Understanding Domestic Violence: Unveiling Patterns, Barriers, and Solutions
Understanding Domestic Violence Dynamics
For many years, cases of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse have made headlines. Typically, however, the ones that make it public are the ones where the victim has already lost their lives in the hands of their abuser. According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Domestic Violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime in the United States. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2015) Or, we could take a different approach and look at it this way: According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Nearly 3 in 10 women have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning.”
(National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2018) Sometimes, it becomes hard to look at these numbers and begin to paint the big picture in our heads. Starting with the total number of women that account for our population, then we move on to a smaller population of only the ones closely related to us. This includes mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, and nieces, and everyone around us becomes part of that chance of being victims of domestic violence. Simply starting off by being a woman.
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This is important to note because in cases where women experience Domestic Violence (DV) or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), they make themselves believe that the abuse they are withstanding does not constitute either IPV or DV. Domestic violence has been around for years, but it wasn’t until the term was redefined. According to The United States Department of Justice, “The term domestic violence includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of jurisdiction.”
(The United States Department of Justice, 2018) Even with such a detailed definition provided to us, we still to this day see domestic violence as an act between two people involved in a relationship only at the moment of the abuse. In the cases that will be presented, the use of Von Hentig’s typology of victims will help us understand how two cases, Jennifer Kershaw’s and Maria Escamilla’s, fall under the categories Hentig believed in making these victims suitable and vulnerable for abuse.
Following the characterization of these women as suitable victims, we see through the Routine Activities Theory how the role of the guardian, the second component of the theory, influences the cases. Although getting past the stage of believing it will be considered a case if reported, there are many other underlying barriers that make it difficult to break the silence of these victims and save their lives. A common issue we face with this crime is how it is not even considered a severe crime, as we will see in our first case.
Examining Victim Dynamics and Legal Challenges
Our criminal justice system is lacking the knowledge of how severe of a crime this is and how important it is to make the change. Women are easily seen as vulnerable to victimization through Von Hentig’s typology of victims due to the fact that these women have their partners take on the role of an interested “offender,” themselves as the “potential target,” and the lack of family and friends as “guardians,” all components of Routine Activities Theory, in accordance to the cases of Jennifer Kershaw and Maria Escamilla.
In 2003, Jennifer Kershaw was lying in an Ohio hospital bed with “a broken cheekbone, a swollen eye, and cuts and bruises,” all while denying pressing charges against her husband, Jerry Bailey. (Bever, 2016) She was a first-grade teacher who began to fear her husband when his behavior got extremely violent. It wasn’t until August 2013 that she lay in the hospital telling herself that was enough. (Becker, 2016) Jennifer, a 36-year-old female, falls under Von Hentig’s (1948) typology of victims, looking at how personal factors influence risk factors for victimization.
She fell for the lies of “change,” something we typically hear in cases such as this one. Her fear was triggered even more when he began “throwing things and breaking houseware, among other behaviors.” (Becker, 2016) What she didn’t realize was that he fell under what Routine Activities Theory would categorize a person interested in engaging in a criminal act, otherwise known as the offender, and the first component of this theory helps us understand the likelihood of a criminal act.
Secondly, the theory states that a potential victim/target must be present. Noticeably, we see how Jennifer saw herself in a situation similar to all battered women’s understanding of the incident; having pointed out the first two components of the theory, I think it is important to point out how important the third component of a “guardian” is in this case. Many times, this is taken away at the start of the relationship. In Kershaw’s case, besides the fact that he had taken her keys and cell phone that would enable her communication, she was also ashamed to go to her family and friends since all she wanted to do at the time was protect her husband. (Bever, 2016)
There was no guardian there for Jennifer to prevent contact with her abuser. So, Jennifer finally decided that was enough; she went to the police. Her husband was found guilty of misdemeanor domestic violence and “was sentenced to 180 days in jail- 178 of which were suspended-and two years’ probation.” (Bever, 2016) According to J.Ford, ET AL., “Case Outcomes In Domestic Violence Court: Influence of Judges,” previous research shows that judges were less likely than other professionals to have received training in the area of familial violence and more likely than other professionals, except for police, to view spousal abuse as grounds for divorce rather than as a criminal offense. (Crowley, et al., 1990)
Survivors’ Stories of Courage and Advocacy
Surprisingly, when Kershaw decided to take on a civil suit against her ex-husband in 2014, she found herself with an answer not common in domestic violence cases. She stood before a judge in Franklin County, Ohio, when it was announced her award for compensatory damages of $1,580,000, following a total of $20 million for punitive damages. (Price, 2016) Similar to Jennifer’s case, the case of Maria Escamilla brought about awareness of the issues two years prior that for so long had silenced the voices of the women hiding in the shadows of their abusive relationships.
In 2011, Maria Escamilla was faced with what would be the attack that would change her entire life. March 2011, her boyfriend at the time, Jose Arreola, assaulted her with his hands, a lamp, a knife, and an unknown object. He tortured her for five hours, leaving her with stab wounds and cuts to her head, mouth, leg, hand, breasts, and sexual organs. He punctured one of her lungs, her eyes were swollen shut, and she had extensive facial fractures that required permanent plates and screws in her face. She was also raped and sodomized. (Emily, 2016)
To say the very least, this woman has been an honorary example of a resilient survivor. After a Dallas County jury awarded what people said to be the “largest ever financial award for a domestic violence victim” of $40.5 million and Jose Arreola was sentenced to 28 years in prison with a $5,000 fine for Escamilla’s attack, Escamilla is a current advocate for domestic violence victims. (Owens, 2013) Gruesome is trying to describe the torture Escamilla went through, not to mention her personal factors that also tie her to Von Hentig’s typology of victims.
