“You never do anything about him.
You talk to him and then you leave.”
Nicole Brown Simpson to police

I don’t see how anyone could have had doubts after hearing the eloquent prosecutor describe the case. We all know the story: The murdered woman had reportedly suffered violence at the hands of the defendant for a long while, virtually since the start of their relationship. A few times, she had called the police, and once she even brought battery charges against him (he was acquitted). The day of the murder, she hadn’t invited him to come along to a social event, and not long after ten P.M., she was stabbed to death. The defendant told a friend that he’d had a dream in which he killed her, but later his lawyers said she was probably murdered by drug dealers.

These facts became famous during the O.J. Simpson case, but the story I just told occurred thousands of miles from Brentwood, when Nicole Brown Simpson still had six months left to live. The murdered woman in this case was named Meredith Coppola. If I told of all the women killed in America this year by a husband or boyfriend, the book you are holding would be four thousand pages long—and the stories would be stunningly similar. Only the names and a few details would change.


I worked with the prosecution on the stalking aspects of the Simpson criminal trial, and later on the civil suit brought by the Goldman family, but I don’t discuss the case here as an advocate. In one sense, it is nothing more than an example of this common crime. In another sense, however, it is much, much more. For American children who are under ten in 1997, this one case dominated the news for at least 30 percent of their lives. It was all that was on daytime TV, all they saw on tabloid covers at their eye-level at the supermarket, and all that the adults seemed to be discussing at the dinner table. It is, ultimately, an American myth about Daddy killing Mommy—and getting away with it. Whatever your opinion of the case, that myth is part of its legacy. So are the many myths that were widely promoted by the Scheme Team, Simpson’s criminal defense lawyers.

They told us, “Just because a man beats his wife doesn’t mean he killed her,” and that’s true. But what’s that got to do with O.J. Simpson, who beat his wife, broke into her home, threatened her (at least once with a gun), terrorized her, and stalked her? That behavior puts him very near the center of the predictive circle for wife murder.


The Scheme Team’s observation is a little like saying, “Just because someone buys dough doesn’t mean he’s going to make pizza,” and that’s true, but if he buys dough, spreads it around on a tin tray, adds tomato sauce, adds cheese, and puts it in the oven, then, even if Simpson lawyer Alan Dershowitz tells you differently, you can be comfortable predicting that pizza is being made.

Why do I call the Simpson lawyers the Scheme Team? Because it reminds me that wife murderers and their lawyers frequently scheme to design defenses for an indefensible crime. Every murder discussed in this chapter, except those in which the perpetrators committed suicide after killing their spouses, was followed by some creative legal excuse making.


What was clear in the Simpson case is that while Ron Goldman may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, Nicole had been in the wrong place for a long time. As prosecutor Scott Gordon, now the chairman of L.A.’s forward-thinking Domestic Violence Council, said, “Simpson was killing Nicole for years—she finally died on June twelfth.” This concept of a long, slow crime is what I want to focus on as we discuss predicting and preventing these tragedies.

Despite the misinformation offered to the American public by paid advocates in service of just one man, there are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.


3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).


7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).


9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).


11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchase, and behavior of his wife/partner.


13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life;” “always;” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.


17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/partner and derives much of his identity from being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/partner.


21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.


23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history. He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.


25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.


27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).


29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

With this list and all you know about intuition and prediction, you can now help prevent America’s most predictable murders. Literally. Refer the woman to a battered women’s shelter, if for nothing else than to speak to someone who knows about what she is facing, in her life and in herself. Refer the man to a battered women’s shelter; they will be able to suggest programs for him. When there is violence, report it to the police.

This list reminds us that before our next breakfast, another twelve women will be killed—mothers, sisters, daughters. In almost every case, the violence that preceded the final violence was a secret kept by several people. This list can say to women who are in that situation that they must get out. It can say to police officers who might not arrest that they must arrest, to doctors who might not notify that they must notify. It can say to prosecutors that they must file charges. It can say to neighbors who might ignore violence that they must not.


