Victims of Domestic Violence: the Underreported “Silent” Populations in the Community

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Once again an extreme case of domestic violence is reported. This article reacts to a report “Founder of Muslim TV Station Is Guilty of Beheading Wife; New York Times February 8, 2011”, and appeals for enhancing community programs fostering self-report of domestic violence.

From Buffalo, N.Y., reports stated that the founder of a television station in New York was convicted of beheading his wife in 2009, the act had happened in the broadcast studio opened by the couple. Mr. Hassan, 46, bought two hunting knives less than an hour before the attack, parked his luxury vehicle out of view at the station and then hid inside. Surveillance video captured some of the attack inside a darkened hallway; during a 37-second frenzy that began when Mr. Hassan’s wife walked through the door, he stabbed her more than 40 times in the face, back and chest and decapitated her. A jury deliberated for one hour before rejecting his claim that the killing was justified because he was long abused by and afraid of his wife. Mr. Hassan, who acted as his own lawyer during the trial, will face up to 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced.

Domestic violence is every bit as much a public health issue. Women are almost always the victims of this national epidemic. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, 85% of domestic violence victims are women. A witness to the incident was present in 50% of domestic violence cases; half of those witnesses were children. Furthermore, young children are more likely to be exposed to violence in the home than to violence in the street. The violence that occurs within the home is worse for children. They are more intensely affected and the consequences last longer. This form of violence has been hidden from the public eye. There has been little media attention to domestic violence unless it was a fatal or particularly horrific episode of abuse.  

When a woman is beaten or killed by a man, the result is a tragedy, not a statistic. Mr. Hassan, in a stereotyped manner of “blaming the victim,” ̶ complained of continuous harassment by his wife as an excuse for killing her. However, it could not be verified that the wife indeed harassed her husband and if she did the assertion that it would have been reason enough to kill her is absurd. Our societal response has been focused on punishing violent abusers after the violence has happened, or to hospitalizing those who have committed acts of violence after their illness has brought about someone else’s severe injury or mortality.

The situation of domestic violence could be exacerbated by social isolation. The abuser isolates the victim so that no family or support system is available to give the victim feedback on the acts of domestic violence. The victim’s life is limited by the “web” of values and actions of her husband or partner, this in turn leads to domination and control by the abuser.

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There is high relapse rate of abusive behaviors by abusers, and the best secondary prevention is the treatment of violent men. However, domestic violence is underreported to police. Reasons for not reporting include attitudes about police intervention, fears of repercussions, and lacking of awareness and skills for reporting. Just listening to and learning from those reported cases is not enough, there is a substantial need for enhancing community programs fostering self-report of domestic violence.

~ William Huang

 

Culture & Conversation Media

Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos Centers Abortion Stories in New Documentary

Renee Bracey Sherman

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

A new film by producer and director Tracy Droz Tragos, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, profiles several Missouri residents who are forced to drive across the Mississippi River into Illinois for abortion care.

The 93-minute film features interviews with over 20 women who have had or are having abortions, most of whom are Missouri residents traveling to the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Like Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Missouri has only one abortion clinic in the entire state.

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The women share their experiences, painting a more nuanced picture that shows why one in three women of reproductive age often seek abortion care in the United States.

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric. But while I commend recent efforts by filmmakers like Droz Tragos and others to center abortion stories in their projects, these creators still have far to go when it comes to presenting a truly diverse cadre of storytellers if they really want to shift the conversation around abortion and break down reproductive stigma.

In the wake of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, which was at the heart of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court case, Droz Tragos, a Missouri native, said in a press statement she felt compelled to document how her home state has been eroding access to reproductive health care. In total, Droz Tragos interviewed 81 people with a spectrum of experiences to show viewers a fuller picture of the barriersincluding legislation and stigmathat affect people seeking abortion care.

Similar to HBO documentaries about abortion that have come before it—including 12th & Delaware and Abortion: Desperate ChoicesAbortion: Stories Women Tell involves short interviews with women who are having and have had abortions, conversations with the staff of the Hope Clinic about why they do the work they do, interviews with local anti-choice organizers, and footage of anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, along with beautiful shots of the Midwest landscape and the Mississippi River as patients make road trips to appointments. There are scenes of clinic escorts holding their ground as anti-choice protesters yell Bible passages and obscenities at them. One older clinic escort carries a copy of Living in the Crosshairs as a protester follows her to her car, shouting. The escort later shares her abortion story.

