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Saturday, July 20, 2013

This Weekend in Great Reads Behind Paywalls: The New Yorker on Domestic Violence Homicides

Posted by on Sat, Jul 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

This spring, after 24-year-old Federal Way resident Justine Baez and three other people at her apartment building were shot to death by Baez's boyfriend, I wrote a long piece about domestic violence homicides—particularly, the link between domestic violence and mass shootings. Doing research for the story was devastating, because each step was a process of learning more and more about the utter darkness of humanity—listening to terrified 911 calls, reading reports on domestic violence fatalities, watching a memorial of flowers and balloons grow and grow. Even reading about the psychology of partner abuse left me with a trapped, claustrophobic feeling, an empathic gut punch of fear with a creepy residue that stayed for a while.

But it also meant meeting people who work tirelessly to fight that darkness as their regular full-time job, which is incredibly inspiring. And there's a lot of interesting, complicated work going on, across the country, to see what can be done about this particular crime, which can lurk for so long and then explode into so many lives at once.

So I was both thrilled and preemptively nauseated when I opened up the New Yorker this week to find this piece, by Rachel Louise Snyder, about new ways people are trying to predict when domestic violence situations will turn fatal, and learn how to better work with survivors to keep them alive. (A big part of it is making sure solutions don't inadvertently punish the victim.)

If you don't have a New Yorker subscription, there's nothing I can do for you. But if you do, this is an incredibly worthwhile read. It starts like this:

Dorothy Giunta-Cotter knew that someday her husband, William, would kill her. They met in 1982, when he was twenty and she was fifteen: a girl with brown eyes and cascading dark hair. Over the course of twenty years, he had kidnapped her, beaten her, and strangled her with a telephone cord. When she was pregnant with their second child, he pushed her down the stairs. After visits to the emergency room, he withheld her pain medicine and, at one point, forbade her to wear a neck brace.

Dorothy and William had two daughters, Kaitlyn and Kristen. Once, in a rage, William sat on Kristen’s chest until she couldn’t breathe; she was eleven. Another time, angered by what she was wearing, he hit her repeatedly in the head. That day, Dorothy took Kristen from their home, in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and drove to a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Maine. (Kaitlyn, who was seventeen, stayed behind in order to graduate from high school on schedule.) Dorothy feared that William knew the local network of domestic-violence shelters; in Maine, she felt, she would be safe.

There she filed a restraining order, telling the judge that her husband would kill her when he found her. But the judge denied the order, citing a lack of jurisdiction. So Dorothy returned with Kristen to Massachusetts, where she met Kelly Dunne, who worked at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a local domestic-violence agency. The center helped Dorothy file a restraining order and found a room for her and her daughters in a longer-term shelter. But Dorothy refused. She told the center’s lawyer, “If I’m going to die, I want to do it in my own house.”


Comments (26) RSS

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Phoebe in Wallingford 1
This is so telling and unfortunately all too common:
Over the course of twenty years, he had kidnapped her, beaten her, and strangled her with a telephone cord. When she was pregnant with their second child, he pushed her down the stairs.

Doesn't sound like they had twins. They had a kid, went through tons of abuse, and still brought another child into the world to be tortured by a monster.
Ladies, if you willing to try and tough it out with a sexy but bad guy, at least get your tubes tied.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on July 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM · Report this
Philly 2
Jesus, phoebe, that's not always an option. Saying No to your abusive partner isn't always an option. Being in control of your finances isn't always an option. Being in control of where you go and what you do isn't always an option. Being in control of your body isn't always an option.
Getting your tubes tied? She probably had no choice about whether to have kids.
Posted by Philly on July 20, 2013 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 3
@2: Yes, I know, but that's when its too late. There's nearly always a window of time when the abuser is showing signs but the woman doesn't take the opportunity to exit because she has an assortment of delusional and misguided ideas that it will get better or she can fix him.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on July 20, 2013 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 4
@3 sadly true. Earlier this week in Dear Abby's column was a letter from a young woman in that exact place. She admitted she loves her boyfriend with all her heart, then detailed (at only 17) all the abusive things he does to her.