It can also speak to men who might recognize themselves, and that is meaningful. After Christopher Darden’s closing argument in the Simpson trial, co-prosecutor Scott Gordon and I joined him in his office. We read faxes from around the country sent by victims of domestic violence, but we were equally moved by messages from abusive men, one of which read, “You may have just saved my wife’s life, for as I listened to you describing Simpson’s abuse, I recognized myself.” Unlike some murders, spousal homicide is a crime that can strike with conscience.

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Before any discussion on how a woman can get out of an unwanted relationship, we must first recognize that many women choose not to get out. Right now, as you are reading these words, at least one woman in America is being beaten by her husband—and now another, for it happens once every few seconds. So while it’s old news that many men are violent, we must also accept that a nearly equal number of women choose to stay with them. This means that many accurate predictions of danger are being ignored. Why?


I can share part of the answer from my personal experience as a boy. I vividly recall the night when my sister and I ran out the door at two A.M. after hours of violence. Afraid to go back home, we called the police from a pay-phone and reported two kids loitering so that we’d get picked up and taken to jail, where we’d be safe. That experience and the years that led up to it helped me to understand that many women stay for the same reason I stayed: Until that night, no other possibility ever occurred to me. Before that night, you could no more have gotten me to voluntarily leave my family than I could get you to leave yours right now.

Like the battered child, the battered woman gets a powerful feeling of overwhelming relief when an incident ends. She becomes addicted to that feeling. The abuser is the only person who can deliver moments of peace, by being his better self for a while. Thus, the abuser holds the key to the abused person’s feeling of wellbeing. The abuser delivers the high highs that bookend the low lows, and the worse the bad times get, the better the good times are in contrast. All of this is in addition to the fact that a battered woman is shell-shocked enough to believe that each horrible incident may be the last.


Understanding how people evaluate personal risk has helped me better understand why so many women in danger stay there. As I learned from my experiences with violence as a child, many of these women have been beaten so much that their fear mechanism is dulled to the point that they take in stride risks that others would consider extraordinary. The relationship between violence and death is no longer apparent to them. One woman who’d been at a shelter and then returned to her abuser gives us a good example: She called the shelter late one night to ask if she could come back. As always, the first question the counselor asked was “Are you in danger now?” The woman said no. Later in the call the woman added, almost as an aside, that her husband was outside the room with a gun. Hadn’t she just a moment earlier said she wasn’t in danger? To her, if he was in the same room with the gun or the gun was being held to her head, then she would be in danger.

How could someone feel that being beaten does not justify leaving? Being struck and forced not to resist is a particularly damaging form of abuse because it trains out of the victim the instinctive reaction to protect the self. To override that most natural and central instinct, a person must come to believe that he or she is not worth protecting. Being beaten by a “loved one” sets up a conflict between two instincts that should never compete: the instinct to stay in a secure environment (the family) and the instinct to flee a dangerous environment. As if on a see-saw, the instinct to stay prevails in the absence of concrete options on the other side. Getting that lop-sided see-saw off the ground takes more energy than many victims have.

No amount of logic can usually move a battered woman, so persuasion requires emotional leverage, not statistics or moral arguments. In my many efforts to convince women to leave violent relationships, I have seen their fear and resistance first-hand. I recall a long talk with Janine, a thirty-three-year-old mother of two who showed me photos the police had taken of her injuries after one of the frequent beatings she received. She was eager to tell me about her husband’s abuse but just as eager to make excuses for him. Though the most recent beating had left her with three broken ribs, she was going back to him again. I asked her what she would do if her teenage daughter was beaten up by a boyfriend. “Well, I’d probably kill the guy, but one thing’s for sure: I’d tell her she could never see him again.”

“What is the difference between you and your daughter?” I asked. Janine, who had a fast explanation for every aspect of her husband’s behavior, had no answer for her own, so I offered her one: “The difference is that your daughter has you—and you don’t have you. If you don’t get out soon, your daughter won’t have you either.” This was resonant to Janine because of its truth: she really didn’t have a part of herself, the self-protective part. She had come out of her own childhood with it already shaken, and her husband had beaten it out completely. She did, however, retain the instinct to protect her children, and it was for them that she was finally able to leave.