One of the main storytellers, Amie, is a white 30-year-old divorced mother of two living in Boonville, Missouri. She travels over 100 miles each way to the Hope Clinic, and the film chronicles her experience in getting an abortion and follow-up care. Almost two-thirds of people seeking abortions, like Amie, are already a parent. Amie says that the economic challenges of raising her other children make continuing the pregnancy nearly impossible. She describes being physically unable to carry a baby and work her 70 to 90 hours a week. Like many of the storytellers in the film, Amie talks about the internalized stigma she’s feeling, the lack of support she has from loved ones, and the fear of family members finding out. She’s resilient and determined; a powerful voice.

The film also follows Kathy, an anti-choice activist from Bloomfield, Missouri, who says she was “almost aborted,” and that she found her calling in the anti-choice movement when she noticed “Anne” in the middle of the name “Planned Parenthood.” Anne is Kathy’s middle name.

“OK Lord, are you telling me that I need to get in the middle of this?” she recalls thinking.

The filmmakers interview the staff of the Hope Clinic, including Dr. Erin King, a pregnant abortion provider who moved from Chicago to Granite City to provide care and who deals with the all-too-common protesting of her home and workplace. They speak to Barb, a talkative nurse who had an abortion 40 years earlier because her nursing school wouldn’t have let her finish her degree while she was pregnant. And Chi Chi, a security guard at the Hope Clinic who is shown talking back to the protesters judging patients as they walk into the clinic, also shares her abortion story later in the film. These stories remind us that people who have abortions are on the frontlines of this work, fighting to defend access to care.

To address the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, the film also features the stories of a few who, for various reasons, placed their children for adoption or continued to parent. While the filmmakers interview Alexis, a pregnant Black high school student whose mother died when she was 8 years old, classmates can be heard in the distance tormenting her, asking if she’s on the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant. She’s visibly distraught and crying, illustrating the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum women of color experiencing unintended pregnancy often face.

Te’Aundra, another young Black woman, shares her story of becoming pregnant just as she received a college basketball scholarship. She was forced to turn down the scholarship and sought an adoption, but the adoption agency refused to help her since the child’s father wouldn’t agree to it. She says she would have had an abortion if she could start over again.

While anti-choice rhetoric has conflated adoption as the automatic abortion alternative, research has shown that most seeking adoption are personally debating between adoption and parenting. This is illustrated in Janet’s story, a woman with a drug addiction who was raising one child with her partner, but wasn’t able to raise a second, so she sought an adoption. These stories are examples of the many societal systems failing those who choose adoption or students raising families, in addition to those fighting barriers to abortion access.

At times, the film feels repetitive and disjointed, but the stories are powerful. The range of experiences and reasons for having an abortion (or seeking adoption) bring to life the data points too often ignored by politicians and the media: everything from economic instability and fetal health, to domestic violence and desire to finish an education. The majority of abortion stories featured were shared by those who already had children. Their stories had a recurring theme of loneliness and lack of support from their loved ones and friends at a time when they needed it. Research has shown that 66 percent of people who have abortions tend to only tell 1.24 people about their experience, leaving them keeping a secret for fear of judgment and shame.

While many cite financial issues when paying for abortions or as the reason for not continuing the pregnancy, the film doesn’t go in depth about how the patients come to pay for their abortions—which is something my employer, the National Network for Abortion Funds (NNAF), directly addresses—or the systemic issues that created their financial situations.

However, it brings to light the hypocrisy of our nation, where the invisible hand of our society’s lack of respect for pregnant people and working parents can force people to make pregnancy decisions based on economic situations rather than a desire to be pregnant or parent.

“I’m not just doing this for me” is a common phrase when citing having an abortion for existing or future children.

Overall, the film is moving simply because abortion stories are moving, especially for audiences who don’t have the opportunity to have someone share their abortion story with them personally. I have been sharing my abortion story for five years and hearing someone share their story with me always feels like a gift. I heard parts of my own story in those shared; however, I felt underrepresented in this film that took place partly in my home state of Illinois. While people of color are present in the film in different capacities, a racial analysis around the issues covered in the film is non-existent.

