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Rx for the Violent Ex - Staying Safe Strategies
One third of victimizations against women are committed by an acquaintance. Approximately 28% are intimates, 31% are strangers, and approximately 5% are strangers - and almost six times as many did not report the assault, according to recent statistics by the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The violent murder of Beth Lochtefeld is horrifying but hardly surprising. Read on to discover what the Office of Criminal Justice calls an epidemic - and what law enforcement is trying to do about it.

Stressed to Kill

A day doesn't pass when Kari Gilbert still doesn't think about her ex. After a 1998 attempted murder conviction put the violent 32 old repeated offender behind bars, the 29 year old Los Angeles secretary still couldn't convince herself how menacing her former husband really was. Throughout their tempestuous two-year marriage, which Kari maintained as "sweet and wonderful," Michael, an unemployed high school dropout, made sure Kari never left the house alone, not even to go to work. "He didn't allow me to see my friends," she lamented. "Or my family." He took her to work everyday, "to make sure I got there safely," and never let her out of his sight. He made no attempt to seek employment and spent his days hanging around bars and parks. But her husband didn't look dangerous. He didn't act deadly, either - until the day Kari broke the bad news. "I told him I didn't want to see him again," she says, choking back tears. "And he went nuts, breaking things and tearing the phone out of the wall. I couldn't believe it" her voice trailed off. "And then he started showing up places, places where he knew he'd find me, like my office, movies with my friends. He was following me and I couldn't get away from him." Kari recounts with horror how Michael waited late into the night for her to finish working. He followed her from her ninth floor office to the basement, and "he came up from behind me and grabbed me by the throat and held a gun to my head," she cried, "and told me if he couldn't have me, nobody could." An astute night watchman heard the commotion and averted the disaster by tackling Finley to the ground. "We had him arrested on site, and he's been put away ever since." But the most amazing part? "I really believe he still loves me," Kari sobs. "And that when he's released, he'll come to his senses and grow up."

Others aren't so fortunate. Since the 1990's the rate of dating and domestic violence has skyrocketed to pandemic proportions. "And that's just what's reported," says Attorney Rose Cohen, a family law specialist in Woodland Hills, Calif. The Office of Criminal Justice, which funds programs like the Victims of Crime, states that homicide rates are higher than ever. Many programs, such as the Valley Trauma Center in the San Fernando Valley, report a rise in calls every day. Programs such as these subsist on a shoestring budget and rely on an endless succession of volunteers to answer ringing phones. "It's tough," says a local non-profit center who asked to remain anonymous. "But we have girls as young as nine calling us, asking what to do about someone who is hassling and groping them. We do the best we can with such little resources, but we're overwrought, and there's only so much we can do."

In the past few years, violence against women and girls has made headlines, with nearly every state in the union promising to promote efforts to recognize and arrest the problem. "But the real issue isn't denial," says Amanda Hendon. The Los Angeles advocate and presenter of the 2004-2005 Vagina Monologues says empathetically, "We need really aggressive efforts to halt the epidemic. This is the biggest open secret around. The problem is that there aren't enough resources to handle the issue and of course, it's mushroomed. For example, in the United States, there are approximately 3,800 animal shelters. There are less than half as many battered women's shelters. What does that tell you?"

Common but Underreported

Domestic violence is believed to be the most common crime in the nation, with the US Surgeon General identifying domestic violence as a Public Enemy Number One to women. The first battered women's shelter, Women's Advocates, was opened twenty years ago in St. Paul and is still in existence today. Leslie Hamilton-Wertz, who endured years of abuse before fleeing with her two small children, calls it a miracle. According to Leslie, "I spent every weekend in the emergency room, like it was some kind of a second home. Doctors sewed me up, but nothing ever happened to him, nobody told the police and my children were witness to this." Then one morning, after a particularly violent incident, "the neighbors called the police, who responded immediately and took him in." Her ex-husband is currently serving twenty years. "There was no place to go, nobody who would listen," said the Minneapolis resident, who managed to graduate with honors from a top college and is now a practicing paralegal. "When I first entered the System, there was one hot line and thousands of calls. There were hardly any resources, but now, we have choices," she says.

Battered women are twice as likely to seek medical attention for injuries sustained by violence after they leave, and the statistics for pregnant women who are murdered is now being introduced as a phenomenon.

