2010-10-14 / Health & Wellness

Expert panel urges public to bring domestic violence out of the shadows

By Nancy Needham

Domestic violence affects people from all social levels, in all communities. Even one of the safest cities in the nation is not immune to the scourge of domestic violence.

Three years ago a man attacked a child with a meat cleaver, killing the boy in front of neighbors in the “tranquil” city of Thousand Oaks, recalled Mayor Dennis Gillette during a domestic violence prevention event at California Lutheran University on Oct. 8.

About 200 people gathered at a community breakfast at the school to hear a panel of five domestic violence experts.

The event began with a DVD presentation of “Telling Amy’s Story,” which documents the death of a Pennsylvanian woman at the hands of her husband.

Amy McGee’s co-workers tell how they’d seen Amy’s husband, Vincent, control and abuse his wife by excessive calling, by showing up at her work and by irrational jealousy. They noticed her bruises. She admitted her husband had caused them.

Her mother recalled taking her daughter to the police station to get protection, but Amy refused to get out of the car.

The battered woman was afraid the police couldn’t protect her. She feared her husband’s abusive behavior would escalate if he found out she’d told law enforcement about it.

Concerned people encouraged Amy to get help, but they said she was too scared to leave him.

One day when she was at work, she finally found the courage to tell him over the phone she was going to take their children to her parents and stay there for a couple of days.

She told Vincent she expected him to move out of their house during that time. Later that day, she dropped by the house to pick up some bottles and clothes for the children. She didn’t know her husband was inside.

Amy’s parents and children were waiting for her in a car parked in the driveway. Her husband came out of the house and said, “Call 911. I shot Amy.”

He’d killed her. The homicide occurred Nov. 8, 2001.

According to experts, this is not an uncommon scenario.

Panelist Morris Eagle, clinical supervisor and adjunct professor at CLU, described a “cycle of violence.”

It starts with a blowup, moves to contrition, with the abuser saying he’s very sorry, and then to a honeymoon makeup period where it appears as if he’s changed.

That’s followed by a happy reunion until there’s another blowup and it all begins again, Eagle said.

When he asked, “What’s the most common reason a victim stays with an abuser?” the answer shouted out from the crowd: “Fear.”

Wrong answer.

“‘Because I love him,’” Eagle said, is most often the reason they stay in danger.

Victims usually recant their stories, said both Anthony Wold, supervising prosecutor at the Ventura County district attorney’s office, and Oxnard Police Senior Detective Rick Vasquez.

A bloody, bruised and terrorized victim may be cooperative when police find her and first take action, but later on that same person whose life was almost lost will change her mind, change her story or just disappear even before skin and broken bones can heal.

“Victims are tremendously conflicted and ambivalent as to what they’re going to do,” Eagle said.

Police make an effort to get witness statements and other evidence at the crime scene in anticipation of the victim’s changing her mind, Vasquez said.

“The community can help by keeping an eye out for each other, be a good witness and report crimes,” the detective said.

Prosecutors go forward with the case even without a victim’s cooperation, much like they do in a homicide case, Wold said.

“We need to hold someone accountable to try and deter escalation. It’s homicide prevention,” he said.

Domestic violence is often fueled by addiction to drugs and alcohol, said Gillette, a former police deputy.

“Domestic violence is increasing,” he said.

“If you know someone who is a domestic violence victim, don’t turn away from them,” said Catherine Duggan, director of the Ventura County district attorney’s victim assistance program.

She said she understands the frustration of families who watch those they love returning to the batterer, but she emphasized how victims need support. Isolation increases the possibility of their becoming a victim of homicide, she said.

People should get away from abusers as soon as signs of battering appear.

“When a man starts to push, slap, pull hair and it goes unchecked it escalates,” Wold said.

There’s help for male victims of domestic violence, too, said Caroline Prijatel Sutton, executive director of Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Return to top