Report: Victims In Domestic Fatalities Ignored Or Downplayed Warning Signs In Many Cases (U.S.)

Posted on July 31, 2012

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By JOSH KOVNER, jkovner@courant.com The Hartford Courant

Nancy Tyler, mother, lawyer, savvy person, admitted before a bank of TV news cameras at a domestic-violence forum Tuesday that she downplayed or ignored a series of actions by her estranged husband that she now realizes should have prompted her to reach out for help.

But she didn’t – a reluctance that the state’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee said Tuesday was a theme that ran through many of the 18 killings in 2010 that were committed by intimate partners.

The panel analyzed the killings and submitted findings and recommendations as part of its 2nd annual fatality review. Chief among the findings: a pressing need to educate women in deteriorating or risky relationships to recognize and act on signals that foretell an explosion of violence.

“Domestic-violence homicides are often predictable and preventable,” said Penni Micca of Hartford’s Interval House. She served as chairwoman of the fatality review panel

Micci and others said that sometimes help is as close as a call to the statewide hotline at 1-888-774-2900.

Tyler is a survivor. She was kidnapped from her Hartford law office, handcuffed, and held at gunpoint in the basement of her South Windsor home by her estranged husband, Richard Shenkman, in 2009. She escaped just before he burned down the house. Shenkman in January was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Tyler on Tuesday said women are sometimes reluctant to bring outsiders into what they see as a private situation, or they fear that a call to police, or to a counselor, or an attempt to extract themselves from the situation, will only provoke the abuser.

Sometimes that’s true, but Tyler said failing to act is worse. She urged women to recognize the warning signs of impending violence, to “listen to your instinct and fears.”

“I didn’t know when I was in the middle of my divorce that I was also in the middle of what can be the most dangerous time for a woman,” Tyler said. “I ignored a lot, chalking it up to bad behavior or intimidation.”

Before the kidnapping, “my ex-husband stalked me through the three years of our divorce. He did it electronically with about 300 emails to me, to my co-workers, to my bosses. He showed up at restaurants when I was with friends, he followed me, he photographed me, he joined my gym, he took my car and left me stranded in parking lots at night, he harassed my family and friends.”

Tyler said she rarely called the police, did not create a safety plan, and, while she obtained a restraining order, she didn’t report when it was violated.

“I ignored that nagging voice inside me warning of danger,” Tyler said.

The fatality review panel’s examinations, along with increased advocacy and public awareness, has made the legislature more responsive to the state’s domestic violence problems, said state Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly. Since 2009, new laws have helped victims navigate the court process, toughened stalking and threatening penalties, kept shelters open around-the-clock, and placed repeat offenders under greater scrutiny. There were 14 domestic-violence killings statewide last year, and there have been at least five so far this year. The state has averaged 16 per year over the last decade.

Domestic-violence counselors, shelters, emergency rooms, and crisis hotlines deal with about 54,000 victims of domestic violence each year in Connecticut, and these offenses make up 30 percent of the caseload in the state’s criminal courts.

Micca said most of the women who were slain in 2010 were stalked before they were killed by boyfriends or spouses. She said in many of the cases, death came on the heels of a strong indicator of potential violence – a break-up, a divorce, a custody battle, or a court action.

The study “signals a firm need to further educate the public about the factors that precipitate violence,” said Karen Jarmoc. She’s the executive director of the Connecticut Coalition against Domestic Violence.

“An impending break-up is a huge risk factor,” said Jarmoc. “It’s a time when (the offender) is losing power and control.”

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