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.