Thursday, October 28, 2010

Extreme Measures

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Walking about the tree-lined, red-brick covered campus of San Diego City College, you can feel a hopeful energy. This multi-cultural, inner-city campus attracts bright teenagers, middle-aged professionals, recovering addicts and suburban housewives all seeking some sort of growth and advancement. As former adjunct psychology faculty at City College, I feel a deep sadness about the recent campus murder of 19-year-old student Diana Gonzalez.

Diana Gonzalez, the teenage mother of a 9-month-old baby, was found brutally murdered beyond recognition, in a restroom. She had recently filed a restraining order against her husband, Armando Perez, 37, though the order had not yet been served. In her police report Diana stated her husband kidnapped and raped her over a three-day period, dragging her to a series of motels. At one point he allegedly strangled her to the point of unconsciousness. Diana's parents were apparently so worried about her that they drove her to and from her night class. When she didn't make it back to the car, they called police.

The San Diego District Attorney's office failed to press charges against Armando Perez on the violence charges Diana reported. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis refuses to answer questions about the case ,citing "on-going investigation" as the reason. The prime suspect, Armando Perez, remains free. His abandoned car was found in Tijuana, Mexico, a few days after Diana's murder.

Depending on the type of survey used, between 600,000 and six million domestic violence cases are reported each year. In the year 2000, 1,247 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That same year, 440 men nationwide were murdered by an intimate partner. These statistics show how difficult it is to predict which cases will escalate to homicide and which cases will not. Law enforcement and domestic violence experts know the challenges of protecting domestic violence victims. Once two people have sex with one another, they often continue to replay a drama of passion and violence. Studies show that domestic violence disturbance calls often place police in danger. Children in violent homes are more likely to be abused. I've worked with children injured while trying to protect a parent. One of my clients witnessed the beating of a woman by a man and was punched while trying to rescue her. Victims often continue contact with perpetrators, violating mutual restraining orders, frustrating therapists and security professionals alike.

It appears Diana did everything she could do legally to protect herself from further violence. She filed the police report and restraining order, gave consistent statements and attempted to stay away from her husband. However ,he still got to her. He stalked her. Diana's husband allegedly kidnapped her, after lying in wait, and, for three days, raped her. He also apparently stalked her at school. He has been officially charged with her murder with a "lying -in-wait" allegation, making him eligible for the death penalty.

Victims of intimate partner violence and stalking experience significant negative psychological and physical health symptoms. Anxiety, depression, stress-related illnesses and deteriorating health result from living in chronic fear. Dr. Pati Beaudoin says that victims of stalking experience social isolation, exhaustion, desperation, diminished concentration, and communication problems. At a time when clear thinking is required for self-defense, victims often feel cloudy headed, disoriented, numb.

Dr. Brian Spitzberg reports that one type of high-risk stalker is what he calls the organized stalker, a controlling individual motivated by hate. Violent stalkers often have what Dr. Spitzberg calls a power orientation, characterized by domineering behavior, a strong masculine sex role identity, and distrust. These traits, combined with social incompetence evidenced by jealousy, obsessional thinking and a lack of empathy, are strong predictors of violent behavior. Armando Perez demonstrated an extreme lack of empathy by leaving his infant child motherless and his three children from his previous marriage fatherless.

Armando Perez was married to Olga Vera-Perez for 14 years. They created three children. Armando abused Olga by choking her in 2009. He then moved on to abuse Diana. Casey Gwinn, president of the National Family Justice Center Alliance in San Diego, said about this case, "Based on the evidence we had and based on the evidence I've seen, and, as 20 years as a prosecutor, it appears to me that charges should have been filed in this case." Diana reported a history of more than 20 domestic violence incidents involving Perez. "Somebody should have been interviewing her about those," Gwinn said. "If they were misdemeanors the city attorney could have filed them." The system failed to protect Diana Gonzalez.

Threat assessment expert Gavin de Becker cautions against restraining orders in many situations of domestic violence. If someone abides by the law they might be deterred by it so therefore probably don't need one. If the perpetrator engages in criminal conduct, they already show a disregard for the law. A restraining order can provoke the individual to act out violently as they might see the order as a hostile threat requiring retaliation or as a threat to their dominance. In Diana's case, the restraining order had no effect, as it had not been served. The only effect it may have had was to give Diana and her family a false sense of security.

Naturally, anyone in Diana's position would yearn to return to a sense of normalcy after the trauma she endured. Going back to school to better her life and the life of her child was an honorable thing to do. Unfortunately, in domestic violence/stalking cases, a woman faces the greatest danger when she separates from her abuser. To protect yourself from a violent stalker, sometimes you must exercise extreme measures:
  • Take a leave of absence from school, work, or any familiar places known to the stalker.
  • Go to a domestic violence shelter. Shelter services provide a 60 to 70 percent reduction in incidence and severity of re-assault.
  • Consult a threat-assessment professional. You can find referrals from the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals.
  • Consult private security professionals. Follow their advice.
  • Think like a stalker. How could someone find you? Where are you most vulnerable?
  • Leave town. Don't stay with any known relatives or friends. Instead, stay with friends of friends or people unknown to the stalker.
  • Get a second phone number for your personal calls. Leave the old phone number to receive messages so you can screen calls from the stalker and monitor his mood.
  • Get a guard dog.
  • While driving, make sure you're not followed. Test this by making four left turns.
  • Hire a private investigator to monitor your stalker.
Not everyone can afford to implement all of these suggestions. However, you can increase your likelihood of survival the more you take responsibility for your own protection. Law enforcement reacts to crimes already committed or in progress. Depending on police to protect you may not ensure your safety. You may have to do things outside the boundaries of normal life. You may have to take extreme measures.


Kathryn Casey said...

Gina, restraining orders in and of themselves aren't a cure, that's true, but aren't they a necessary step? If they're not filed, if police reports aren't made, how will a paper trail be formed to convince police to make arrests under the anti-stalking laws most states now have?

Cathy Scott said...

I can't count the number of homicide scenes I've been to as a police beat reporter where there was a restraining order in place and, as soon as the husband or boyfriend found out, he was so angry about it, he went to the house and killed the woman. That may not be the case each time, but it's played out over and over, and it's a huge risk. It can revoke them into retaliating.

Notification and police reports can be filed without going to court and asking for a restraining order. It's not a protection, it's an order and a piece of paper that's only useful if the abuser respects it. It's an individual choice and a case-by-case decision.

The one question the person has to ask is this: Will a restraining order make me safer? If you're dealing with a reasonable person, probably. If you're not dealing with a rational person, probably not. If a stay-away order provokes the abuser, the court order is a crap shoot and a roll of the dice with your life on the line.

Cathy Scott said...

Meant to say "provoke them" not "revoke them." :-)

DrGina said...

Thank you Kathryn and Cathy for your thoughtful comments. Kathryn it is true that restraining orders do allow police to protect victims by making it easier to legally arrest perpetrators stalking their victims. Gavin de Becker says each case should be assessed individually with a good look at how the perpetrator will likely respond. It is unwise for victims to just routinely get restraining orders without careful consideration of the consequences. As Cathy says, too many are murdered with the restraining order as the provoking pre-incident indicator.

California Girl said...

While she could have been 18 when she conceived the child, more like it was a case of statutory rape given the age difference. Why wasn't he turned in then? Why did the parents allow their minor child to see a man about twice her age?
Too many criminals flee over the border. He will return at some point. This is why we need the death penalty to be carried out.