Though leaving is not an option that seems available to many battered women, I believe that the first time a woman is hit, she is a victim and the second time, she is a volunteer. Invariably, after a television interview or speech in which I say this, I hear from people who feel I don’t understand the dynamic of battery, that I don’t understand the “syndrome.” In fact, I have a deep and personal understanding of the syndrome, but I never pass up an opportunity to make clear that staying is a choice. Of those who argue that it isn’t, I ask: Is it a choice when a woman finally does leave, or is there some syndrome to explain leaving as if it too is involuntary? I believe it is critical for a woman to view staying as a choice, for only then can leaving be viewed as a choice and an option.

Also, if we dismiss the woman’s participation as being beyond choice, then what about the man? Couldn’t we point to his childhood, his insecurities, his shaky identity, his addiction to control, and say that his behavior too is determined by a syndrome and is thus beyond his choice? Every human behavior can be explained by what precedes it, but that does not excuse it, and we must hold abusive men accountable.


Whoever we may blame, there is some responsibility on both sides of the gender line, particularly if there are children involved. Both parents who participate are hurting their children terribly (the man more than the woman, but both parents). Children learn most from modeling, and as a mother accepts the blows, so likely will her daughter. As a father delivers the blows, so likely will his son.

Though I know that dedicated, constructive people want to educate the public as to why so many women stay, I want to focus on how so many women leave. Helen Keller, a woman in another type of trap said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

▪ ▪ ▪

Many batterers control the money, allowing little access to bank accounts or even financial information. Some control the schedule, the car keys, the major purchases, the choice in clothes, the choice in friends. The batterer may be a benevolent control freak at the start of an intimate relationship, but he becomes a malevolent control freak later. And there’s another wrinkle: He gives punishment and reward unpredictably, so that any day now, any moment now, he’ll be his great old self, his honeymoon self, and this provides an ingredient that is essential to keeping the woman from leaving: hope. Does he do all this with evil design? No, it is part of his concept of how to retain love. Children who do not learn to expect and accept love in natural ways become adults who find other ways to get it.

Controlling may work for a while, even a long while, but then it begins not to work, and so he escalates. He will do anything to stay in control, but his wife is changing, and that causes him to suffer. In fact, the Buddhist definition of human suffering applies perfectly: “clinging to that which changes.” When men in these situations do not find out what is going on inside them, when they do not get counseling or therapy, it is a choice to continue using violence. Such men are taking the risk that violence will escalate to homicide, for as Carl Jung said, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.”

Working closely with the Domestic Violence Council, I’ve learned that for every battered woman who makes the choice to leave, we as a society must provide a place for her to go. In Los Angeles County, where eleven million people live, there are only 420battered women’s shelter beds! On any given night, 75 percent of those beds are occupied by children.


In Los Angeles we have a hotline that automatically connects callers to the nearest shelter. Through that number, established by Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, battered women are taught how to get out safely. They learn to make duplicates of car keys and identification papers, how to hide these items from their husbands, how to choose the best time to run, and how not to be tracked when they escape into the modern-day underground railroad that shelters have become. I believe so strongly in the value of this hotline that my company funds it. I mention it here because every city in America needs such a number, and needs to get it prominently displayed in phone booths, phone books, gas stations, schools, and hospital emergency rooms.

An 800 number like ours, answered by people who have been there and understand the dilemma, is often more likely to be used than the alternative number (which I also recommend): 911. The reason for some women’s reluctance to call the police is eloquently expressed by the case of Nicole Brown Simpson.

In one episode not revealed during the criminal trial, Simpson pushed Nicole out of a moving car in a parking lot. A police officer who happened on the scene told Simpson, “Take your wife home.” In another incident (well after they were divorced) Simpson broke down the door into Nicole’s home. A responding police officer told Nicole his conclusion of what had happened: “No blows were thrown, he didn’t throw anything at you; we don’t have anything other than a verbal altercation.” Nicole responded correctly: “Breaking and entering, I’d call it.” “Well,” the officer countered, “it’s a little different when the two of you have a relationship; its not like he’s a burglar.” Absolutely wrong, officer. It’s very much like he’s a burglar, and it was breaking and entering, and trespassing. After assuring O.J. Simpson that they’d keep the incident as quiet “as legally possible,” the officers left. (By the way, the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department are now leading the nation in new ways to manage domestic violence cases.)

