Domestic abuse is terrorism.
I can hear laughter or, perhaps gasps of incredulity. How can domestic violence be terrorism? Terrorism has a face in America. It is that face of foreigners with dark agendas. Or it is the face of mentally unbalanced young men who have a point to prove and a weapon?
How could it be someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend? How could it be someone’s husband or ex-husband? Or someone’s ex-wife?
What prompted this blog is news coverage of what is nothing less than a tragedy. This is the story of Carie Charlesworth. It is also the story of an untold number of battered and abused woman. It is likely you know one of them though you don’t realize it. For me it is the story of my wife in the early part of her adulthood and several friends and their daughters who have had their lives taken away from them to be replaced by an obsessive fear. The details are so similar that it is eerie and sickening. The fact that the legal system has had this epidemic on it’s radar for years and has just now gotten around to passing legislation to control stalking and domestic abuse is mind-boggling. The fact that these laws are enforced inconsistently and often without any real teeth is criminal. For those of us who know and love some of these women, the situation is terrifying and infuriating.
Let’s return to the story of Carie Charlesworth. It’s not a unique story. And, as it is for many women, the outcome is decided by more by our apathy and disbelief than by an application of measured American Justice. Despite our claims to this being a “just” and free” nation, there is no remedy for Carie except the roulette wheel of our legal system and a gamble on a lawsuit she’d prefer not to pursue.
Recently this mother of four lost her job as a 2nd grade teacher in a Catholic School in San Diego. Earlier this year an incident occurred that sparked the whole situation. At that time Charlesworth’s ex-husband showed up in the school parking lot, forcing a ”lockdown” . At first Carie was given a leave of absence. But in the end, it was finally decided that Ms. Charlesworth was too much of a liability and the school decided to take the safety of their students seriously. She was fired, essentially because she and her children, who also attended the school, were targets of her ex-husband. This made the rest of the students and teachers at the school targets as well.
No one can blame the school for its decision. Even those of us who feel that we need to make a stand against the long time pandemic of domestic violence could ever entertain involving children. Carie’s ex-husband is a psychopath and, by virtue of being a psychopath, he is unpredictable.
As might be expected, she is suing the school, her only remedy. It’s likely the case will drag through the courts while Carie and her children watch their savings diminish. We can only hope some brave soul gives here a job. As it is, any business that might hire her or any school who might accept her children as students could become possible future targets. Abusers don’t ignore anyone who defies them.
And this is where the terrorism connection starts to become clear.
In essence Carie’s ex-husband has been rewarded for being a violent psychopath. He played the system and as often happens when someone has the advantage of surprise, he came away with a win he didn’t deserve. Though he was arrested for violating Carie’s protection order, he still was able to control his wife’s life. For the rest of us it might be hard to understand that for an abuser, control is the only goal. For a man like this, there is no penalty that will make him stop.
I asked my wife, herself a domestic abuse victim decades back, why it seemed so hard for people to see the epidemic proportion of domestic abuse and domestic violence. She smiled and repeated the prevalent philosophy I had heard as a child in New York: It’s a family matter; it’s nobody’s business but the family’s; it has to be solved behind closed doors.
I thought back to those times, halcyon, dreamy days when things were different and I saw good things on the horizon. It was the 1960s and, in my parent’s small circle of friends, I knew of no wife beaters. There was no domestic abuse as far as I knew. That kind of thing didn’t happen in middle class Queens among my parent’s extremely educated peers. Or did it?
Confronting the issue of Domestic violence, in my case, has been long in coming. I realize that I haven’t been the only one with his head in the sand; I have many companions in that regard. It seems that we are taught to ignore unpleasant things whenever possible. The balm for our conscience, one I’ve heard mentioned many times, is the fact that people blame the victim for becoming involved with the abuser in the first place and that makes it their fault.
Now, looking back, I remember men who were my parent’s friends who abused their wives. They didn’t use fists as far as I knew because they didn’t have to. Sharp words, embarrassment in front of friends, isolation, control, gas lighting, all of these are quite effective tools. They can strip a life of any meaning and any potential. They can ruin the lives of children who are forced to watch the barrage of ugliness until it eventually manifests itself in their own lives in one form or another, perhaps in depression or substance abuse or even in becoming abusers themselves.
What else had I been missing? The situation is far worse than I had ever considered.
