Domestic violence stalkers are among the most persistent and potentially dangerous offenders. The response to these stalkers must be given careful consideration and coordinated among both criminal justice and social welfare agencies.
Stalkers are typically young men between the ages of 20 and 34. It has been estimated that over the course of their lives, 5% of the female population in America will be stalked. It is also estimated that up to 90% of cases involving women victims of homicide committed by husbands or boyfriends are preceded by stalking.
Domestic violence stalkers have a need to control their victims. Prior to the woman leaving an abusive relationship with such an individual, he typically tries to control every aspect of her life, including finances, and friendships. Disobedience is subject to verbal, physical or emotional retaliation against her and/or her children. When the victim leaves the relationship, he interprets this as a loss of control and is preconditioned to attempt reasserting control by whatever means necessary, including stalking, often coupled with violence.
Stalking can be seen as the logical method for the psychopath to reassert control. The terror felt by the victim is hard to exaggerate. This has been described as psychological war. Tactics vary enormously. Some stalkers simply trail their victims continuously. Many others destroy or vandalize property, send packages or deliveries often of inappropriate or bizarre items, poison or kill pets, use phone threats, and contact employers, neighbors, and relatives, making normal life impossible.
Research is now showing that stalking by itself is a strong predictor of subsequent, often uncontrolled violence against the victim, her family, bystanders, and even the offender. Murder and suicidal rage are not uncommon.
The criminal justice system should consider stalking to be a serious crime prior to tragedy. Judges should consider the full range of potential sentences including mandatory psychological evaluations of accused stalkers prior to release, releases conditioned on wearing electronic bracelets, especially rigorous probation oversight, and other similar measures.
Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges should also provide information pamphlets to victims of stalking. If this type of educational brochure if not readily available, contact your local domestic violence program for help in designing this handout.
Due to the position that law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel have, they share a unique responsibility to be public advocates to educate the public, victims, and potential offenders that the problem of stalking is serious, is illegal, and will not be tolerated.;
Information for this article was taken from Domestic Violence: The Criminal Justice Response (1996) by Eve S. Buzawa and Carl G. Buzawa.
How guns are used by batterers to reinforce control
Domestic violence involves a batterer attempting to have the power and control in the relationship. Batterers will often use weapons to reinforce their power and control over the victim. Typically, batterers will use the following scenarios to further their control:
- The batterer will directly threaten the victim with the gun.
- The batterer will shoot a family pet, such as a dog, to serve as a warning to the victim.
- The batterer will ensure that the victim is aware that he is sleeping with the gun nearby.
- The batterer will wield the gun during arguments.
- The batterer will point the gun at the children.
- The batterer will stage a mock execution of the victim. The gun will figure prominently in the execution.
- The batterer will make it a point to clean the gun during or after arguments.
- Again, the gun will be displayed prominently during or after the argument.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed the 75 most populous counties in the Nation during May 1994. They found the following information regarding felony charges:
- About one-fourth of felony defendants were charged with a violent offense, usually assault (12.7%) or robbery (8.5%). Murder (l.l%) and rape (l.4%) defendants accounted for a small percentage of defendants.
- About three in eight defendants had an active criminal status at the time of the current charged offense, including 17% who were on probation, 15% on pretrial release, and 8% on parole.
- Sixty-one percent of all defendants were convicted of a felony, and 11% were convicted of a misdemeanor.
- The highest felony conviction rates were for defendants charged with drug trafficking (73%), driving related (70%), murder (67%), burglary (67%), or a weapons offense (67%).
- The lowest felony conviction rate was found among assault defendants (41%).
- Ninety-two percent of convictions occurring within one year of arrest were obtained through a guilty about five in six guilty pleas were to a felony.
- Murder defendants (32%) were the most likely to have their case adjudicated at trial. About four in five trials resulted in a guilty verdict, including three-fourths of murder trials.
- Overall, 67% of the defendants whose most serious conviction charge was a felony were sentenced to incarceration. Nearly all of the remaining convicted defendants received a probation sentence.
Similarities among battered women
Initial Surprise. Many battered women are surprised to learn that their partners are capable of such violence.
Unpredictability of Acute Battering Incidents. No matter how long a woman is abused by her partner, she still cannot predict exactly when an acute battering incident will occur, nor the degree of seriousness of the assault.
Overwhelming Jealousy. Batterers are jealous of other men, women friends, family, children, grandchildren, and jobs. As the batterer’s jealousy increases, so does his possessiveness of the battered woman.
Unusual Sexuality. Battered women commonly report unusual kinds of sexual behavior that their batterers expect.
Lucid Recall of Acute Battering Incidents. Battered women are usually able to recall the details of the violent incidents.
Concealment. Although battered women vividly recall battering experiences, they frequently deny and conceal this information to protect their batterers.
Drinking. Excessive use of alcohol is a common characteristic of batterers.
Extreme Psychological Abuse. Almost all battered women report severe verbal harassment and criticism by batterers. Their partners are adept at finding the victim’s weak spots and using them for their own purposes.
Family Threats. An important coercive technique, batterers often threaten to harm the families or close friends of the victim.
Extraordinary Terror Through the Use of Guns and Knives. Some batterers reportedly frighten their victims with terrorizing descriptions of how they will torture them.