Earlier I noted that America has tens of thousands of suicide prevention centers but no homicide prevention centers. Battered women’s shelters are the closest thing we have to homicide prevention centers. There are women and children in your community whose lives are in danger, who need to know how to get out, and who need a place to escape to. Los Angeles, the home city of the nation’s most notorious wife abuser, is, I am proud to say, also the city with an escape plan for battered families that other cities can use as a model.

▪ ▪ ▪

Just as there are batterers who will victimize partner after partner, so are there serial victims, women who will select more than one violent man. Given that violence is often the result of an inability to influence events in any other way, and that this is often the result of an inability or unwillingness to effectively communicate, it is interesting to consider the wide appeal of the so-called strong and silent type. The reason often cited by women for the attraction is that the silent man is mysterious, and it may be that physical strength, which in evolutionary terms brought security, now adds an element of danger. The combination means that one cannot be completely certain what this man is feeling or thinking (because he is silent), and there might be fairly high stakes (because he is strong and potentially dangerous).

I asked a friend who has often followed her attraction to the strong and silent type how long she likes men to remain silent. “About two or three weeks,” she answered, “Just long enough to get me interested. I like to be intrigued, not tricked. The tough part is finding someone who is mysterious but not secretive, strong but not scary.”

One of the most common errors in selecting a boyfriend or spouse is basing the prediction on potential. This is actually predicting what certain elements might add up to in some different context: He isn’t working now, but he could be really successful. He’s going to be a great artist—of course he can’t paint under present circumstances. He’s a little edgy and aggressive these days, but that’s just until he gets settled.


Listen to the words: isn’t working; can’t paint; isaggressive. What a person is doing now is the context for successful predictions, and marrying a man on the basis of potential, or for that matter hiring an employee solely on the basis of potential, is a sure way to interfere with intuition. That’s because the focus on potential carries our imagination to how things might be or could be and away from how they are now.

Spousal abuse is committed by people who are with remarkable frequency described by their victims as having been “the sweetest, the gentlest, the kindest, the most attentive,” etc. Indeed, many were all of these things during the selection process and often still are—between violent incidents.


But even though these men are frequently kind and gentle in the beginning, there are always warning signs. Victims, however, may not always choose to detect them. I made these points on a recent television interview, and a woman called in and said, “You’re wrong, there’s no way you can tell when a man will turn out to be violent. It just happens out of nowhere.” She went on to describe how her ex-husband, an avid collector of weapons, became possessive immediately after their marriage, made her account for all of her time, didn’t allow her to have a car, and frequently displayed jealousy.

Could these things have been warning signs?

In continuing her description of this awful man, she said, “His first wife died as a result of beatings he gave her.”

Could that have been a warning sign? But people don’t see the signs, maybe because our process of falling in love is in large measure the process of choosing not to see faults, and that requires some denial. This denial is doubtless necessary in a culture that glorifies the kind of romance that leads young couples to rush to get married in spite of all the reasons they shouldn’t, and 50-year-old men to follow what is euphemistically called their hearts into relationships with their young secretaries and out of relationships with their middle-aged wives. This is, frankly, the kind of romance that leads to more failed relationships than successful ones.


The way our culture pursues romance and mating is not the way of the whole world. Even here within our nation is another nation, of Native Americans, whose culture historically involved arranged marriages. The man and the woman were selected by elders, told to live together, and quite possibly without a scintilla of attraction, told to build a life together. For such relationships to succeed, the partners had to look for favorable attributes in each other. This is the exact opposite of the process most Americans use, that of not looking at the unfavorable attributes.