Here are some statistics that might clarify the situation. They come from my local police department and are attributed to Murray Strauss of the University of Durham, N.H. with the note: “Recent research from American Psychological Association confirms this study”. I have chosen a few of these numbers to portray the situation in its stark epidemic reality:
. 14% of all American women acknowledge having been violently abused by a husband or boyfriend
. 75% of domestic homicides occur after the victim has left the perpetrator.
. Violence against women in the home causes more injuries to women than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
. Every day, 4 women are killed by their intimate partner.
This last statistic is, of course, the most chilling. As large a nation as we are, the loss of four lives per day is appalling. Why? It would seem that 1460 deaths a year is worth a national dialogue of its own? There is nothing random about this problem and it’s effects are far worse than many of the other social ills that dominate the news media and spawn special interest groups dedicated to changing our laws.
But is domestic abuse a form of terrorism? Do we need to confront it with the same type of laws that are used to punish terrorists? Let’s begin with a definition. Terrorism is defined in the on-line Miriam Webster dictionary as:
The systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.
For a domestic abuse victim, life is both a waiting game and an obstacle course. Whether the victim lives with the abuser or has managed to get the abuser out of his or her day to day life, they have to proceed as if they were walking on glass. An abuser’s stock and trade is unpredictability. What exactly will bring on a barrage of fists, threats or harsh words is never known. The cause can be anything from the victims choice to put on the “wrong” clothes to a delusional perception on the abuser’s part that the victim is flirting or sexually involved with a third party.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop. That is what the victim experiences and, like any human being living with constant stress and fear, their life is compromised. When will I get beaten again? What will bring on the anger? Will I die the next time there is a beating? Can I go to the store to buy sunglasses or will that bring on another episode of violence?
If I go to a friend’s house, will I be followed and will the ensuing argument embarrass me?
When will the next nasty text reach my phone? Should I leave and where can I go? What will happen to my children if there is another blowup? Will they be the next victims?
I can almost hear the words, as if it was me saying them years ago, before I got the see the true nature of this beast. Why don’t victims contact the police? Why don’t they just get an order of protection? Surely if enough people know about the abuser’s behavior, something will be done, wouldn’t it?
Why don’t victims call the police? The answer is simple. Calling the police, in the long run, simply gives the abuser more ammunition for abuse. The police coming to the door, asking if the victim (and perhaps the victim’s children) are okay; this is the full extent of most domestic violence visits. Sometimes the abuser is arrested if there are clear signs of battery. But any relief that brings doesn’t last long. Remember, once the Police have processed the call, they are out of it. Their ability to re-visit the situation, follow up, keep the situation under control on an on-going basis is non-existent.
And that leaves the victim, alone or living with the abuser, within striking distance of an enraged mentally ill terrorist. Another call to the police offers a reprieve from terrorism only as long as the police are present. Which is a minuscule sliver of the time an abuser has to take revenge.
And then there is the victim’s most powerful weapon: the order of protection.
It would seem that the very fact that most states have enacted such laws demonstrates that American legislators are aware of this brand of domestic terrorism and have taken steps to wipe it out. That would be true if these laws were enforced consistently across the board. Like most of us, I have been made aware of cases where repeated violations of an order of protection has resulted in sentences as long as fifteen years. I have also seen situations where the enforcement of these laws have been weak and inconsistent, effectively aiding and abetting the abuser in a campaign of terror that can last years.
The laws themselves often contain enough loopholes that the abuser can play the system and continue the terror if law enforcement is not vigilant. Often there are stipulations that an abuser can’t come within a certain distance of a victim; this can lead to a standoff with the abuser standing within feet of the legal limit but still visible to a victim.
But the real weakness of an order of protection is its lack of teeth. Abusers often ignore orders of protection, coming within feet of the victim to terrorize them even further, only to run before the police can be called, essentially nullifying the “protection” aspect of the order of protection. If they are arrested…well consider that we are dealing with obsessive psychopaths who need to maintain their sense of control and will do anything to preserve it. How much do they really care that they might spend a year in jail when they are compelled by their psychosis to maintain control at all costs?
As Carie Charlesworth told the press the day of the lockdown, her abuser, an ex-husband, had given her and her children “a bad weekend” just before his appearance in the parking lot of the school she worked in. What this amounts to is the fact that he appeared near enough for her to be alarmed several times in one weekend. And then he appeared in the parking lot of the school she worked in just to drive home the point that he could.