Different from Jennifer’s case, we now see a young female of a minority background. It is important to note that the more categories that these victims fit, the more likely it is for them to become victims in the first place. As described in Jennifer’s case, the partners took the role of the offenders. Jose Arreola can be seen, as defined in Routine Activities theory, as the “offender.” It seemed that the two had been in an argument following a night out as they made their way back home when, all of a sudden, Arreola turned violent and began to beat her. (Owens, 2013)
What would, of course, make the second component of this theory would be Maria Escamilla and how, after several previous violent attacks, she stayed in the relationship with the belief that he was going to change, therefore making her the “target.” Third, Escamilla did not have anyone who would be there to protect her from the attack; she seemed to have little to no contact with family members, and the only friends she had were mutual with Arreola. This made the lack of a “guardian” for her almost cost her her life in an article published by Sonia M.
Empowering Change through Support, Awareness, and Advocacy
Frias and Maria Carolina Agoff, Between Support and Vulnerability: Examining Family Support Among Women Victims of Intimate Partner Violence in Mexico, the security and trust family interactions provide are what have shaped the concept of familism, a central trait of Mexican and Mexican-American culture and families. (Frias & Agoff, 2015) In many cases, minority women are faced with this abuse, and their family is not there. Even though Escamilla did not have to face the fear of an immigration status, I think it is important to note that many of the times when women are in fear of legal
consequences, they are less likely to report their abuse.
According to the study conducted by Reina & Lohman in 2015, Latinas explained how institutional and structural barriers were the main challenges they faced as they tried to seek help from formal institutions. (Reina & Lohman, 2015) As I previously mentioned, women are easily seen as easy targets for victimization through Von Hentig’s typology of victims due to the fact that these women have their partners take on the role of an interested “offender,” themselves as the “potential target” and the lack of family and friends as “guardians,” all components of Routine Activities Theory, in accordance to the cases of Jennifer Kershaw and Maria Escamilla.
Surprisingly, many of the victims, like Jennifer and Maria, know who their offender is and still struggle to report their abuse. In a New York Times article, Women’s Lives, Cut Short, a diagram is shown to represent all the murdered women in 2015. The same diagram illustrates 1,694 women killed by men, and 1,604 of those females were killed by someone they knew. (The New York Times, 2015) Currently, what we see is a growing number of programs and organizations that are working to build opportunities for these victims to reach out for help.
Included is Community Beyond Violence (CBV), which works towards building healthy relationships and providing healing services to victims. Another is No More, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault by increasing awareness, inspiring action, and fueling culture change. (No More, 2013) Even though it does seem like we are moving forward towards better assisting these victims, I propose there be a program whose main objective is to provide training to judges and officials of our criminal justice system that deal specifically with domestic violence cases.
Training that involves any official that wants to emphasize their education in domestic violence cases, as well as working towards earning a certification. A suggested name for the program is “Silence Breakers,” which program would be dedicated to advocating for these victims as well as providing to getting officials certified to take on a domestic case. People really need to realize how important this crime is, especially when we see it happening across all backgrounds. Domestic violence is a prevalent issue that constitutes many of the issues already on the legislature’s agenda, such as guns.
532 women in 2015 were killed by an intimate partner with a gun. (The New York Times, 2015) It should not be pushed to the side when cases like these are becoming more and more common in our news. One victim breaking the silence at a time goes a long way. Domestic violence and IPV cannot be the leading cause of death in the future years of our new generations. By the looks of it, the silence is evidence of the possibility. Together, if each person took on the role of voicing for one victim, there would be no room for the abusers to fight back.
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2015). Domestic Violence Facts. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/statistics
- National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2018). Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
- The United States Department of Justice. (2018). Definition of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence
- Bever, L. (2016). Ohio woman’s $20 million lawsuit shows how smartwatches can record evidence of domestic abuse. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/03/14/ohio-womans-20-million-lawsuit-shows-how-smartwatches-can-record-evidence-of-domestic-abuse/
- Becker, L. (2016). Domestic Violence Victim Speaks Out Against Abuse. WDTN. Retrieved from https://www.wdtn.com/news/domestic-violence-victim-speaks-out-against-abuse/
- J. Ford, ET AL. (1990). Case Outcomes In Domestic Violence Court: Influence of Judges. Crowley, J., Fromm Reed, R., & Chanmugam, A. (Eds.), Proceedings of the National Symposium on Family Issues (Vol. 2, pp. 204-220). Springer.
- Price, M. (2016). Woman who sued ex-husband in landmark case says court’s decision changed her life. ABC6. Retrieved from https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/woman-who-sued-ex-husband-in-landmark-case-says-courts-decision-changed-her-life
- Emily, A. (2016). Court documents reveal gruesome details in case of woman stabbed, beaten, raped. WFAA. Retrieved from https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/local/dallas-county/court-documents-reveal-gruesome-details-in-case-of-woman-stabbed-beaten-raped/287-348129617
- Owens, D. (2013). Dallas County jury awards $40.5 million to woman beaten, raped. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2013/08/23/dallas-county-jury-awards-405-million-to-woman-beaten-raped/
- Frias, S. M., & Agoff, M. C. (2015). Between Support and Vulnerability: Examining Family Support Among Women Victims of Intimate Partner Violence in Mexico. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(17), 3087-3107.
- Reina, A. S., & Lohman, B. J. (2015). “It wasn’t worth my pride”: Domestic violence, Latinas, and help-seeking. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(17), 2946-2965.
- The New York Times. (2015). Women’s Lives, Cut Short: A Diagram. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/06/us/womens-lives-cut-short-a-database.html
- No More. (2013). About No More. Retrieved from https://nomore.org/about/