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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Another Tragedy Strikes our Community

Candlelight

I was horrified when I opened this morning’s newspaper to find another victim of domestic violence murdered.  In this case, Bulos “Paul” Zumot was arrested for the murder of Jennifer Schipsi in Palo Alto.  When I learned the deceased secured services from our agency, it became even more personal.  We at Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence are grieving her loss. From what I can piece together by reading news articles, a few thoughts come to mind.

To refer to the killing as an “act of passion” defies logic.  Passion is defined as “warm and excited feeling likely to be fitful or short-lived (the ardor of their honeymoon soon faded)”.  Most people would not apply this term to a calculated, pre-meditated act of murder.  This was not Romeo and Juliet or a tragic opera.  This is a perpetrator who stalked, abused and battered his partner.  Decades past, killing your wife “in the heat of passion” could give you a finding of innocent by a jury precisely because we associated the murder with passion.   We left that era, thank God.  We now know that domestic violence is coercive control exercised by one member to gain power over an intimate partner.  It is calculated, well-thought out and purposeful.  In my 24 years in this work I have never heard a victim refer to her abuse as filled with passion.

Secondly, I think we must be careful in how we portray the deceased.   We don’t know why a reconciliation occurred.  However, she is not at fault for trusting a person who professed love.  If anything, it is a reminder of the complexity of domestic violence.  Our focus must be on the perpetrator. Instead of  asking “Why did she go back?” we must ask “Why would someone so severely hurt the person who loves him?”

Please call or blog the Palo Alto Police Department and express your dismay about using the term “passion” when describing domestic violence. The Palo Alto Police Department number is (650) 329-2413.  And if you have enough energy, please add a comment about not blaming the victim to the article published in the San Jose Mercury News under the title “Boyfriend arrested in connection with woman’s death in Palo Alto fire,” posted October 20, 2009.

(Image from Austin for Iran via Google Images).

Cross your fingers!!!

I’m so happy that I can report on a positive news item as we open our new web site.  Last evening the CA state legislature passed an emergency legislative bill to restore 80% of the lost funding for domestic abuse shelters.  As you may recall, the governor vetoed the entire shelter funding program in the last budget session.  Since then, six shelters have closed and many more have cut back services.

Here at Next Door, we had scheduled to alter services in January if we could not fill the deficit.   If the Governor signs the bill, we will not cut services!  We will still need to raise a considerable amount of money to meet our needs but our position will be stronger.

Thank you for all of your help and support.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Teen died after red flags went unheeded in Santa Clara County custody decision

Teen died after red flags went unheeded in Santa Clara County custody decision

Published May 23, 2009

by Kathleen Krenek

Some people ask victims of domestic violence: “Why don’t you leave?” The tragic case of Roberta Allen provides one answer.

Many victims don’t leave because they have been told by their batterers that they will lose custody of their children, and in Allen’s case, her worst fear came true. Then, earlier this spring she received the dreaded call from law enforcement. “We think we found your daughter,” the officer said, “and she is not alive.”

How many victims will read this and feel even more trapped? The system has to change to protect them and their children.

The system failed Alycia Augusta Mesiti-Allen, 14, who police say was killed by a domestic violence perpetrator, her father. Her bones were found buried in his yard.

Mark Mesiti was awarded unsupervised custody in 2005, even though he had a lengthy criminal history including a domestic violence conviction. He violated his probation and was sent to prison. For the seven years previous to gaining custody of his daughter, he amassed a variety of charges.

All were red flags. Welfare professionals and Alycia’s mother raised them during the custody battle.

The father was given custody after it was found that the mother was depressed — often the effect of battering — and therefore unfit to care for her daughter. As an alternative to this deadly decision, couldn’t we have wrapped the mom and her kids in supportive services and allowed them to heal together?

Depression is treatable. Homicide is not. Now healing will never happen for the remainder of this family.

I’ve worked with domestic violence for 25 years, and I understand the complexity of family law cases. But the errors in this case are too obvious to use complexity as an excuse.

Victims of domestic violence in family court often present their case without representation, while perpetrators often bring attorneys. The imbalance of power the perpetrators use at home to control the victims follows them into family court. When this imbalance exists, victims may not be able to effectively voice their concerns and articulate their needs. Often we don’t believe them. The myth that they are lying about their abuse to gain the upper hand continues to haunt the system.

Our county’s family court has made progress in dealing with domestic violence. It can provide safe, effective and equitable decisions. But something went very wrong in the Mesiti-Allen case.

