TAG | domestic abuse
On November 7th I had the privilege of being a Table Host at the annual Sojourner Center Hope Luncheon, the Center’s biggest fundraiser and awareness event of the year. Approximately 1,000 people attended the luncheon at the Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale, AZ.
For many, this was the first opportunity to meet Sojourner’s new Executive Director, Maria Garay, MSW. PhD. Dr. Garay’s short speech, that afternoon, was enlightening, heartfelt and inspirational. I can tell you from the few times I’ve had the pleasure to spend time talking with her, she is a truly remarkable person.
I had invited several people who are near and dear to my heart; friends and colleagues whom I thought would enjoy the event and care deeply about the issue of domestic violence in our state. My guests were:
Bobbie Fox, Esq., SCF Arizona https://www.scfaz.com
Terrie Kolker, Hayden & Hayden Insurance http://www.haydenagency.net/
Carl Mangold, LCSW, LISAC Partner in www.TheDVU.com
Deila Mangold, Community Member
Lisa Pressman, singer/songwriter http://tiny.cc/zvwrsw
Tim Ponzek, singer/songwriter
Laura Lawless Robertson, Atty. Squire Sanders www.squiresanders.com
Julie Bernal, Community Member
Cara Lind, Regional Dir. Metabolic Research
Sojourner Center is still in need of on-going support. You can make that happen with your donation, including the Working Poor Tax Credit. It’s is easy and costs you nothing!
Simply make a donation to Sojourner Center by December 31, 2013, up to $200 per individual or $400 per couple, and include AZDOR Form 321 when you file your 2013 AZ state income tax.
There are several other ways to donate as well. All the necessary links can be found here: http://www.sojournercenter.org/go2/donate-mainmenu-42/make-a-donation.html
Plus, you can make the Working Poor Tax Credit even if you’ve done other tax credits for example, to your child’s soccer program. Talk to your accountant or CPA.
Thanks for all you can do to help!
To my readers: I have the humbling privilege to know Dr. Maria Garay, Sojourner Center’s new Executive Director. Together we are creating energizing, meaningful initiatives to address relationship violence. Recently Sojourner published a newsletter to introduce Maria to the community and she has generously allowed me to post her newsletter for you.
Dear Friends & Supporters,
My name is Dr. Maria Garay and I am so excited to be joining the Sojourner Center team as the new Executive Director. I come to Phoenix from Los Angeles, CA and have been working at the executive level for the past twenty years in the human services field. I have been at Sojourner Center since the beginning of September and can already see how special and amazing this place is. I am honored to be a part of this wonderful organization, with its rich history and mission of helping women and children overcome the impact of domestic violence.
You see, ending the cycle of domestic violence is something I am very passionate about. While this is a multi-faceted problem without an easy or clear solution, I believe Sojourner Center has and is ending the cycle of violence for the women and children we serve. I believe you can help us break the cycle of violence too, by talking about this issue and the work we are doing, with your friends, family, and coworkers. A recent study revealed that despite 80% of Americans acknowledging that domestic violence is a problem in our society, only 15% think it is a problem among their friends. We know this can’t be true, since studies show 1-in-4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime.
This widespread silence is a problem for many reasons. First, it makes domestic violence victims feel isolated and alone. Second, the silence perpetuates the shame and embarrassment that domestic violence victims might feel. Third, by not talking about it, people don’t always know how to recognize abuse or how to help someone who is being abused.
Let’s break the silence about domestic violence and make it easier for victims to get the help and support they need.
I also want to make sure you know about two very important numbers. The first is easy to remember, 2-1-1. This is a 24-hour bilingual hotline that will connect people in crisis with domestic violence and homeless shelters throughout Arizona. The second is 602-244-0089, this is Sojourner Center’s 24-hour crisis line. We are available day or night to talk to anyone who may be in crisis have questions about domestic violence, or need help planning how to leave an abusive relationship. I hope you will put these numbers in a safe place where you can find them and share them if you ever need to.
Thank you all for your continued support and partnership with this amazing organization. Together, we can end the cycle of domestic violence for every woman and child we serve.