"What's happening here is a failure to understand," says Wendy DuFour, RN, MN, CCRN, an assistant professor of nursing at Los Angeles Valley College and a chronic care specialist. "These relationships are terribly misunderstood because of how manipulative they are, and how devastating it is to the abused. It's hard to live in a world where someone is telling you how stupid and worthless you are and, the mind being what it is - at some point, you'll believe it. You'll start to accept that you can't live without him, can't make a living, and you're so beaten down physically and emotionally that you've given up the fight. It's about an insidious dependence. Remember, many women want the violence to end, not the relationship."

Dating and domestic violence is so much like the pink elephant in the living room, and Debora Phillips, Ph.D., a behavioral therapist in Los Angeles and the creator of "End Teen Cruelty," a brilliant format designed to teach kids how to end abusive behavior says, "but what we're working on is how to actually disrupt the cycle entirely. Domestic and dating violence is a multigenerational problem. If a parent is staying in a marriage for the sake of the children, but the self-esteem of the child is systematically destroyed as a result of the abuse - physical or mental - then it's time to leave." Factors such as religious beliefs are certainly considered, but concludes Debora, "this is a delusion of the individual parent that a 'happy marriage' on the surface will serve as a basis for all good future relationships. Look at the stats on divorce."

In 1981, Brenda Clubine had a problem. After enduring years of torture by her abusive husband, the wounded woman finally had enough, and after yet another unprovoked attack, she killed him. "Whereas a man might murder his partner and do thirty days in county, this woman, unbelievably, was sentenced to life in prison," says a knowledgeable source from a local Los Angeles shelter. "Fortunately," she continues," the Battered Women's Syndrome was recently signed into effect by Governor Schwarzenegger, allowing battered women to successfully use this defense." Historically, the use of aggression is a form of protection a self survival, "but hopefully, we've evolved from a hunter and gathering tribe," says J. Thomas Bellows, Ph.D., a therapist in private practice in Los Angeles and a specialist in treating domestic violence perpetrators. "Elevating the confrontation is that when the offender loses the argument, he's catapulted into a stratospheric rage. Commonly, these men are extremely dependent, highly emotional and volatile, unable to articulate their emotions, usually indoctrinated in the 'big boys don't cry' mentality. Consequently, he must resort to violence in order to win, because if he loses, he loses everything: his pride, his perceived intelligence over the woman, absolutely everything!"

Teens today have it even tougher. According to a recent poll, 23% admitted being terrorized a new wave of horror: Cyberbullying. This faceless phenomenon permits particularly gutless kids a new visage: online harassment, with an estimated 31,200 registered users. Don't these people have anything better to do? Maybe they'd better find something, since Schoolscandals.com is in the midst of another scandal of their own: multiple lawsuits. According to a 2000 study by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 17 kids ages 10 to 17 reported being cyber threatened in some manner. "Imagine allowing adults - website owners to operate in these terms!" screams an anguished mother of an overweight boy who was mercilessly cyberbullied. The mother intends to sue the website, but according to a 1996 federal law that protects Internet service providers from lawsuits about their content. The moral of this incredible story? Look first to where the problem stems: if abuse starts with the perpetrator, they're learning it somewhere, and chances are they're learning it at home. "The percentage of children from abusive homes who go on to become abusive themselves, that figure is astounding," says Marie Linders, M.A., a family therapist in Santa Monica, Calif. "If people are really a tabala rasa, then this is a good place to begin." Cyberbullying includes, but is not limited to:

  • Sending insulting, abusive text messages in anonymous fashion
  • Taking digital pictures of someone in a locker room and sending it
  • Breaking into email accounts and spreading vicious, embarrassing rumors
  • Sending anonymous threats to the victim's family.

"In the past, kids used to be bullied by the biggest kid in the schoolyard, now they're trying to defend themselves by a faceless, cowardly tormentor," says Mary Lynn. "It's a harder job because they deny everything, and proving the culprit is nearly impossible."

Resources:
National DV Hotline: 800-799-7233
Sexual Assault Response Team (SART): 818-782-2229 (Northridge)
Teen Line at Cedar Sinai: 800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336) nationwide
Break the Cycle: 888-988-8336


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