The issue of selection and choice brings to mind the important work of psychologist Nathaniel Branden, author of Honoring the Self. He tells of the woman who says: “I have the worst luck with men. Over and over again, I find myself in these relationships with men who are abusive. I just have the worst luck.” Luck has very little to do with it, because the glaringly common characteristic of each of this woman’s relationships is her. My observations about selection are offered to enlighten victims, not to blame them, for I don’t believe that violence is a fair penalty for bad choices. But I do believe they are choices.


Though leaving is the best response to violence, it is in trying to leave that most women get killed. This dispels a dangerous myth about spousal killings: that they happen in the heat of argument. In fact, the majority of husbands who kill their wives stalk them first, and far from the “crime of passion” that it’s so often called, killing a wife is usually a decision, not a loss of control. Those men who are the most violent are not at all carried away by fury. In fact, their heart rates actually drop and they become physiologically calmer as they become more violent.

Even the phrase “crime of passion” has contributed to our widespread misunderstanding of this violence. That phrase is not the description of a crime—it is the description of an excuse, a defense. Since 75 percent of spousal murders happen after the woman leaves, it is estrangement, not argument, that begets the worst violence. In the end, stalking is not just about cases of “fatal attraction”—far more often, it is about cases of fatal inaction, in which the woman stayed too long.


Of all the violence discussed in this book, spousal homicide is the most predictable, yet people are reluctant to predict it. A man in Los Angeles was recently accused of killing his wife, three of his children, and three other family members. News reporters questioning neighbors about the accused murderer were told, “He always seemed normal.” Another said, “He must be crazy,” and another said, “I can’t imagine that a father would kill his own children.” As you know, if you cannot imagine it, you cannot predict it. When will we have seen this story often enough to realize that if several members of a family are killed, it was probably done by another member of that family? In this case, the man who neighbors couldn’t imagine was responsible for the murders had already tried to kill his wife three other times. He had also been arrested twice on domestic violence charges. Sounds predictable to me.

So how does the system usually respond to society’s most predictable murder risk? It tells the woman to go to court, to civil court, and sue her abuser to stay away. In many states this is called a temporary restraining order because it is expected to restrain the aggressor. In some states it’s called a protection order, expected to protect the victim. In fact on its own, it doesn’t achieve either goal.


Lawyers, police, TV newspeople, counselors, psychologists, and even some victims’ advocates recommend restraining orders wholesale. They are a growth industry in this country. We should, perhaps, consider putting them on the New York Stock Exchange, but we should stop telling people that a piece of paper of will automatically protect them, because when applied to certain types of cases, it may do the opposite. It is dangerous to promote a specific treatment without first diagnosing the problem in the individual case.

It is perhaps obvious to say that a restraining order will not restrain a murderer, but there is substantial controversy on the topic. While I warn that they should not be universally recommended because they aren’t right for every kind of case or every stage of a case, most police departments encourage them all the time. Restraining orders (often called TRO’s) have long been homework assignments police give women to prove they’re really committed to getting away from their pursuers. The orders do get the troubled women out of the police station and headed for court, perhaps to have continuing problems, perhaps not, and they do make arrests simpler if the man continues his unwanted pursuit. Thus, TRO’s clearly serve police and prosecutors. But they do not always serve victims. In California, for example, TRO’s are valid for only 14 days, after which the woman must return to court for a trial to determine if the order will be extended.


Even with all the failures of the present system, there are those who aggressively defend it, including one psychiatrist who has been a loyal apologist for the status quo. At a large police conference, he trumpeted: “TRO’s work, and we have proven it.” He based his reckless statement on a woefully biased study of a small sample of stalking cases that didn’t even include spousal stalkers, the very type most likely to kill.

In fact, if you work back from the murders, you’ll find restraining orders and other confrontational interventions alarmingly often. The personal effects of a woman murdered by her estranged husband frequently include the piece of paper that that psychiatrist assured us has been “proven” effective. How does he explain that?


“Look at it this way,” he says. “Some people die on chemotherapy. Some people die when they get restraining orders. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t do chemo—or that you don’t get restraining orders.” The doctor’s comparison between cancer (which the afflicted patient cannot get away from) and the risks posed by an estranged husband (which the woman can get away from) is not only callous, but dangerously flawed.

