The burden of domestic violence

The news hit Boston like a bombshell:  Jerry Remy‘s son was arrested for murder.  Jerry Remy is the former Red Sox second baseman and long time Sox television commentator.  He is the President of Red Sox Nation.  We have seen him through cancer, depression and a recent reoccurrence – a minor one he told us.  When he is not broadcasting games, we miss him.  So hearing that Jared Remy had been involved in a domestic violence incident that resulted in the stabbing to death of his girlfriend and mother of his child was shocking.

All the facts are not in, but there was a violent incident two days before that resulted in injury and a court appearance for Jared Remy the next day.  Jennifer Martel, for reasons that we really don’t know, did not appear to ask for a retraining order and, even though Massachusetts law allows for it, the district attorney did not request one.  Jared Remy has a history of violence.  A little over 24 hours later, Martel was dead.  She had been stabbed to death on the patio of their home.  Some neighbors tried to intervene and one of them was also injured.

The DA and the state attorney general are both investigating and looking into changes that might prevent similar incidents in the future.

Everyone is wondering why Martel didn’t just leave, but the question I want to ask is why is it always the woman who has to leave?  I’ve been on task forces, on the board of the Richmond, VA. YWCA, and executive director of a women’s commission.  I have supported shelters and hot line and assisted women to leave home and go to a safe place.  I ran a Clothesline Project.  Everyone in the field knows that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is getting ready to leave her abuser, but we still expect her to be the one who leaves.  When there are school aged children, they are often put in different schools.  The woman is separated often separated from her friends and support system and so are the children.  She bears the burden, not her abuser.  (And yes, men can also be abused.  Gays and lesbians can abuse their partners and spouses.  But the vast majority of those suffering abuse are women.)  Martel’s family says she was also making plans to leave.

Friends and relatives said Martel, 27, an aspiring teacher who worked at a nearby Market Basket to provide for her daughter, had been trying to extricate herself from what she told them had become an abusive relationship with Remy, the son of famed Boston Red Sox player and broadcaster Jerry Remy.

“I talked to her on Wednesday; she said she was planning her escape,” said Patty Martel, who on Friday was driving from her home in Virginia to Massachusetts. “It started off she was very happy with him, but, as time went on, he showed his true colors, and it got worse and worse.”

Right after the murder of Jennifer Martel, I read a story in the New York Times about a new kind of law.  If someone makes too many calls to 911, the law can require the landlord to evict.

The police had warned Lakisha Briggs: one more altercation at her rented row house here, one more call to 911, and they would force her landlord to evict her.

They could do so under the town’s “nuisance property” ordinance, a law intended to protect neighborhoods from seriously disruptive households. Officials can invoke the measure and pressure landlords to act if the police have been called to a rental home three times within four months.

So she faced a fearful dilemma, Ms. Briggs recalled, when her volatile boyfriend showed up last summer, fresh out of a jail stint for their previous fight, and demanded to move in.

“I had no choice but to let him stay,” said Ms. Briggs, 34, a certified nursing assistant, even though, she said in an interview, she worried about the safety of her 3-year-old daughter as well as her own.

“If I called the police to get him out of my house, I’d get evicted,” she said. “If I physically tried to remove him, somebody would call 911 and I’d be evicted.”

This may be an unintended consequence of a law designed to help landlords with squatter and drug dealers, but the burden often falls on women who are victims of domestic violence.

“These laws threaten citizens’ fundamental right to call on the police for help,” said Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard.

In a study of citations issued to landlords in Milwaukee, conducted with Nicol Valdez of Columbia University, Mr. Desmond found that domestic violence was involved in nearly one-third of the cases and that rentals in largely black areas were disproportionately singled out.

Legal experts say the laws can give tenants the lasting stain of an eviction record without due process.

In a federal lawsuit being watched by legal aid groups elsewhere, Ms. Briggs has challenged the Norristown ordinance as unconstitutional.

She did so after her fears were realized.

In June 2012, days after her ex-boyfriend, Wilbert Bennett, moved into her house in this struggling town northwest of Philadelphia, he started another drunken, late-night argument. Then came his most violent attack yet: an assault with a broken ashtray that left a gash on her head and a four-inch stab wound in her neck.

Before she passed out, Ms. Briggs begged her neighbor not to call 911 because of the eviction threat, according to the suit, which is being argued by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The neighbor called anyway. Ms. Briggs was taken by helicopter to Philadelphia for emergency treatment. Mr. Bennett is now serving a sentence of one to two years for aggravated assault.

The town says she never got a restraining order.  What if she had gotten one when the boyfriend got out of jail?  In all likelihood he would have come around anyway and she would have had to call 911.

I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but we need to figure out how to deal with men like Wilbert Bennett and Jared Remy.  Putting them in jail is not the entire answer.  That may well work for a while, but they will get out and often turn up again.   There are a few programs for men, but they are very few.  Some prisons have anger management classes which may work for some.  But as long as we continue to think of ending the abuse as the woman’s responsibility, we will never think of any new solutions.

A death from domestic violence leaves families shattered and children anchorless and what happened with Jennifer Martel and Jared Remy is not an exception.

2 thoughts on “The burden of domestic violence

  1. That law is insane, let’s hope it gets overturned. It sounds like something a town would do to try to artificially lower their crime stats.
    As for why we expect a woman to leave an abusive relationship – it is because the abuser almost always has no plans for leaving it.

    • The law is insane!

      The abuser is controlling (!) and therefore won’t leave voluntarily. I think we need to figure out some way to make that separation more than just a retraining order that is almost impossible to enforce.

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