She asked the question 'should I leave him? I love him!'

Figuring that out- why women are in love with their abusers, will be a huge step forward.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on July 20, 2013 at 2:57 PM · Report this
TVDinner 5
@3: Or she's been conditioned not to recognize them. Not everyone lives in your world, Phoebe. I'm sure it's a great and very simple place, but the rest of us are struggling with the complexity of human existence in which messy things sometimes occur. You may not understand it, but you could at least demonstrate some respect for what you don't understand by reserving judgment.

But, then again, why would you start now?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on July 20, 2013 at 3:09 PM · Report this
Victim blaming in the very first comment! How about focusing disdain and judgement on the people who choose to abuse their loved ones? Abusers are not impersonal forces of nature. They know what they are doing is wrong and they do it anyway. They know how to gaslight their victims into believing it's their own fault; they know how to isolate then from friends and family; they know how to convince the police that it was just a lovers spat; They have powerful cultural forces colluding with them: ("it's a family problem"; "she must have provoked him"; "he's such a nice guy"; "he just loves her too much"). Have some compassion, for Pete's sake.
Posted by goreedgo on July 20, 2013 at 3:25 PM · Report this

Figuring that out- why women are in love with their abusers, will be a huge step forward.

Somehow I doubt it. Exodus International would still be in business if humans could control who they loved, don't you think? And when has anyone ever figured out why anyone ever loved anyone? Are you making a joke and I'm not getting it or something?

What would have helped Giunta-Cotter (and has since proven to help others like her) are better procedures to identify the worst abusers and stronger measures to protect the victims of those abusers. That appears to be the point of the New Yorker article (according to non-paywall sources anyway).

The victim-blaming tendencies of the internet astonish me at times.
Posted by phony_handle on July 20, 2013 at 4:27 PM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 8
@6: Yes, all those scenarios take place. And these men are devious and cunning. But compassion is telling the truth about the situation. But when the woman foregoes the warning signs, and acquiesces time and time again to the horror of her friends and family - damn right I'll pass judgment. Being compassionate is not just about hugs, tears, and bringing over dinner - it's about having a backbone and telling it like it is!
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on July 20, 2013 at 4:29 PM · Report this
@8 Do you think that staying with a man who does this kind of thing to you is a sign of good mental health? If not, why are you blaming mentally ill women for the abuse they and their children experience? If so, why don't they all just leave the situation? Might it be the legitimate death threats combined with violence and the knowledge that they will be hunted that is deterring them?

Being compassionate is doing or saying something that might actually help. Shaming abused women isn't helpful - they've got someone much better at it than you taking care of that. If anything, your words help the abuser.
Posted by gnot on July 20, 2013 at 5:18 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 10
In one of the articles referenced in SLOG I read that 80% of domestic violence and sexual battery comes from people in the same social circle as the victim.

Couple that with almost all the famous murderers of the last 12 months -- Holmes, Tsarnaev, Lanza...even Zimmerman -- being under 30, and it pains a vastly different picture than the one commonly portrayed, especially in this blog.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on July 20, 2013 at 5:55 PM · Report this
pinksoda 11
@6 - Actually, honesty is telling the truth about the situation.

Compassion is, according to Webster, a sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. And, while you may think you're alleviating distress by "passing judgment", you're not. You're merely pointing out to someone in trouble that they are, indeed, in trouble and then adding that they have only themselves to blame.

A more compassionate solution is, in fact, figuring out why we love as we do, sometimes to our detriment. Providing legal, financial and physical safety to those of us who find ourselves in this position can only improve on that scenario, and offer children in domestic violence situations a way out from the cycle of physical and emotional abuse.

You say, "There's nearly always a window of time when the abuser is showing signs but the woman doesn't take the opportunity to exit because she has an assortment of delusional and misguided ideas that it will get better or she can fix him." What you're not doing is asking why; what is it that leads to those "delusional and misguided ideas"? How do we break that trajectory and begin to believe we are strong enough to be alone, and worthy enough for a good and healthy relationship?