Since so many women die as a result of this type of careless thinking, and because most of those deaths are preventable, I am going to go a several layers deeper into the topic. I hope you never need this information for yourself, but I know that someone in your life will need it sometime.

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Many homicides have occurred at the courthouse where the women were seeking protection orders, or just prior to the hearings. Why? Because the murderers were allergic to rejection. They found it hard enough in private but intolerable in public. For men like this, rejection is a threat to the identity, the persona, to the entire self, and in this sense their crimes could be called murder in defense of the self. In To Have or To Harm, the first major book on stalking, author Linden Gross details case after case in which court orders did not prevent homicides. Here are just a few:


Shirley Lowery was waiting outside the courtroom for the TRO hearing when she was stabbed 19 times by her husband. Tammy Marie Davis’s husband beat and terrorized her and their twenty-one-month old child, sending them both to the hospital. Right after he was served with the restraining order Tammy obtained, he shot and killed her. She was nineteen years old.

Donna Montgomery’s husband had held a gun to her head and stalked her, so she obtained a restraining order. He came to the bank where she worked and killed her, then himself.


Theresa Bender obtained a restraining order that her husband quickly violated. Even though he was arrested, she remained so committed to her safety that she arranged for two male coworkers to accompany her to and from work. Her husband was equally committed: He shot all three to death before turning the gun on himself.

Maria Navarro called 911 and reported that her estranged husband had just threatened to kill her and was on the way to her house. Despite the fact that he’d been arrested more than once for battery, police declined to dispatch officers to her home because her restraining order had expired. Maria and three others were dead within fifteen minutes, murdered by the man who kept his promise to kill.


Hilda Rivera’s husband had violated two restraining orders and had six arrest warrants when he killed her in the presence of their seven-year-old son. Betsy Murray’s husband violated his TRO thirteen times. He reacted to her divorce petition by telling her, “Marriage is for life and the only way out is death.” When nothing else worked, Betsy went into hiding, and even after police assured her that her husband had fled the country to avoid being arrested again, she still kept her new address a secret. When she stopped by her old apartment one day to collect mail a neighbor had been holding, her estranged husband killed her and then himself. He had been stalking her for more than six months.

The fact that so many of these murderers also commit suicide tells us that refusing to accept rejection is more important to them than life itself. By the time they reach this point, are they really going to be deterred by a court order?


The last case I want to cite is that of Connie Chaney. She had already obtained four protective orders when her husband raped her at gunpoint and attempted to kill her. The solution recommended by police? Get a restraining order, so she did. Before gunning her down, her husband wrote in his diary: “I couldn’t live with myself knowing she won, or she got me. No! This is war.” Those three words speak it all, because the restraining order is like a strategy of war, and the stakes are life and death, just as in war.

In a study of 179 stalking cases sponsored by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, about half of the victims who had sought restraining orders felt their cases were worsened by them. In a study done for the U.S. Department of Justice, researchers concluded that restraining orders were “ineffective in stopping physical violence.” They did find that restraining orders were helpful in cases in which there was no history of violent abuse. The report wisely concluded that “given the prevalence of women with children who utilize restraining orders, their general ineffectiveness in curbing subsequent violence may leave a good number of children at risk of either witnessing violence or becoming victims themselves.”

A more recent study done for the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than a third of women had continuing problems after getting restraining orders. That means, favorably, that almost two thirds did nothave continuing problems—but read on. While only 2.6 percent of respondents were physically abused right after getting the orders, when they were re-contacted six months later, that percentage had more than tripled. Reports of continued stalking and psychological abuse also increased dramatically after six-months. This indicates that the short-term benefits of restraining orders are greater than the long-term benefits.

I want to make clear that I am not saying TRO’s never work, because in fact, most times that court orders are introduced, the cases do improve. It is often for the very reason one would hope: the men are deterred by the threat of arrest. Other times, TRO’s demonstrate the woman’s resolve to end the relationship, and that convinces the man to stay away. Whatever the reasons they work, there is no argument that they don’t work in some cases. The question is: Which cases?


