Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Here's the story I worked on last week in light of the domestic shooting in my coverage area:

More than 1,200 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2000.

These are the most recent statistics available from the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence.

There have been several such cases recently in the region, including one a week ago today when 24-year-old xxxxx of Hopewell was fatally shot at the McDonald's in Everett where she worked. The young mother of three was on a break from her job. Police have charged her estranged husband with criminal homicide.

The xxxxx's, according to both police and family, had a lengthy history of domestic violence in their time together. Less than two weeks before the murder, xxxxxx had filed for another protection-from-abuse order, similar to a restraining order, against her husband, according to officials.

The PFA prohibited xxxxx from carrying a firearm.

Domestic violence experts insist that however tragic xxxxx's story is, it still is an exception and not the norm. A life free from violence is possible through the help of shelters, agencies and hot lines.

Judy Yupcavage, director of communications with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the most important thing is for victims to take the first step toward improving their lives by calling a reputable agency able to assist in the long road to empowerment.

"I think it's important, in times of tragedy like this, to reassure people that help is a phone call away,' she said. "There's someone there, always there, to help.'

The coalition was the first state domestic violence coalition in the country, started in Harrisburg in the mid-1970s.

The private, nonprofit agency works with 61 local domestic violence organizations to provide crisis services as well as prevention and education services, 24-hour hot lines, shelters, counseling services, medical advocates and court accompaniment.

Domestic violence is as complicated an issue as the methods used to stop the often continuous cycle of verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

"For each victim, how to stay safe is sort of a different set of measures that have to be taken,' said Yupcavage. "What works for one won't necessarily work for someone else.'

A few methods of safety precautions include relocating and enrolling in an address confidentiality program, fleeing and remaining in hiding or keeping connected to a neighbor, family member or friend and a local program.

A protection order can be effective, Yupcavage said, although the Gerholt case is a reminder that nothing is perfect.

"It doesn't work for everyone,' she said. "It's never intended to be the only thing someone has in place to stay safe. It's one precaution. It works for many. It does what it's supposed to do.'

About 94,000 individuals seek help from local domestic violence programs each year in the commonwealth. There are about 40,000 active PFA orders in place at any one time, Yupcavage said.

Domestic fatalities have become too common lately, with at least four incidents taking place in the area in an 18-month period.

In February 2007, 24-year-old xxxx was shot and killed at a day care in Greenwood in front of her children by her former boyfriend, xxxx, whom she had filed a PFA against two months earlier.

In April of this year, xxxx, 49, of Hollidaysburg shot and killed his wife, xxxxx, and then himself after a history of domestic violence.

In June, xxxx of Ebensburg, 43, killed his estranged wife, xxxx, 41, and her boyfriend, xxxx.

In July, xxxx, 44, was shot and killed by her ex-husband, xxxx, who then was killed by xxx's friend, xxxx, who was at the home at the time of the shooting. xxxhad filed for a PFA against xxxin April.

Bedford County has seen a large increase in PFAs, Your Safe Haven Executive Director Jeannee Mallow said, with more than 200 of the orders issued between July 2006 and June 2007.

"For little Bedford County, that's about four a week,' Mallow said. "I think it's because we take our PFAs seriously in this county.'

Mallow said she is hurt or insulted when she hears people say that PFAs are little more than a piece of paper.

"Are our systems perfect? No,' Mallow said. "But we have been working together within the criminal justice system to see how we can make things better. We address the safety first and foremost. That's the bottom line.'

Mallow said there are many reasons victims stall in taking the first step toward getting help, including fear, mind games and alienation.

"The abuser sometimes plays mind games with the victim to make them think everything is their fault,' Mallow said. "They're stupid or they're worthless. The victim, over time, may believe this. If only she does what the abusive partner wants her to do, it might make things better. He'll keep finding something else, though. It wears down her self-confidence.'

Although places like Your Safe Haven treat both men and women, about 95 percent of the victims that come forward are female, Mallow said.

A step-by-step plan specific to each case is made to ensure the safety of the victim and his or her family, especially children in the home.

"It took so much courage for that person to pick up the phone and talk to a stranger about what's going on in their home,' Mallow said. "In abusive relationships, it's all about power and control. The victims have no control. The abusers have all the power. We can't tell the victims what to do. We say, `Here are your options.' It's not our life, it's theirs.'

Mirror Staff Writer xxxxx is at 946-####.

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