And so Martin Charlesworth was able to punish his wife for not allowing him to engage in frightening, irrational behavior and control her and his four children due to her order of protection. Though he didn’t speak directly to the school officials, it seems obvious that he was hoping to cause as much harm to his wife as possible and it was easy for him to meet his goal. It was also his decision to scare all the school children and teachers in that school . Though they might be considered collateral damage to a monomaniac like Charlesworth, he certainly would not pass up any lever he could find in his quest to persecute his wife. Since his children were also attending the same school, he was able to disrupt their education.
Martin Charlesworth is not a puzzle for the legal system. There have been many years of “vetting” his status as felon and abuser. There is no doubt that he is a repeat offender. We have gone well past the point where our system needs to protect his rights by ascertaining whether he was falsely accused or whether he is a serial offender.
Consider this: Martin CharlesWorth is a terrorist. His coercion is complete, even going beyond his family to an entire school full of teachers and children. He was able to make them dance to his tune and could clearly repeat the act somewhere else. His targets may be fewer in number than a “standard” terrorist and he doesn’t quite have the truly evil and iconic presence of a Timothy McVey. But he is a terrorist non-the-less.
Why have we taken so long to enact even the most basic laws to deal effectively with domestic abusers. Are Americans basically callous and unconcerned? The evidence tells a different story. Currently in this country we are experiencing a fierce battle over the use and possession of guns and what legal measures can be used take to control gun use. This question has come about for reasons that need no explanation. We have had a number of shootings that were random as they were horrific. People understandably want answers and they want options. No one is willing to sacrifice any more of family members, friends, or neighbors to random and senseless violence. Both side are galvanized and they are girding their loins to fight for what they believe is right. No one on either side is willing to let this issue fall by the wayside.
Down the spectrum of horror several hundred notches is another scourge, one far less spectacular and heinous than physically attacking an intimate partner. Would you consider car theft an evil on par with violence and terror, enough to divert the vital and inadequate resources of law enforcement from other problems such as drug sales, sex trafficking and, yes, domestic abuse? Obviously someone thought so. Currently the reality show “Bait Car” is one of the most popular on television. The premise is simple: attractive, late model cars are left on the street in high crime neighborhoods, full of “extras”, such as high dollar CD players. The police in several jurisdictions use various ruses to leave these cars unattended, with the keys in the ignition. And then they wait while cameras roll. When an unsuspecting car thief becomes interested in a Bait Car, the entire process of the car theft is taped. In the end the cars are shut down and locked from a remote location with the thieves locked inside. Just as the thieves realize they’ve been played, police swarm around them with guns drawn and the felons are rounded up and taken to jail.
Good entertainment value, certainly. And criminals taken off the street. Good work, all in all.
How can we be understandably outraged over car theft not be equally outraged over violence toward men, women and children in record numbers? What disconnect drives us to ignore one horror while we are passionate about another? How can hundreds of thousands of dollars be spent in the enforcement of auto theft laws and the filming of a reality show when women and children die daily at the hands of abusers?
I asked my wife one more time how these things could be true. And why women being beaten and killed are ignored. She gave me her usual cynical smile and told me, “There’s no money in it. Who’s going to care?”
My wife is smarter than I am; I know that she’s right. The fact is that while the gun control conflict rages on, the whispered story of domestic abuse remains a blip on the radar.
Our answer is clearly to create legislation that is as harsh as any other set of laws that is developed to handle crimes that involve violence, coercion and far more homicide than is acceptable. We have a patriot act that has recently handed down sentences of 30 years for environmental activism and arson. We need to meet domestic violence and stalking crimes head on with laws that carry escalating penalties. Like many of our drug laws, it should start with eight to ten year sentences. A second violation should bring a sentence of thirty years. If there is third offense We need to implement laws where a domestic abuser is a “three time loser” who will likely die in jail, sacrificing a life of freedom for crimes that test the moral code that our nation is based on.
We’ve seen an upsurge in interest in fighting domestic abuse. The crowning achievement is the recent PSA by Kiera Knightly. It’s clear that things have changed since I was a child when domestic abuse was seen as a personal issue, something that needed to be kept behind closed doors. Our job now is to make Americans aware of what is happening right next door and to ask the question: Are you willing to have this happen in your country?
Those of you interested in facing the monster and protecting families should go the the following website to find out what you can do to change our laws:
National Newtork to End Domestic Violence
Neil Newton: Author of “The Railroad” on Amazon