Restraining orders are most effective on the reasonable person who has a limited emotional investment. In other words, they work best on the person least likely to be violent anyway. Also, there is a substantial difference between using a restraining order on an abusive husband and using one on a man you dated a couple of times. That difference is the amount of emotional investment and entitlement the man feels. With a date-stalker (discussed in the next chapter), a TRO orders him to leave the woman alone and go about his life as it was before he met her. The same court order used on an estranged husband asks him to abandon, at the stroke of a judge’s signature, the central features of his life: his intimate relationship, his control and ownership of another human being, his identity as a powerful man, his identity as a husband, and on and on. Thus, a TRO might ask one man to do something he can easily do, while it asks another to do something far more difficult. This distinction has been largely ignored by the criminal-justice system.

There is a glib response to all this: when men are very violent and dangerous, they are going to kill no matter what, so the TRO can’t make things worse. But here’s the rub: The TRO does hurt by convincing the woman that she is safe. One prominent family court judge has said, “Women must realize that this paper won’t stop the next fist or the next bullet.” But it isn’t only women who must realize it—it is the whole criminal-justice system. A woman can be expected to learn from her own experience, but the system should learn from all the experiences.


Carol Arnett has had experience running a battered women’s shelter and, years before that, running to a battered women’s shelter. Now the executive director of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council, Arnett says:

We shelter workers have watched the criminal justice system fail to protect, and often even endanger women for so many years that we are very cautious about recommending restraining orders. We rely upon the woman herself to plan a course of action. Anyone, in or out of the system, who tells a women she must follow a particular course that goes against her own judgment and intuition is not only failing to use the philosophy of empowerment, but may well be endangering the woman.

Above all, I want to encourage people to ask this simple question: Will a restraining order help or hurt in my particular case? At least then, whatever choice is made can be called a choice, and not an automatic reaction. Think of restraining orders as an option, not the only option.


Among those options, I certainly favor law enforcement interventions such as arrests for battery, assault, breaking and entering, or other violations of the law. You might wonder how this differs from being arrested for violating a TRO. Charges for breaking the law involve the system versus the law-breaker, whereas restraining orders involve an abuser versus his wife. Many batterers find intolerable the idea of being under the control of their victims, and with a court order, a woman seeks to control her husband’s conduct, thus turning the tables of their relationship. Conversely, when the system pursues charges for a crime like battery, it is the man’s actions—not those of his wife—that bring him a predictable consequence. Abusers should be fully prosecuted for every offense, and I believe prosecutions are an important deterrent to further abuse, but even then, the women must be prepared for the possibility of escalation.

The bottom line is that there is really only one good reason to get a restraining order in a case of wife abuse: the woman believes the man will honor it and leave her alone. If a victim or a professional in the system gets a restraining order to stop someone from committing murder, they have probably applied the wrong strategy.

▪ ▪ ▪

So what can we tell a woman who thinks she might be killed? Seek and apply strategies that make you unavailable to your pursuer. If you really believe you are at risk, battered women’s shelters provide the best way to be safe. Shelter locations are secret, and the professionals there understand what the legal system often doesn’t: that the issue is safety—not justice. The distinction between safety and justice is often blurred, but it becomes clear when you are walking down a crowded city sidewalk, and an athletic young man grabs your purse or briefcase. As he runs off into fast-moving traffic, justice requires that you chase the youth down to catch and arrest him. But as he zig-zags through traffic, cars barely missing him, safety requires that you break off the chase. It is unfair that he gets away unpunished, but it is more important that you come away unhurt. (To remind clients that my job is to help them be safer, I have a small sign on my desk that reads, Do not come here for justice.)

Shelters are where safety is, where guidance is, and where wisdom is. Admittedly, going to a shelter is a major and inconvenient undertaking, and it’s easy to see why so many victims are lured by the good news that a restraining order will solve the whole problem. But imagine that your doctor said you needed immediate surgery to save your life. Would you ask, “Isn’t there a piece of paper I can carry instead?”

