stereotypically attractive.  She acts as the perfect mouthpiece to espouse conservative values and “promote” female empowerment.  Both she and Sarah Palin seem to adhere to an idea of feminism that allows women to be “strong” (re: their obsession with hunting and guns) as long as they continue to promote sexist, patriarchal notions of a woman’s place as below men and adhere to strict notions of traditional beauty expected for women.  Essentially they can be “strong” as long as they aren’t too opinionated but still stereotypically attractive.

What is most frustrating about Giles’ plan to combat sexual assault is that it does nothing to address the societal conditions that promote and condone assault and violence against women. Arming women with guns does not erase the accepted social norm that women’s voices matter less than men’s do.  It does not address the blatant sexualization of women in the media which turns women into objects to be used for men’s sexual pleasure.  It does not reconstruct stringent gender roles that say men must be violent and controlling and that real men don’t feel empathy for others. As feminist theorist bell hooks states  “teaching women how to defend themselves against male rapists is not the same as working to change a society so that men will not rape… nor does it change the culture that promotes and condones their brutality.”

We as a society must take steps to rethink our notions of masculinity and femininity to ensure equality between genders, if we truly want to end interpersonal violence. Programs like UNC’s One Act serve as a teaching tool for sexual assault and interpersonal violence prevention.  At FVPC we work with middle and high schoolers to begin discussions of healthy relationships and to deconstruct traditional gender roles so that both all people feel comfortable speaking out when they are stalked/bullied/harassed/assaulted.  Attempting to solve interpersonal violence with violence can only lead to more dangerous situations.  If you or someone you know is in a scary, uncomfortable or dangerous relationship, please call our 24-hour hotline.  Violence is not okay and is never the answer.

 

Domestic Violence Knows No Age February 18, 2011

Alamance County Sheriffs arrested Robert Broom for the shooting of his wife, Danna Broom. Robert Broom was later convicted of his wife's attempted murder, and the murder of his unborn daughter Lily, who died as a consequence of the shooting.

In October 2008 when Danna Broom was shot in the stomach by her husband, Robert Morris, her first thoughts were for her unborn child, still developing in her womb.  Although the bullet missed the baby, doctors were compelled to extract the infant early so that they could try to save the life of her mother.  Thirty-one days later, the 26-week-old Lily Broom died from complications related to premature birth.  And later, in 2009, Robert Broom, 39, was charged and later convicted of her murder, receiving a sentence of life in prison without parole.  (Broom also received 13 years for the attempted murder of his wife, Danna Broom).

As terrifying and shocking as this story is, the above incident, as recounted in Sunday’s News & Observer is nevertheless an important reminder of the prevalence–and danger–of abusive relationships.  And it is an important reminder that domestic violence defies racial, cultural, and socioeconomic stereotype, and can occur sometimes unexpectedly, suddenly and without warning.

Danna Broom she says she didn’t even know she was in an abusive relationship until it nearly took her life, and in her own retelling, her life with her husband had always been a bit of a fairy tale, at least at first. The couple first met in Charlotte, in 1997, while both were working as paid professionals in an engineering firm.  They were married five years later in 2001, and three years after that, their first daughter, Emma, was born.  But, after Emma was born, Danna says she suffered crippling postpartum depression, and said that she and her husband began drifting apart.  By 2008, the couple began fighting and fighting often.  Then in the spring, Danna Broom became pregnant again, this time with Lily. Initially, Danna says, she and Robert promised to work harder, and try to make their marriage work.  However, what she didn’t realize is that her pregnancy put her in the greatest danger of all.

During pregnancy, irrational feelings of jealousy, fear, possessive/ownership and stress (elements which are sometimes underpinning and all-too-common in most abusive relationships) often lead men who are abusers to erupt in some of the most violent and unpredictable ways.  Statistically speaking, women are most likely to suffer violence and abuse during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives. Research has shown that homicide is the leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant and postpartum women in the US--accounting for as much as 31% of death resulting from injuries to pregnant women.

In October 2008, just moments before the tragic events that nearly cost her her life, Danna said that she and Robert were in their upstairs bedroom, talking about their future.  They discussed divorce.  They fussed, and began arguing.  Robert (while testifying on his own behalf), said he threatened to leave.  Then, while Robert excused himself to go to the bathroom, Danna says the next thing she knew, she felt the muzzle of the .45-caliber pistol pushed against her stomach, and a blast that blew her onto her back.

Through the afternoon and night, Broom said, her husband held her hostage, refusing to call for medical help.  She fought sleep, and says she survived simply by sheer force of will, and drew encouragement from every little movement her unborn daughter made.  Finally, twelve hours after the initial shooting, she made a deal with her husband–“If you call for paramedics, I’ll tell them it was an accident.” Mrs. Broom repeated the “accident” explanation several times over the next few days, even though doctors immediately saw through her story, saying that because the wound had already begun to heal, she had to have been shot at least eight hours before the 911 call was placed.

