Oh, boy, am I ever going to take heat for this. But it must be said.
There are some women caught up in the awful throes of domestic abuse who are to blame. Domestic abuse occurs because they allow it.
The women of whom I speak stay when they should leave. They repeatedly call police to come to their rescue after their partner’s anger erupts. Then, they repeatedly refuse to press charges. These abused and humiliated women forget the panic they felt at the moment they scrambled to the phone and dialed 9-11 for help. They imagine they can’t possibly make it in life without their abusive mate. They’re caught in a terrible cycle of co-dependent violence.
The harsh reality is that when one of these women fails to follow through by pressing charges, she may be sealing a death warrant for others who will cross paths with the lout later.
Case in point: Jeffrey Maxwell of Corsicana, Texas. In 1987, he was arrested for slitting his wife’s throat. He never went to trial because Martha Martinez Maxwell returned home and declined to cooperate with prosecutors. Five years later, Martha mysteriously disappeared.
Now — 24 years after the vicious attack on his wife — Maxwell is once again in trouble for assaulting a woman. Police traced his car to the home of a kidnap victim. When they arrived at Maxwell’s house to question him, officers found the missing woman, who had been shackled, sexually abused and badly beaten during her 13 days in captivity. Maxwell, known for his charity work and as an officer in his local Kiwanis Club, is now charged with kidnapping and rape.
If only Martha had pressed charges! Police now suspect she was murdered by Maxwell, and they’re trying to prove that. They also believe he is to blame for the disappearance of a third woman, Amelia Smith, who went missing in 2000 and is also presumed dead.
Another example: George Villanueva is a career thug with 28 priors, including three open cases of battering his girlfriend, Kim Dykstra. Police in Brooklyn, N.Y., responded at least a dozen of Kim’s calls for help. Every time Villanueva was arrested and jailed for assaulting her, Kim signed an affidavit saying she would not testify against him.
In mid-March, Kim called police a final time, saying George was threatening to kill her. When police moved in to arrest Villanueva, a violent scuffle on his raised stoop ended with veteran police Officer Alain Schaberger being shoved over a 9-foot-high railing. He broke his neck and died a short time later. Villanueva is now charged with aggravated murder.
If only Kim had found the courage and self-esteem to press charges!
Every cop on the beat will tell you the most dangerous call they get involves domestic violence and the most heartbreaking DV calls are the ones that include children. Anger mixed with passion can be a deadly combination. In candid moments, officers might admit they’d like to ignore the 9-1-1 calls from women like Martha and Kim — those who routinely flake out when it comes time to testify.
Please, don’t accuse me of being unsympathetic to victims. I am not. As a reporter and in my personal life, I’ve interacted with battered and terrified women. I know their plight and the lack of services offered them when they finally decide to stand up for themselves and their children. I know the law often considers a spousal beating a minor infraction.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance wrote recently, “With so many of these cases … the abuser faces the same sentence on his hundredth misdemeanor conviction as he did on his first. A punch to the face month after month is (considered) the same level crime as not paying a subway fare.”
That’s got to change. We have to instill a system-wide attitude adjustment on how we handle habitual batterers. A three-strikes policy might be a fine solution. But the women at the center of this horrible cycle must also take personal responsibility.
Society cannot remove an adult woman from a perilous domestic situation. She must walk out on her own, resolved to find a better way of life. Can we do a better job of helping her find the courage to leave and a safe place to go? Yes. But more educational opportunities, job training and child care won’t help until the woman helps herself.
After he was charged with murder, Villanueva told the New York Daily News he wasn’t guilty of killing Schaberger. From behind bars at Rikers Island, he cockily said, “The only thing I’m guilty of is domestic abuse.” As if beating a woman is really nothing much to worry about.
The most immediate way to stop serial abusers like Maxwell and Villanueva is for their punching bags to take a permanent walk away. The best long-term solution is for the women to cooperate with prosecutors and for judges to throw the book at the abusers.
That’s really the best chance we have to stop the cycle of violence from being handed down to future generations.