It was nothing short of the moment I’d been waiting for- for years. Finally the opportunity to do a presentation overseas. For me, this proud first international presentation took place in Stuttgart, Germany.
How lucky is that?
Initially I had offered two different outlines from my most requested presentations; “It Happened at Home, It Cost Us at Work” and “It Doesn’t Make Sense, and It’s Costing Us Millions”.
The president of the hosting organization asked for a blend of the two, plus discussion points of additional areas of interest for his audience.
It is completely normal for me to do extensive research before a presentation. Presentations in states, other than my home state of Arizona, require additional research; and it was certainly no different when I did research for Germany.
The research was meant to show attendees the prevalence of domestic violence in Germany, illustrate gender differences and parallels, sources of information on DV services and compare the above mentioned to the same statistics in the United States.
I created an 8 question survey with versions in German and in English that could be answered anonymously through Survey Monkey. The survey links were distributed in all communications about my upcoming presentation.
There was a shift in the room – a physical reaction of the audience when I revealed my research and the results of their survey responses. I heard, “Oh my God.” “That’s surprising.” and “I had no idea it was that much!”
My research showed that Germany’s overall rate of domestic violence is approximately only 2% lower than America’s. To break it down a bit, in the U.S. statistics show that of all victims, 85% are female and 15% are male. In Germany I found 87% female and 13% male. The German people I spoke to prior to my arrival assumed that their country had a very low rate compared to the U.S., the research exposed the truth – that by comparison there wasn’t much of a comparison.
I also specialize in process which translates domestic abuse to determine the financial impact on organizations. When I showed the costs and comparisons to German businesses there was a brief moment where time seemed to stop. Then an uncomfortable resettling into seats. An attendee said afterwards,
“Domestic violence is often view as a “women’s issue”. I find it extremely important to get more men involved, informed and proactive against domestic violence. By presenting this topic based on the financial aspects of how domestic violence affects the workplace is a very good beginning for breaking down these boundaries and giving the male dominated business community a bit of “food for thought.”
If you check any thesaurus another word for “shift” is “change” and if my presentation could prompt that in Stuttgart, or any German city, or anywhere in the world; it will be a move away from complacency, and the taboos of “private” matter and “women’s issue”, to one that affects every one of us. Because we all share this earth.
As a subject matter expert, Stephanie has set a new standard for working with corporate leaders who are often not aware of the deep costs their company is experiencing as a result of this social issue. The rewarding outcome is workplaces that are safe, supportive and sought-after.
It would be great to not say, “Here we go again”. But here we are “Fort Thomas shooting victim denied restraining order months before attempted murder-suicide”
Another person gunned down for the crime of ending a relationship. Another family mourning the loss.
Another person convinced that they have nothing left to lose and are entitled to possessing another human being, turns the gun on himself. His family is morning a loss too.
It looks like, in this case, that the victim tried what she could. She got an order of protection, or tried to. It was denied. Really? Who does that? Granted and OOP may not guarantee safety. But she evidentially believed she was doing the right thing. Who would deny at least trying?
I’ll be clear: it would be irresponsible of me to claim that workplace domestic violence polices will be the “be-all-end-all” cure to these heinous acts. I can confidently say tell you that a comprehensive domestic violence program and policy will make a huge difference. Huge. We already know this from employees coming forward to their trained designee to get the help and referrals they need. We already know this from well-trained individuals who identify and assist those that may not be willing to come forward, or haven’t even self-identified that they are, indeed, victims.
You know that good workplace domestic violence and workplace violence trainings can stop these would-be shooters in their tracks. It’s been done before.
You’ll never be able to put a dollar figure to something you prevented and to the unknown crimes that could have happened, but didn’t. You can put a dollar figure on increased productivity, increased worker satisfaction, health, and morale. You can put a dollar figure on reduced turnover, reduced health care costs and mental health care costs. You can put a price on what state and federal non-compliance would cost you. You can put a price on what plaintiff’s awards to grieving families could cost you.
For the employee whose life you changed when you stepped in and offered non-judgmental support, guidance and life-saving resources; priceless.