California Family Code provides guidance to judges in determining whether perpetrators of domestic violence should gain unfettered custody. It offers a presumption against custody unless evidence is provided to rebut it. The criminal conviction of Mark Mesiti for domestic violence surely met the standard to determine him unfit for custody.

Santa Clara County has to examine this case carefully to determine what went wrong. Fortunately, we have a domestic violence death review committee that can do this work. We can only make sense of this tragedy if we learn from it. But some lessons are clear now.

We must provide real equity for victims of violence who are presenting their case in court — making sure they’re represented by an attorney, especially if their abuser is.

And we must stop viewing children as a commodity that “belongs” to both parents.

Kathleen Krenek is executive director of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, which helps victims navigate the system and protect their own interests.  Call their hotline at  408-279-2962

© 2009 Mercury News

Fisher: A battered woman’s compelling story

Author Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote "Crazy Love", a memoir about her life as a battered woman. She is speaking in San Jose on Oct. 8, 2009. (hand out from publisher)

Author Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote "Crazy Love", a memoir about her life as a battered woman. She is speaking in San Jose on Oct. 8, 2009. (hand out from publisher)

San Jose Mercury News

Published: September 30, 2009

By Patty Fisher

Why didn’t she just leave?

Every time I hear about a battered woman who is shot or beaten to death by her husband or boyfriend, that’s what I wonder.

What was she thinking? How could she let him hit her, night after night — and stay?

I have heard the answers to those questions many times, from the women themselves and from the counselors who tried to help them: She stayed because she had no money and nowhere to go. She was afraid he’d kill her if she left. She didn’t think anyone would believe her story. And, saddest of all, she thought she deserved it.

But in a new book that chronicles in brutal detail the four years of beatings and psychological abuse she suffered at the hands of her handsome, seemingly devoted husband, author Leslie Morgan Steiner offers this simple reason why she stayed.

“I loved him,” she told me. “I just thought he was a really troubled guy.”

Steiner, a successful author who edited the 2006 best-seller “Mommy Wars” about the colict of career moms vs. stay-at-home moms, will be in San Jose Oct. 8 to discuss her new memoir, “Crazy Love,” and to raise money for Next Door Solutions, our largest provider of shelter and other services to victims of domestic violence.

Last year in Santa Clara County, domestic violence hot lines fielded more than 24,000 calls and provided emergency beds to 795 women and children. But nearly 1,100 victims and their children were turned away because there weren’t enough beds.

This year, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the state’s entire $16 million domestic violence budget, shelters across California are closing or cutting back on services, making it even harder for women and men to break free from abusive partners. Next Door and three other shelters in Santa Clara County, each took $200,000 hits.

Kathleen Kreneck, executive director of Next Door, hopes to sell enough $50 tickets to the Steiner fundraiser to keep the doors open for at least a few months.

“We’re hoping our community will rally around us and say we want people to be safe here,” she said. “I find it interesting that the governor rallied around the state parks but not domestic violence, when there are victims literally dying across California. That certainly doesn’t speak to my value system.”

Or mine.

Steiner, too, was appalled when she heard about the service cuts in California.

“It’s like a body blow to think that women and children who are so desperate that they reach out for help will not be able to get it,” she said. “The long-term cost for society will be far greater than just the cost of keeping shelters open.”

In some ways, Steiner is not the stereotypical battered woman. She was well educated and independent. She never spent a night in a shelter. Perhaps that’s why “Crazy Love” is such a compelling read. It’s the story of a young Harvard graduate with a dream job at Seventeen magazine in New York City who falls for a 30-something guy she meets on the subway. He’s well dressed, attentive and romantic — until she moves in with him and he starts hitting and choking her.

“I literally could have walked out the door, except for what happened to me psychologically,” she said. She felt compassion because he was beaten as a child and vowed to help him. Meanwhile, he became increasingly controlling and manipulative, taking her away from her job and alienating her from her family.

It wasn’t until he nearly killed her one night that she finally called the cops.

Steiner spent 10 years writing “Crazy Love” and another year agonizing over whether to publish it. It took courage to go public with her story, and thousands of women will read it and see themselves.

On Oct. 8, we’ll all have an opportunity to hear her tell that story in person.

More important, we’ll be able to help keep Next Door’s doors open. Without safe places to go and caring professionals to help them, battered women — and men — will have one more reason not to leave.

Cuts Ravage Domestic Abuse Program

domesticperXLNew York Times
Published: September 25, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — The Riley Center does not advertise its location, in a three-story Victorian in San Francisco’s core. The center’s address is confidential to protect its tenants: dozens of women and children fleeing abusive relationships.