Los Angeles city attorney John Wilson, a thoughtful and experienced man who pioneered the nation’s first stalking prosecutions, knows of too many cases in which the victim remained available to her victimizer after the man was arrested and released. Wilson attended a talk I gave to police executives, and he later wrote to me. I am comfortable sharing this part of his moving letter:

Your theme really hit home. Unfortunately for one young wife, I failed to heed your advice in mid-April. I filed a battery on her husband, and when he got out of jail, he killed her. This was my sixth death since joining the office, and each of them fit right into your profile.

Having read all of this, you may wonder how there is any disagreement whatsoever about the indiscriminate use of restraining orders and other confrontational interventions, but there is. I’ve heard all sides of it, and I must tell you, I don’t get it. Perhaps since TRO’s are issued in America at the rate of more than one thousand every day, and women aren’t killed at that same rate, it may look, statistically speaking, as if they are successful. I don’t know, but in any case and in every case, police must urge extreme caution in the period following issuance of a TRO. That time is emotionally charged and hazardous, and I hope that when police recommend restraining orders they will also put great effort into ensuring that the woman takes every practical step to make herself unavailable to her pursuer.


Psychologist Lenore Walker, who coined the term “battered wife syndrome” (and who later surprised the domestic violence community by joining O.J. Simpson’s defense team) has said of spousal homicide, “There’s no way to predict it.” She is wrong. Spousal homicide is the single most predictable serious crime in America. Walker’s error does make clear, however, that there is an urgent need to help police, prosecutors, and victims systematically evaluate cases to identify those with the ingredients of true danger. Toward this goal, my firm designed MOSAIC-20, an artificial intuition system that assesses the details of a woman’s situation as she reports it to police. This computer program flags those cases in which the danger of homicide is highest. Part of the proceeds from this book go to its continued development, and I am proud to be working with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles Police Department on the nation’s first use of MOSAIC-20. (See appendix 5 for more information.) This system brings to regular citizens the same technologies and strategies used to protect high government officials. That’s only fair considering that battered women are at far greater risk of murder than most public figures.

In the meantime, restraining orders continue to be what author Linden Gross calls law enforcement’s “knee-jerk response.” I can’t ask rhetorically if somebody has to die before things change, because so many people already have.

▪ ▪ ▪

Thousands of cases have made it clear to me that getting away safely is wiser than trying to change the abusive husband or engaging in a war, even if the police and the courts are on your side. As with other aspects of safety, government cannot fix violent relationships. Many people in law enforcement, motivated by a strong desire to help, are understandably reluctant to accept that some forms of criminality are beyond their reach. Thankfully, there are also those in law enforcement tempered by experience who know all about these cases and become heroes. That brings me to Lisa’s story.


Lisa did not know that this police sergeant had looked across the counter into plenty of bruised faces before that night. She thought her situation was unique and special, and she was certain the department would act on it right away, particularly when she explained that her husband had held a gun to her head.

An hour earlier, after climbing out the window and running down several darkened streets, she had looked around and realized she was lost. But in a more important sense, she was found. She had re-discovered herself—the young woman she’d been 15 years before—before he’d slapped her, before he escalated to choking her, and before the incident with the gun. The children had seen that one, but now they would see her stronger, supported by the police. They would see him apologize, and then it would be okay. The police would talk some sense into her husband and force him to treat her right, and then it would be okay.


She proudly told the sergeant, “I’m not going back to him unless he promises never to hit me again.” The sergeant nodded and passed some forms across the counter. “You fill these out—fill them out completely—and then I’m going to put them over there.” He pointed to a messy stack of forms and reports piled on a cabinet.

The sergeant looked at the young woman, the woman planning to go back to her abuser, back to the man with the gun he claimed he bought for self defense but was really for defense of the self.

The sergeant then said the words that changed Lisa’s life, the words that a decade later she would thank him for speaking, the words that allowed her to leave her violent abuser: “You fill out these forms and go back home, and the next time I look for them, it will be because you have been murdered.”




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