We know. We’re experts at creating workplaces that are safe, supportive and sough-after. When the phone rings and a client says, “we want to prevent this from happening to us” we can smile when we say “here we go again.”
So proud of client SCF Arizona
for heading off a potential DV issue. A recent conversation with Bobbie J. Fox, SCF Attorney, Legal Compliance and Risk Management, revealed that a female employee was having serious concerns with a former intimate partner. The partner (IP) was harassing her and threatening her at her second job. The employee obtained an Order of Protection and per SCF Domestic Violence Policy, she notified the Human Resources Department. HR took the matter seriously and made sure small, but simple steps were taken to assure the employee’s safety. And then…nothing. The GOOD kind of nothing.
The employee had no further problems with the former boyfriend. All was, and is quiet at SCF.
That’s exactly what you want. Training works! My training programs lead with phrase: ‘Small changes at work make big changes at home’. This is an example of that and how successful a broad spectrum DV initiate at work can be when everyone is trained annually for their level of responsibility. And when you have a corporate culture, like SCF does, where the executives lead by example and embrace the knowledge that you can make a workplace that is safe, supportive and sought-after.
I came across the following portion of an online newsletter from the Minnesota Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
Fear has a profound effect on all of us. It affects our ability to concentrate and be productive. But a victim’s fear is particularly unique and profound. It is frequently misunderstood not only by males, but by other females who have had no similar personal experiences. As a result, a woman may be reluctant to report a threat or an attack. She may be unwilling to leave an abusive relationship because she fears her risk will increase. If the incident is reported at work, she may fear the loss of her job, or pressure from peers or her boss to take action which she is not yet ready to take. Or perhaps she fears the unknown – how the employer will react to a threat that may impact the workplace. The more effective a company is in creating an environment where a victim feels safe to report problems, the more successful it will be in learning about these types of risks before there are violent outcomes.
Addressing domestic violence in the workplace does not have to be accompanied by a large budget. Safety precautions may be as simple as allowing a victim to use flexible hours so her arrivals and departures are not predictable; providing a temporary cellular phone to increase her safety as she travels back and forth to work; temporarily transferring her to a different office site; or simply having emergency procedures in place in the event a situation escalates.
Every organization has an opportunity to make a difference by:
- Taking a clear and loud stand on the side of preventing domestic violence at work and in our homes and communities.
- Paying attention to warning signs of victims and perpetrators.
- Being supportive of victims or co-workers who report threats.
- Referring victims and co-workers to counseling agencies for help.
- Creating an environment that encourages people to come forward with concerns.
- Treating every situation seriously and taking actions that may reduce risk in the workplace.
domestic abuse · Domestic Violence · domestic violence at work · leadership development · legal · Legal Compliance · personal safety · prevention · Risk Management · SCF Arizona · training · victim’s rights
In September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter. (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.). After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share. It’s always the most meaningful part of my work. Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik. Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence. It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday. Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister. She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her. The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful. I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death. Each did. In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time. I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes. I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me. Lisa’s story posted on March 8th, Mindy’s on April 5th. Now Debra’s story:
Ilene’s Story by Debra Pressman ©2013
The four of us noisily tramped through the back door into the kitchen. It was four o’clock in the afternoon on the notoriously lazy Friday after Thanksgiving. The year was 1995. We had driven to the local elementary school track in an attempt to banish both the monotony of the day and the calories of last night’s dinner. The day was dreary and overcast, but not especially cold for that time of year. After running and roller blading around the school track we arrived home exhausted and thirsty.
The red light on the answering machine flashed furiously. I mused briefly that it was strange to have so many messages, we had only been gone an hour. Distracted by the kids and their needs I temporarily forgot about the voice mail mystery. The two boys made a beeline for the refrigerator, jostling each other for first place and arguing about who was entitled to the last glass of juice while Rachel headed straight for her room where she closed the door firmly.