Race is a huge factor when it comes to access to contraception and reproductive health care; over 60 percent of people who have abortions are people of color. Yet, it took 40 minutes for a person of color to share an abortion story. It seemed that five people of color’s abortion stories were shown out of the over 20 stories, but without actual demographic data, I cannot confirm how all the film’s storytellers identify racially. (HBO was not able to provide the demographic data of the storytellers featured in the film by press time.)

It’s true that racism mixed with sexism and abortion stigma make it more difficult for people of color to speak openly about their abortion stories, but continued lack of visual representation perpetuates that cycle. At a time when abortion storytellers themselves, like those of NNAF’s We Testify program, are trying to make more visible a multitude of identities based on race, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and economic status, it’s difficult to give a ringing endorsement of a film that minimizes our stories and relegates us to the second half of a film, or in the cases of some of these identities, nowhere at all. When will we become the central characters that reality and data show that we are?

In July, at the progressive conference Netroots Nation, the film was screened followed by an all-white panel discussion. I remember feeling frustrated at the time, both because of the lack of people of color on the panel and because I had planned on seeing the film before learning about a march led by activists from Hands Up United and the Organization for Black Struggle. There was a moment in which I felt like I had to choose between my Blackness and my abortion experience. I chose my Black womanhood and marched with local activists, who under the Black Lives Matter banner have centered intersectionality. My hope is that soon I won’t have to make these decisions in the fight for abortion rights; a fight where people of color are the backbone whether we’re featured prominently in films or not.

The film highlights the violent rhetoric anti-choice protesters use to demean those seeking abortions, but doesn’t dissect the deeply racist and abhorrent comments, often hurled at patients of color by older white protesters. These racist and sexist comments are what fuel much of the stigma that allows discriminatory laws, such as those banning so-called race- and sex-selective abortions, to flourish.

As I finished the documentary, I remembered a quote Chelsea, a white Christian woman who chose an abortion when her baby’s skull stopped developing above the eyes, said: “Knowing you’re not alone is the most important thing.”

In her case, her pastor supported her and her husband’s decision and prayed over them at the church. She seemed at peace with her decision to seek abortion because she had the support system she desired. Perhaps upon seeing the film, some will realize that all pregnancy decisions can be quite isolating and lonely, and we should show each other a bit more compassion when making them.

My hope is that the film reaches others who’ve had abortions and reminds them that they aren’t alone, whether they see themselves truly represented or not. That we who choose abortion are normal, loved, and supported. And that’s the main point of the film, isn’t it?

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is available in theaters in select cities and will be available on HBO in 2017.

News Human Rights

Number of People Dying in Texas Police Custody ‘Really Jarring’

Teddy Wilson

“I think this story is really a story that we’ve known for a long time which is that too many people are incarcerated,” said Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral legal fellow and Texas Justice Initiative project director. “The other story that is emerging is that a lot of folks have known for some time too, which is that too many people are incarcerated pre-conviction.”

Nearly 7,000 people have died over the past decade while in police custody in Texas, according to a report by the Texas Justice Initiative (TJI). About 1,900 of those people had not been convicted of a crime. 

Many had not even been charged with a crime.

The TJI report analyzed data collected and published as part of a project by the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin.

Unlike people who are executed by the state, which the report notes is “painstakingly documented,” the accounts of those who die while in custody are not widely known. “They occur at every point and phase of our criminal justice system, in a manner that remains largely untracked and unexamined,” the report’s authors wrote. 

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From 2005-2015, there were 6,913 people who died while in police custody in Texas. The number of deaths in police custody has increased over the years. There were 683 in 2015, the highest number of deaths in a single year during the ten-year span, during which there was an average of 623 deaths per year.

Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral legal fellow and TJI project director, told Rewire that the sheer number of people who have died in custody in Texas has been “really jarring for people,” and that the data shines a light on Texas’ incarceral state. 

“I think this story is really a story that we’ve known for a long time which is that too many people are incarcerated,” Woog said. “The other story that is emerging is that a lot of folks have known for some time too, which is that too many people are incarcerated pre-conviction.”

