Tuesday, April 20, 2010
We have seen domestic violence creep back into pop culture and celebrity justice -- a la the Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen cases. There's no arguing that there's a problem, but one can’t help but ask: What can we do?
Leaving the abuse is the only solution, but that's a lot easier said than done. But leaving, and preparing to leave, just got a leap easier thanks to tireless victims' advocate Susan Murphy Milano. In her new book Time's Up, Murphy Milano offers clear directions on how to leave without being killed.
It's an understatement to say Murphy Milano hits the nail on the head (again). She calls the well-crafted, timely guide the culmination of the years she spent helping save the lives of women escaping domestic violence. In this soup-to-nuts handbook of 12 clearly written chapters, she provides the ABCs of getting away from an abusive relationship with your life. Her concrete instructions give victims of domestic violence a stronger position in the criminal justice system.
For example, in Chapter 4 (Declaration of Independence), Murphy Milano describes and prescribes an Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit –- a document to help in the serious, dangerous, and daunting process of leaving an abuser. The concept is simple yet genius: leaving your abuse requires planning. The chapter has a usable sample document. The affidavit is a wonderful tool for documenting injuries or other evidence of violence -- violence that perhaps leads to the affiant's murder -- and offers hope of holding the abuser criminally responsible. With this sample, you would write out your wishes, the details of the abuse, sign it, have someone witness it, get it notarized, and keep it somewhere secure, safe and out of the abuser's reach.
Take these circumstances for example:
You are in a dating relationship. The guy lives out of state. He's angry that you broke off the relationship. You have sense that he is planning to harm you because he can't have you in his life anymore. He leaves threatening messages on your voice mail or in texts that make you uneasy and afraid. His e-mails are emotional and may contain threats of what might happen if you do not come to your senses. Maybe he sends a threatening e-mail threatening to take his own life if you don't return to him. This suicide threat is also a sign you might be in danger. You need to complete this document and follow the instructions provided.
The biggest gem in the book is the recommendation to film the Declaration. From a prosecutor’s perspective -- for so many reasons -- this video explaining why you are leaving, why you are concerned and afraid, describing your history of being battered and/or stalked, will be the best evidence in the worst possible scenario.
If you trust someone at work to record you, or you belong to a church that's willing to make a brief recording for you – take the opportunity to do it, and then send the tape somewhere where the abuser can't find it.
One thing I would add to Murphy Milano's suggestions to victims: if you can't get a will notarized or have a witness present (perhaps because your abuser is watching you, or you need to leave in a hurry), I would recommend creating what is known as a holographic will. This is a will that has been entirely handwritten and signed. Normally, a will must be signed by a witness who attests to the validity of the document. However, in many jurisdictions, holographic wills will be treated equally under the law.
Can you imagine how valuable it would have been for Stacy Peterson’s family to have a Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit and/or video, or a handwritten (holographic) will? Stacy is still missing, and her family has no peace. Most people are convinced her husband had a hand in her disappearance, but she left no message behind. Her children and parents have no idea what to do with her belongings. You can see how far this simple preparation would have gone in the Peterson case.
Escaping domestic abuse often takes many baby steps. Frightened women whose husbands or boyfriends have beaten, threatened or stalked them need some hand-holding through the process. As she has done one at a time in the past, Murphy Milano reaches out a hand in a way she hopes will save far more women and children than she can in person. Now it's up to those women to garner the courage to find the book and use all the advice Murphy Milano studded it with. Do it now! Do it fast! Don't spend one more day in an abusive relationship that could end in death. But, as Murphy Milano warns, plan well for that escape, and don't give the abuser the faintest hint that you are leaving.
Thank you to Susan Murphy Milano for giving us what Nancy Grace aptly describes as a succinct, well-written guidebook that is a must-have for anyone who is a domestic-abuse victim, knows one, or works with abused women. It is Murphy Milano's life dream that this book will be a staple at divorce-attorneys' offices, police stations, emergency rooms, libraries, battered women's shelters, religious buildings, and doctors' offices.