I gave the boys something to drink, shed my sweatshirt and running shoes and gulped down a glass of water while playing referee to a dispute over TV rights. I returned to the kitchen to reluctantly consider dinner preparations and remembered the blinking answering machine. I pressed the button to hear my messages and turned away to rummage through the refrigerator and the detritus of last night’s leftovers. With my attention on dinner I halfheartedly listened to the messages but my ears perked up when I heard the voice of my sister Mindy. She lived a few hours away but we talked on the phone almost every day, so I wasn’t surprised to hear her voice. But this message from her was not like any I had ever received. Her voice was shaking; she was crying and clearly distraught, but she didn’t leave any details, only these cryptic instructions: ”Debbie – call me, it’s an emergency! It’s an emergency!”
My immediate thought was that our father was ill, perhaps in the hospital with a heart attack. He had been under a lot of stress lately and our stepmother always cautioned us “not to give your father a heart attack”. As it happened, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth; the story I would hear was worse than anything my imagination could conjure. I frantically dialed Mindy’s number, over and over, but the line was busy. With each unsuccessful attempt I became more and more worried. Frustrated and panicked, I left more messages than I could count. Blessedly – - or so I thought – - Mindy’s phone finally rang and she answered. She was sobbing; her words were barely comprehensible. ”Debbie, Debbie, Ilene is dead! He shot her and shot himself!” At first the words she was saying didn’t make any sense to me, then they began to register as my brain slowly decoded them. I began to feel a strange sensation in my chest, as if a tight elastic band was encircling my heart and slowly cutting off my oxygen supply. I thought I was suffocating, my head was reeling and I was dizzy.
I was a time traveler back in my eight-year-old body, it was early morning and I was asleep in my bed in my white and blue ballerina themed bedroom. I woke when my grandmother crawled into bed with me, she was crying and as I listened she explained that my mother was dead, that God had taken her away. I felt confused, I heard Mindy’s voice coming through the telephone receiver and it mingled with the voice of my grandmother. For a brief moment the past and the present jockeyed for position in my brain, then the reality of the present reasserted itself. “No!” I screamed with abandon, throwing the portable phone and myself onto the floor. “No, no, no! What about the baby!?” Rachel, then thirteen, ran upstairs from her room to see what had happened. She sat on the floor with me and hugged me as the two boys, eight and five, ran downstairs in fear. “What’s the matter, Mommy? ” they called from a safe distance. “Ilene is dead! Jeff shot her!” I screamed. I was by this time sobbing uncontrollably. Rachel cried with me and stroked my head as I listened to Mindy repeat the story, as she knew it, even now we don’t know the exact details.
Petite, five foot one in shoes and ninety pounds soaking wet, with huge dark eyes and a wide smile, my younger sister Ilene was a magnet for men. She walked with self-assurance, strutted really, with her head held high, chest out, buttocks testing the breeze. Confident about her beauty, she cultivated her image and flaunted it. She worked out at the gym obsessively, ate little and rarely cooked, and was one of those single people with nothing edible in the refrigerator. Energetic and dynamic, she possessed a tremendous capacity for saying the truth as she saw it, the term “chutzpa” might have been coined for her. Assuming she could conquer any project she set her mind to, she usually did. She put herself through college and carved out a professional career for herself in the male dominated world of financial planning, where she was highly respected and admired. She ran her own consulting business and owned her own home. Comfortable in the spotlight, she served passionately as the president of a national women’s business organization, expanding her network of friends and clients. She loved her business but it was difficult and stressful so she made plans for a second career, one to touch her heart. People gravitated towards her and she realized that she loved the aspect of her business that required advising others. With the goal of becoming a pastoral counselor she took courses in counseling and expanded her studies in spirituality. Her dream was to leave the east coast Washington DC area for the southwest where the pace is slower and her interests more the norm.
Ilene had many women friends, some friendships dated back to early childhood days, but her relationships with men did not fare as well. While her women friends were strong, competent and professional, the men she dated were not of the same ilk. They were often less educated than she and sometimes weak with violent tendencies, and frequently they were unavailable. If they were too available, she wasn’t interested. When she had affairs with married men and they ended, as they inevitably did, she became depressed and blamed herself for an apparent inability to become intimate. Her professional savvy did not transfer to the love arena. She seemed to confuse sex with love, glitter with substance and money with caring.