Omnipotence. Battered women believe that batterers can accomplish things others cannot do.
Awareness of Death Potential. Some battered women state that they are aware their batterers are capable of killing them.
This article is based upon the book, The Battered Woman by Lenore Walker.
EXPLAINING AWAY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
In a series of articles for AWARE, the tendency to explain away acts of domestic violence will be explored. The ideas discussed in these articles are based upon information from When Love Goes Wrong by Ann Jones and Susan Schecter (1992).
In an effort to understand a criminal case involving domestic violence, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges often develop theories or reasons why a particular defendant battered family members. Unfortunately, these theories usually mask and confuse the true nature of domestic violence. Domestic violence revolves around issues of power and control. Any rationale which minimizes the underlying power and control issue is ultimately not addressing the needs of either the victim or the perpetrator.
Inappropriate explanations for domestic violence which are typically used by the legal system include:
Insecurity Is the Root of His Problem
One victim stated, my partner couldn’t stand it when I would look at another guy. So I stopped looking. Then he started imagining I was looking, and I knew I was in trouble.
Many women have partners they believe are so insecure, so uncertain of themselves, or so jealous that reassuring became for the women a full-time job. Despite all their efforts to compliment, soothe, comfort, support, and strengthen the fragile ego of the controlling partner, these women reported failure. He remained insecure and uncomfortable. Why?
In our society there is a notion of male privilege which entitles a man to be cared for by a woman; all his needs and wishes fulfilled. Many abusers depend almost entirely upon the victim to make life comfortable and secure. The victim is supposed to cater to him, put him first – before her children or herself, guess his needs, take care of his house, and manage his problems. If she fails to do it perfectly (as any human being would) or if she resists, his security is threatened and he strikes back. He behaves decently only when he feels that he has her under control: in other words, only when she does whatever he expects (whether or not she knows what his expectations are). The basis of his security is her subservience, dependence, and adoration. He builds himself up by putting her down. He puffs up as she shrinks.
This happened to one victim. She stated it took me years to see what he really is. He’s a bottomless pit that I kept trying to fill. Just when I thought I had it right, he changed the rules. He acts plenty insecure, but I don’t buy it anymore. By putting me through hoops and making me prove my love all the time, my partner was reminding me that he runs the show. He got so much attention from his insecure position. All the while I thought I was soothing a hurt ego, and he was running me ragged.
FIREARMS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Perpetrators of domestic violence use firearms to intimidate, maim, or kill their victims. Persons who have had a civil protection order issued against them are prohibited under the 1994 amendments to the Federal Gun Control Act from purchasing or possessing a gun (18 U.S.C, section 922 (g) (1994)).
Although local law enforcement are required to search record keeping systems to determine if the sale of a handgun would violate the law, this mandate is ineffective in many states because of the lack of civil protection order databases accessible to both the courts and law enforcement.
The Judge should provide in the order of protection that the abuser must remove all firearms from his possession or control for the duration of the protection order. To ensure that the abuser complies with the order, the abuser should be required to submit to the court a receipt from the law enforcement agency which has received the firearms. Firearms dramatically increase the risk of death in domestic violence situations:
*Data compiled by the California Department of Justice Law Enforcement Information Center for 1994 shows that when a domestic violence incident is fatal, guns are largely responsible: 68% of the domestic violence homicides were from firearms (153 out of 224).
Firearms associated with family and intimate assaults are twelve times more likely to be fatal than those not associated with firearms.
Households with guns are 7.8 times more likely to have a firearm homicide at the hands of a family member or an intimate acquaintance than homes without guns.
The easy accessibility of guns in the home increases the risk of suicide. Spousal abuse and battering have been identified as a major risk factor for suicide attempts: one abused woman in ten attempts suicide, many more than once.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AFFECTS THE WORKPLACE
Nearly one in four American women between the ages of 18 and 65 has experience domestic violence. The effects of domestic violence go beyond the private boundaries of the family.
More than one in three women (37%) who have experience domestic violence reported that this abuse had an impact on their work performance.
One in four domestic violence victims (24%) said this abuse caused them to arrive late to work or to miss days of work.
Fifteen percent of abuse victims said they had a difficult time keeping a job.
Twenty percent of victims said the abuse affected their ability to advance their careers. Twelve percent of victims reported that a current or past intimate partner harassed them at work.
Homicide is by far the most frequent manner in which women workers are fatally injured at work. A recent U.S. Department of Labor study showed that in 17% of these homicides, the alleged assailants were current or former husbands or boyfriends.
Poor work performance not only diminished a woman’s self-esteem and ability to work, it also has serious implications for employers. The Bureau of National Affairs estimates family violence costs U.S. Corporations $3 to $5 billion annually in lost time and productivity.
In a 1994 survey of senior executives of Fortune 1,000 companies, 66% of the respondents believed that a company’s financial performance would benefit from addressing the issue of domestic violence among its employees.
In the same study 49% of the senior executives felt that domestic violence has a harmful effect on their company’s productivity.
Forty-seven percent of the senior executives felt that domestic violence has a harmful effect on employee attendance.
Forty-four percent of the senior executives felt that domestic violence increases the company’s insurance and medical costs.
Eighty percent of the senior executives said that domestic violence affects employees from all walks of life.