Beryl Raviscioni worked at a domestic abuse shelter in Madera, Calif. It closed this month after state financing was eliminated.

 

A room in a shelter for victims of domestic violence that was able to reopen recently because of a contribution from a donor.

While those who live at the Riley Center are often desperate for help, so is the center itself and dozens like it across California.

Because of cuts in state financing, several domestic violence shelters in California have closed in recent months, with layoffs or fewer full-time staff members at many others. Legal services — like help obtaining restraining orders — have been curtailed, as has counseling.

The Riley Center has eliminated six beds and combined its emergency services with its longer-term transitional program.

Shelters have also dropped 24-hour services, cut overnight staff at emergency centers and eliminated more comprehensive services like safe visitation centers, where staff members are posted when children are dropped off or picked up as part of custody agreements.

“Our members are struggling to keep their doors open,” said Tara Shabazz, the executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, which represents the state’s nonprofit shelters.

In July, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the remaining financing for the state’s Domestic Violence Program — some $16 million — in the face of a lingering budget gap of nearly $500 million. Legislators had closed most, but not all, of a $24 billion deficit.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he regretted the decision but had no choice. “The governor understands how difficult these cuts are,” said Aaron McLear, a spokesman. “But he can’t promise money we don’t have.”

Other states, including New Jersey and Illinois, have struggled to find ways to keep domestic violence centers open, but national advocacy groups say no state has gone as far as California in “zeroing out” domestic violence money.

“California is by far the most extreme and shocking example,” said Sue Else, the president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a group in Washington. “We’re appalled that this is the way that the governor would seek to balance the budget.”

The cuts to the program, which is part of the State Department of Public Health, means that the 94 nonprofit agencies charged with running the state’s domestic violence shelters have lost about $200,000 each. For most, that amounts to more than 40 percent of their anticipated annual financing, although agencies have received money for other shelter services from the federal stimulus package and the state’s emergency management agency.

Erik Sternad, the executive director of Interface Children Family Services in Ventura County, near Los Angeles, said his organization had initially believed that it would lose all five of its transitional shelters — usually multibedroom homes in suburban areas — where about three dozen women and children could live for up to 18 months. In the end, one was sold, one was transformed into youth services, and the final three were eventually saved by private donations. But of those, two have money assured only through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“We know that this money is going to run out about nine months from now,” Mr. Sternad said.

The pain has been most acute in remote areas. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition in Grass Valley, northeast of Sacramento, is the only such facility in that area. The coalition closed its 12-bed shelter, leaving five families in the lurch.

Niko Johnson, the coalition’s executive director, said her staff managed to find places for those families to stay, but has since had to turn away 14 women with 8 children.

“We had to give a voucher for a motel,” she said. “When women get to that point and are ready to make a change, it’s hard to say we can give you three nights in a motel. They ask, ‘What next?’ ”

At the same time, Ms. Else, of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said the impact of a sour economy, including job losses and foreclosures, added to the need for services.

“I don’t know that it causes or creates domestic violence,” she said of the recession. “But what happens is that if there is domestic violence happening at home, it exacerbates it.”

The cutbacks come as the movement to fight domestic violence marked the 15th anniversary of passage of both the federal Violence Against Women Act, which established programs and penalties in cases of abuse against women, and California’s Battered Women Protection Act, which established financing for the state’s shelter system. There have been some signs of help. In August, shortly after the California cuts were announced, the Department of Justice awarded about $2.9 million to six transitional housing programs in California, primarily in rural counties. In the meantime, many shelters are finding ways to cope.

Mari Alaniz, director the Riley Center, which is run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said that combining the center’s emergency services and longer-term transitional program in one building has meant less privacy, with as many as six beds to a room. Still, she said, “better to have six in a room than not to have a shelter.”

That sentiment is echoed by a 41-year-old woman who was there for months last year when her ex-husband threatened to hurt her two younger children.

“When he was doing stuff to me, I could take it,” said the woman, whose name is being withheld to avoid disclosing her location. “But when I saw it was happening to them, I reacted like a lion. And eventually I was a lion, and I left the situation.”

The woman has since moved into her own home with two of her children.

She said she had lived in fear of beatings and other kinds of abuse from her ex-husband for more than two decades, but had noticed a change in herself of late.

“Now that I have my own home, it might sound dumb, but I can get up when I want and do what I want, and I think the kids feel the same way,” she said. “I ain’t scared no more.”

Erik Eckholm contributed reporting from Fresno, Calif.

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