In her early twenties she married a gentle, unsophisticated career Army officer. They lived in Germany in a small town outside of Wiesbaden where he was stationed, but shortly after they returned to the States the marriage ended quietly in divorce. That was her first marriage. She went back to school and worked her way up from secretarial positions to stockbroker. She married again, husband number two was a handsome, up-and-coming advertising executive who was fond of throwing his money around, and he owned a boat that they docked on the Potomac. Unfortunately, he was also fond of cocaine and alcohol, and it quickly became clear to the family that he was an alcoholic. He was abusive, controlling, and opinionated, especially about his wife, and he dictated her style of dress and behavior. He always had something to say about the way Ilene looked; down to details such as the way she plucked her eyebrows.
I visited for Sunday brunch once, and while her husband was busy showing my husband the upstairs Ilene pulled back two paintings and showed me the holes in the wall from where he had laid his fist. She finally left him a year or two later, after his fists made contact with her body one too many times, and for years she remained single, concentrating on her business. She studied for her certification in financial planning, which she received, and worked hard to build up her own clientele. Her clients loved her; she was fun, a good listener, smart and caring. Her sense of humor was famous and she didn’t mind making jokes at her own expense. She named her business with the last names of her two ex-husbands plus her maiden name so that everyone thought she had at least two partners, and we all laughed with her. As successful as she was, from the public’s perspective, she still couldn’t get the love thing to go right. Maybe she didn’t think she deserved it, maybe she just plain didn’t know how, maybe she was scared; I could only speculate what stood in her way. I know it bothered her; she wanted to have a permanent love relationship, one where she was respected and treated well.
Unfortunately, either her memory lacked clarity or she just had high hopes, but she seemed to forget the pain she suffered during her second marriage and embarked on an eerily similar relationship with a man she once described as the “sexiest man alive”. Jeff was someone she met at a local AA meeting that she had been attending for some time. She believed herself to be an alcoholic; she often drank to excess and experienced blackouts the next day. By this time she had been alcohol free for quite a while and attended meetings regularly. She was approaching forty and had been dating Jeff for only a short time, in fact I had not met him and barely remembered his name when she called to tell me her news. She was pregnant. This was not her first pregnancy but she had been much younger with the others. She had never expressed a desire to be a mother and each time opted not to keep the baby. She must have felt that this was her final chance at motherhood, it was now or never. I remember when she called to tell me that she was pregnant and planned to have the baby and raise it alone. Later, without explanation, she changed her mind and decided instead to marry Jeff. The baby was 3 months old at the time of the wedding, none of Ilene’s friends or family attended, it was held in Jeff’s home town in the Virgin Islands. I often wondered why she changed her mind about raising the baby alone; my guess is that she succumbed to her fears and uncertainties and banked on hope. I never questioned her, she thought I was too bossy and critical and I couldn’t find a way to ask without sounding as if I disapproved of her decision.
Like Ilene, Jeff was a chain-smoker and an alcoholic. Unlike her, he abused drugs and was a mean drunk. He possessed a palpable rage that he barely disguised with a thin veneer of swaggering machismo. After meeting him for the first time, Rachel confided to me that she was afraid of him. Rachel loved her aunt Ilene dearly, they had a very close bond, and she was worried about her. Other family members and friends were suspicious and concerned, several of us questioned Ilene, only to be reassured that, no, Jeff was not abusing her. She added a little postscript, which, in retrospect, should have worried us. She said, “He would never hurt me when the baby was around”. Nevertheless, despite her protestations, she was very careful around him, she “walked on eggshells” so as not to disturb him, and kept her private life hidden from her family and colleagues. Although she told us that he had been sober for five years, he had in fact begun drinking again.
From her journal entries, we can trace Jeff’s downward spiral; he drank more and more often. During their last summer together, they and the baby Lucas joined our extended family for a few days at a rented house on the Delaware shore. Jeff refused to participate in family activities and spent most of his time alone. One afternoon, though he never saw us, we saw him leaving a bar. He later brought home a six-pack of a non-alcoholic beer to reinforce the lie that he was abstaining.