Because that's the real question, the compassionate action, and it's not an innate journey for any of us. Consider yourself lucky that you have been afforded the resources necessary to made this journey. We haven't all been so fortunate but I believe some of us are stronger, and certainly more compassionate, for having come to it through our delusions.

Posted by pinksoda on July 20, 2013 at 5:58 PM · Report this
@6 -- Not really. This woman escaped, she put a lot of distance between herself and her abuser, but then she went home to, in her own words, die.
Posted by MameSnidely on July 20, 2013 at 6:09 PM · Report this
@12: She had very good reason to believe that her husband would be able to find her no matter where she went.
Posted by treehugger on July 20, 2013 at 6:39 PM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 14
@10, your "famous murderers" are responsible for an infinitesimal percentage of the homicides in this country in the last year. And Zimmerman isn't responsible for any at all.
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 20, 2013 at 6:55 PM · Report this
seatackled 15
Jesus fucking Christ, 5280, I really hope you're full of shit if you claim that you're in law enforcement, because you don't seem to understand the definition of homicide, which is something no one disputes Zimmerman of committing.
Posted by seatackled on July 20, 2013 at 8:58 PM · Report this
Pridge Wessea 16
@14 - Jesus Christ that's fucked up. I knew you were a fucktard, but you seemed to have the occasional redeeming quality. Apparently I was wrong about that.
Posted by Pridge Wessea on July 20, 2013 at 9:30 PM · Report this
The only way that many women can escape their abusers is to get out of the house (a big thing in itself), change their names, and move to another town. With their children. Those women seldom have the money to do any of that, nor do they want to endanger their friends/family who will be harassed by the abuser.

Phoebe, it's best if you just don't talk about this, since nothing you can say will help anyone. If you wish to judge, then keep it to yourself.
Posted by sarah70 on July 20, 2013 at 9:36 PM · Report this
@13 -- I know. I also get the feeling, but they did everything they could and she decided to go home. I don't .... feel bad for her at that point. She gave up.
Posted by MameSnidely on July 20, 2013 at 9:49 PM · Report this
@17 - they don't need money to move and change their name, dv shelters will cover the cost of that and more.
I've known women who lived in dv shelters for years, moving every few months between several states. And they weren't even trying to flee an abusive spouse. They were trying to avoid CPS.
Posted by mirepoix on July 21, 2013 at 2:54 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 20
Okay, here's the Dear Abby letter I mentioned earlier. Why the hell is it called 'victim blaming' to note that there's an issue here when a woman knows she is in an abusive relationship, but at the same time claims she loves the abuse "with everything in me" ?


DEAR ABBY: I am a 17-year-old girl who has been in a relationship for a year and a half with "Richard." I love him with everything in me, but he is mentally and physically abusive. He is also addicted to cough medicine.

Honest question here, because it breaks my heart to read stories like this. Her letter goes on...

Anyone in their right mind would get up and leave, but the one time I did, he pretended he didn't care and I attempted suicide. I don't know what to do. I love him, but I know I shouldn't. -- ABUSED TEEN IN CALIFORNIA

Link to full letter:…

There's clearly an issue here with this young woman's self esteem. I will not play armchair psychologist on the internet and I will not speculate on what's going on in her head. But dammit, this is a pattern that happens over and over and over. Why? What power do the abusers have over their victims? Why is it 'victim blaming' just to ask the questions?
Posted by Dr_Awesome on July 21, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Report this
Holy victim blaming.

I would venture to say that women staying with their abusers has a lot less to do with delusions of their own power to change someone and a lot more to do with believing they'll never find anyone else that will love them and be with them.

They don't believe they deserve better. The bit about many of the victims coming from abusive background is not a throwaway tidbit, it's identifying a huge risk factor.

As for why women love their abusers, the human brain's capacity to fall (protectively) in worshipful love with someone who holds the power of life and death over you is pretty fucking well documented.