Eventually, police arrested Robert Broom, who was charged and eventually convicted of Danna’s attack, and Lily’s murder.  Broom’s lawyers have recently appealed the ruling, arguing that because Lily wasn’t directly injured in the attack, and died (they claim) as a result of the actions taken by the doctors trying to save Danna’s life, Robert”s conviction of first-degree murder should be overturned. But regardless of the legal criteria, sentencing guidelines, and arguments arising out of this case, one fact remains undisputed: an innocent life was lost as a result of a violent attack.

As tragic as the incident in Alamance is, it is also a painful reminder that similar incidents are playing out in homes across the state and the nation–and even here in Orange County.  It is important to note that at least to outwards appearances (and indeed, even to Danna Broom’s own recollections), the Broom family didn’t fit any of the stereotypes of a “domestically abusive household”: they were both white, educated, trained professionals, of middle- to upper middle-class means, and had no discernible history of substance abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness.  They were, in effect, an outwardly “normal” couple.

This gets at the uncomfortable truth underlying many abusive relationships; that there is no group of individuals prone to domestic violence and that often the most shocking (and most dangerous) instances of domestic violence come with little warning, from the people we least expect. It is critically important to build communities of understanding which victims of domestic violence feel that if they do speak out, that they will be not only heard, but also believed. Because only when victims feel comfortable speaking about their situation can they ever be expected to seek help for it.

FVPC offers crisis counseling and a 24-hour hotline to aid victims of domestic violence who wish to seek help.  But even beyond these services, FVPC also offers information about healthy relationships, and how to identify when a relationship has become abusive, in addition to safety planning for victims on how to keep themselves safe, both in an abusive relationship, and after leaving one. If you believe you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship,or if you’d like to learn the warning signs of a relationship that’s become abusive give us a call at 919-929-7122.

 

“With (Facebook Friends Like These…”: Benson Teens Indicted for Cyberbullying Allegations) February 9, 2011

Cyberbullying takes many forms, including text, video, and audio. But regardless of the format, no one deserves to be harassed

Last Monday, Johnston County Sheriff’s deputies charged two Benson, NC teenagers with with one count each of cyberbullying, after allegedly setting up a Facebook page devoted exclusively to bullying a fellow student.

According to arrest warrants, the two set up a Facebook page and posted comments to intimidate and torment a 15-year-old classmate at South Johnston High School, allegedly going so far as to threaten to bring a gun to school to hunt down the teen, and to run him over with a car.  Investigators went on to say that the Facebook page, which was discovered and reported by the victim’s father, was allegedly created back in September of 2010.  Johnston County school officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday, but school system policy prohibits all types of bullying and harassment, including online, and warns of student discipline that could include expulsion.  If proven true, these cases would be only the most recent instance of an ongoing saga that continues to play out in schools around the country, and server as a stark reminder of the reality of cyberbullying, and the impact it has even here in NC.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects nearly half of all teens in the United States. And indeed, here in NC, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says that cyberbullying is a growing problem in our communities that needs to be taken seriously, “It can lead to violence,” he said. “It can lead to depression in the victim, and it can also even lead to suicide.”

The biggest challenge in discovering instances with cyberbullying specifically is that unlike traditional forms of bullying and harassment, instances of cyberbullying can often go undetected, undiscovered, and unchecked for years, if not longer, unless victims feel comfortable and confident enough to speak out and ask for help.

In this instance, the online abuse was discovered by the victim’s father, who subsequently reported the incident to police and school authorities.  However, unless victims feel like they will be heard and believed, this is not often the case.  Typically, the abuse goes on, unabated, until the victim cannot abide by it anymore, or until the abuse goes a step too far.  In the best case scenario, this means that victims reach out to their support structure, or parents and administrators discover the abuse and take action accordingly.

The announcement of the charges out of Benson come in the wake of several recent tragedies elsewhere in the US, brought on in large part by instances of cyberbullying and online harassment.  The issue was last brought to the forefront after a NY college student committed suicide, after his roommate allegedly posted an online video outing him as being gay.

In the hopes of averting another tragedy down the road, Attorney General Cooper issued a call to action: “…we need to encourage parents to pay attention to what’s happening with their children and then encourage the parents and kids – that vast majority in the middle who are neither bullies or victims – to stand up and say they’re not going to tolerate this kind of thing.”

For this reason, FVPC sends community educators into area schools as part of Start Strong, primary prevention programming to discuss issues related to cyberbullying with teens, to help kids not only understand the reality and consequences of their behavior online, but also to help teach possible victims of online abuse to reach out if they need help.  The goal of these community education programs is to help kids learn responsible online behavior, in addition to teaching them to report or help stop abuse whenever they encounter it–be they victims, bystanders, or perpetrators.

To learn more about cyberbullying, and how you can become involved to help stop digital and online abuse, visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org.

 

 
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