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Beauty and the Beast: Violence in the Lives of Women and Girls (December 2013): Domestic Violence and Homicide

By Karen Evans

Domestic Violence and Homicide

In 1994, Andrea O’Donnell was murdered in her apartment by her boyfriend.  O’Donnell was a member of the student body at San Diego State University, a women’s studies major, and student director of the Women’s Resource Center on campus.  Kathleen Jones, author of Living between Danger and Love: The Limits of Choice, is a professor who taught O’Donnell, and she writes about O’Donnell in this volume.  Jones, along with many others who knew Andrea, wondered how this death could have happened.  Andrea was a bright, strong, articulate woman.  More important, if this could happen to Andrea, it could happen to anyone.  If it can happen to anyone, how can we prevent it from happening?  Jones explores these issues as she tries to come to terms with the student’s death, her own experiences, people’s choices, and the consequences of those choices.

For firsthand accounts of domestic violence, Domestic Abuse: Our Stories by M. Webb provides more than a dozen stories about women and the abuse they suffered at the hands of boyfriends or husbands, or in a few cases perpetrated by in-laws.  They run the gamut from a pharmacist to a waitress, illustrating that domestic violence can occur at any educational or socioeconomic level.  The stories of these women vary, but the common theme is having jealous, abusive men in their lives.  A few stories in this book are told by family members; the women victims did not survive the relationship to speak for themselves.

In Death by Domestic Violence, authors Katherine van Wormer and Albert Roberts examine issues contributing to the most tragic outcome of domestic violence.  They explore risk factors and issues for domestic homicide, including the role played by alcohol and drugs.  Murder-suicide in domestic situations is also explored.  This work covers domestic homicide around the world, including honor killing, dowry bride burnings, and crimes of passion.  Two chapters are devoted to safety and prevention; the topic of working with battering men includes the Duluth Model and batterers’ education groups.  When Battered Women Kill, by Angela Browne, focuses on women who kill their abusive partners.  Browne looks at the often violent childhood of these women, progressing into their early courtship and moving into battering and abuse at the hands of their partner.  Personal interviews with the accused women offer an intimate look at the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse they endured.  Several behaviors of the abusive partner are discussed.  Among them are intrusive behavior (which the women often viewed as love and protective behavior on the part of the man during the early stage of a relationship), isolation, jealousy, and those in the unknown past of the abuser (e.g., criminal records, past criminal behavior).

When battered women kill, they are often sentenced to prison.  In Convicted Survivors: The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill, Elizabeth Dermody Leonard looks at more than forty women who were convicted in California of killing their abuser and sentenced to prison terms.  Narratives of the convicted women provide insight into their view of themselves (did they consider themselves battered women?), the abuse dealt to them, and the response of the criminal justice system when they sought help from police agencies.  A chapter on profiles of the convicted women provides demographic information including age, race, marital status, education, substance abuse history, and employment.  Convicted Survivors offers a disturbing look at women who find homicide to be their only recourse to end domestic abuse and save their children and themselves.

Marilee Strong and Mark Powelson present a different perspective on men who kill their female partners in Erased: Missing Women, Murdered Wives.  Based on their five years of reporting and research, the authors believe certain men seek to not only murder their partner, but to “erase” the partner’s existence.  Eraser killing follows a particular pattern: the male kills his female partner using a soft method (he does not have to worry about blood or DNA evidence), and then disposes of the body or creates a crime scene that points away from his involvement.  Erased presents a compelling look at men who commit this type of crime; among the eraser killers profiled are Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking, Richard Crafts, and Christian Longo.

Vicki Crompton and Ellen Zelda Kessner share a terrible bond as the mothers of murdered daughters.  They wrote Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship in hopes of saving other parents from their fate.  The authors discuss the types of violence daughters can encounter and what parents can do to help their children leave an abusive relationship (advice includes how to spot the warning signs of a violent relationship).  Chapters include interviews with girls in violent relationships and advice on what parents can do if they suspect their child is the battering partner in a relationship.  This is an important resource for helping parents ensure that their daughters realize that abuse is not acceptable in any relationship.

Hurting the One You Love: Violence in Relationships by Irene Hanson Frieze is the result of more than thirty years of research on violence in relationships.  From defining aggression (violent and nonviolent) and looking at the factors contributing to violence (environment, biology, learning) to considering the reactions of those at the brunt of the violence (posttraumatic stress, coping, seeking help), this volume provides information on different types of violence and the results of these violent acts.  The author also examines specific types of aggression such as battering, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and incest.

Online resources containing valuable information on domestic violence include two sites from the U.S. Department of Justice.  The Office on Violence against Women (http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/index.html) provides information on federal programs and legislation, reports on combating violence against women, and a clickable “Find Local Resources” map, which identifies relevant state resources.  A related site from the U.S. Justice Department is Domestic Violence http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm, which focuses on domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.  The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus: Domestic Violence (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/domesticviolence.html) is another authoritative online resource for information and news on this issue.  It includes valuable links to related topics (e.g., child abuse, teen violence) and key publications of other organizations, many health related, involved with this problem.