As is the mammalian brain's immense sense of reward when pleasure and affection are dispersed only intermittently and unpredictably.

As is the human tendency to place a higher value on that which comes to us at great cost (band camp, the Marines, children, relationships that are horrible for us).

None of that is news.
Posted by drivel on July 21, 2013 at 10:21 AM · Report this
Also, this is a really good article on why saying abuse and love are mutually exclusive hurts victims and delays them from getting out:…
Posted by drivel on July 21, 2013 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 23
@17: No, I will not stop talking about this or any other subject on Slog I want to comment on. I am a woman, a mother, and these are women's issues. So there!
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on July 21, 2013 at 11:03 AM · Report this
@23: If you're determined to keep talking, here are some recommendations from professionals on how to keep the conversation productive:

10 Helpful Things To Do Or Say To Someone Who Is Being Abused:
1. Open a dialogue. “Are you ever afraid of _____________’s temper?”
2. Show concern. “I am afraid for your safety.”
3. Appreciate the danger they are in. “I’m afraid the danger will get worse.”
4. Commit to being supportive. “I will always be here for you.”
5. Listen. “If you ever need to talk, I will just listen and not give advice.”
6. Value the victim. “This is not your fault and you do not deserve to be abused.”
7. Compliment the victim. Help to counter the toll that the verbal abuse may be taking on their self-esteem.
8. Make observations, not judgments. “I’m worried about you; you don’t laugh as much anymore.”
9. Offer to help in ways you can. Set clear and fair boundaries you are comfortable with.
10. Ask questions that focus on her/his feelings. “That sounds scary to me, how do you feel about it?”

5 Things Not To Do Or Say:
1. “Just Leave.” Please see the “Why doesn’t the victim just leave?” section
2. Give an ultimatum. This assists the batterer in isolating the victim further and cuts off their support system.
3. Bad-mouth the batterer. This may cause the victim to be defensive of the batterer and will make it “unsafe” to confide in you.
4. Disbelieve or demand proof of the abuse. You are not a judge. If they feel unsafe, that is all that should matter to you.
5. Tell the victim what they “have to do.” Domestic violence is about power and control, and if a victim is going to heal, they must regain control themself. Do not give advice, or tell the victim what they need to do, or what you would do. It is good to help the, discover their options, but the decision must be theirs alone.
Posted by phony_handle on July 21, 2013 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 25
@24: Thank for enumerating some of the overly mushy guidelines from so called professionals that have only exacerbated the problem.
10.8 - Judgment is not a dirty word. Instead of "I'm worried about you - you don't laugh as much anymore" say "Honey, you're depressed and it's getting worse. And you need to see someone about it."
10.10 - Feelings are important. But behavior is the key. People can behave one way and feel another. Dwelling on feelings is for long term psychotherapy - there's no time for that - remember?

5.1 You can say "Just leave" if you can follow it up with an alternative like "...I know this guest cottage and I'll help with the rent."
3.1 Ridiculous. Don't bad-mouth or disrespectful but make the obvious known. The abuse victim is already inherently defensive because she/he picked the batterer as a mate/spouse. People will still continue to confide in you if the know you to be sincere in your help.
5.5 - Mostly psychobabble. People, including victims, do appreciate and ponder on straightforward advice and warnings.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on July 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Report this
MakeMeASammamish 26
One idea that really struck me from reading the whole article was a small passage about why victims would choose to marry their abusers. It is very threatening to the abuser if their victim voices their decision to leave the relationship so the abuser acts out in hostile, controlling and abusive ways. Marriage becomes something that is perceived as being a stabilizing element for both the victim and the abuser. The idea being that if the threat of a separation is lessened, the abuse will be too. If one doesn't have the resources to "get away", then negotiating for their self-preservation is the next best thing and might give the victim a feeling of control over their situation. Regrettably and statistically, this rarely works.
Posted by MakeMeASammamish on July 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM · Report this

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