The report found that racial disparities present in the state’s criminal justice system “generally translate into racial disparities in custodial mortality.”

While Black people comprise 12 percent of the Texas population, they account for 30 percent of custodial deaths. Forty-two percent (2,872) of those who died in custody were white, 28 percent (1,915) were Hispanic and 1 percent (66) were from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The different categories of deaths while in custody mirror the categories used in the custodial death report.

Under Texas law, when a person dies in police custody, in jail or prison, or as the result of a police officer’s use of force, it is required that the law enforcement agency “file a written report of the cause of death” to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

The attorney general’s office has collected the information contained in those reports and published the results in a single database since 2005. The overwhelming majority of deaths were reported as natural causes.

Wong told the Texas Tribune that if the 4,870 deaths reported from natural causes were examined further, the explanation of those deaths may change how they would be categorized.

“If someone wasn’t charged, then maybe the person filling out the form didn’t think they could say that a homicide had occurred,” Woog said. “But the injuries might be consistent with someone having been attacked.” 

There were 772 (11 percent) deaths due to suicide, 573 (8 percent) people who died due to “justifiable homicide,” 275 (4 percent) who died from alcohol or drug intoxication, 255 (4 percent) who died for other reasons, and 168 (2 percent) who died from an accidental injury.

Maya Schenwar, editor in chief of Truthout and the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, told Rewire that the number of in-custody deaths in Texas “does seem like a high number.”

“One of the things that this documents, and is so important to recognize, is that this is not just people going [into prison] and dying of natural causes,” Schenwar said. People who are incarcerated “are more likely to die in a situation that a is result of [medical] neglect or suicide or than they are on the outside.”

The TJI report highlights the number of those who have died while in custody without being convicted of a crime. Many had not been charged with any crime.

Pretrial and bail policies have resulted in tens of thousands of people spending time in Texas jails without being convicted of a crime. Of the 63,989 inmates being held in Texas county jails in 2014, 38,745 inmates (60.55 percent) were being detained pre-trial, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards annual report

The report found that 76 percent of 1,111 deaths in local jails were people not convicted of a crime and 16 percent of those people had yet to even be charged with a crime. 

The number of people who have died prior to booking or in the process of an arrest increased by 84 percent over the last ten years, from 83 deaths in 2005 to 153 deaths in 2015.

Woog told Rewire that the 573 reports of “justifiable homicides” over the past ten years present a challenge to analyzing the data because the state does not define the term in the individual reports.

“It is a term that I think we need to move past, at least when we’re talking about data collection for police involved shootings,” Woog said. “It’s kind of turned into a proxy term in reporting for ‘officer involved shootings,’ but from a data collection point of view it’s not a perfect proxy by any means.”   

As noted by the report’s authors, the term “justifiable homicide” “appears conclusory when it is not clear who made the decision that it was justifiable.” The term is both “under inclusive and over inclusive with respect to officer-involved shootings.” 

Nearly all of the incidents of so-called justifiable homicide occurred prior to booking and without any charges filed: 562 (98 percent) of deaths that were deemed “justifiable homicides” occurred prior to booking and 530 (92 percent) of justifiable homicides happened to people who had not been charged with a crime.

There were two justifiable homicides in prisons and nine justifiable homicides in jails. There were three justifiable homicides of people who had been convicted of a crime, six justifiable homicides of those who were on parole, and 34 justifiable homicides of individuals who were the subject of criminal charges.

Schenwar told Rewire that the report highlights something that is “very pervasive in the system,” and that there is a need to examine the problem of medical and mental health neglect in jails and prisons. 

“Prison causes death in so many different ways and a lot of them are ways in which we might not be able to directly document,” Schenwar said. “Looking at these data sets you might not be able to say that ‘prison killed this person,’ but you can start looking at them and realize that they might be much more likely to die while incarcerate because of these reasons that can’t be connected dot to dot.”

Woog told the Texas Tribune that information will help inform the public discussion on police brutality and violence within the criminal justice system.

“We can’t have an informed conversation about who’s dying at the hands of police or who’s dying in jails if we don’t literally know who’s dying and how they’re dying,” Woog told the Tribune. “I think this information can help us get to the bottom causes of mortality in the criminal justice system and with that lead us to solutions.”

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