Back at home after the beach vacation Jeff continued to drink. Ilene had to bail him out of one financial mess after another; she paid his taxes, fixed his truck after an alcohol -related accident, and negotiated with his boss to agree to hold his job yet another week. She pleaded with him to resume AA meetings and even arranged for him to receive outpatient alcohol treatment. But his jealousy of her success and her many friendships continued to grow and eat at him. He was a delivery truck driver with a high school education; she was a certified financial counselor with her own business earning at least twice his salary. If she had dinner with a friend or client, he would retaliate by going out and getting drunk, as if to punish her for being too independent. He was losing his much needed sense of control over himself and over Ilene.
In October 1995, after celebrating both Yom Kippur and Lucas’s first birthday with our parents, our sister Lisa and her husband Tim in Arizona, Ilene decided to separate from Jeff. She asked him to move out of her house. He was furious. We were worried. We pleaded with her to change the locks on her house; she said she did. We asked her to stay with us for a time until his anger subsided. She refused, explaining that she didn’t want to leave her home. “My work is here, I have to come home sometime”, she said. She did acknowledge the danger she was in and arranged to have a friend stay with her for a few days.
Jeff quit his job and left town, calling Ilene from the road from as far away as Florida and Texas. He said that he was going to work on a shrimp boat, and then he threatened suicide if she wouldn’t take him back. The menacing phone calls continued, and she was a nervous wreck, mostly worried about his safety. He made it impossible for her to reach him, every day she waited, either to hear his voice or for someone else’s call with dreadful news. Finally he returned to town and moved in with his brother who lived a short distance away. But he was deeply depressed and continued to harass and stalk her even as they worked out a separation agreement and visitation arrangements for their son. He would drive slowly past her house over and over and call her repeatedly on the phone, provoking arguments that would leave her shaking and crying. She attended individual counseling, they saw a therapist together to work out the separation agreement, and he was being treated by a psychiatrist for depression. Both were taking antidepressants.
Less than a year after their marriage, on November 24, 1995 – the day after Thanksgiving and exactly one month after her fortieth birthday – Ilene and Jeff were both dead. We have tried to piece together the events of that day. It seems that on Thanksgiving Day Jeff spent the day at his brother’s house, lying on the couch, seemingly depressed or brooding, according to his brother. Later, he refused an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner and spent the late afternoon and early evening alone while his brother and sister in law left to have dinner with family and friends. At some point in time, and at some place unknown, he started drinking. Either before or after, he ransacked his brother’s house and found the handgun that he knew his brother owned.
He drove to Ilene’s house, parked far enough down the driveway so as to be invisible from the front door (his truck was found the next day in the driveway in front of her car) and waited for her to come home. She and the baby had gone to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll never know the specific details, but it seems she arrived home with the baby, put him to bed, and then went to bed herself. Her contact lenses were soaking in their case, a normal nightly bedtime ritual. I don’t know how he lured her into the living room but he was a foot taller and at least 100 pounds heavier, he could easily have forced her down the stairs. They must have fought and he threatened her, and knowing Ilene she might have even dared him to shoot. I am certain of one thing, and that is that she pleaded for him to spare the baby. Drunk and furious and out of control, he shot her in the shoulder and abdomen three times: she died within seconds on the living room floor. Then he shot himself, splattering his brains across her white carpet, leaving their 14-month-old child Luke alone and unattended in his crib upstairs. By this time it was late Thanksgiving night or the wee hours of the next morning. Ilene’s office was in her home, but because of the holiday her staff was not due in until Monday. Miraculously, the cleaning woman arrived that Friday morning, discovered the bodies and immediately alerted the police. My nephew was safe and asleep in his crib when the police arrived. Only God knows what he heard or witnessed the night before, or how long he cried when he woke early that morning before falling off to sleep again.
It has been years since my younger sister was killed. For the first few years a day did not pass that I didn’t think about her multiple times a day, and I didn’t think that would ever change, but time does heal and now sometimes a few days will pass without her memory knocking on my door. For a time, we had four children living in our household. Her son, Lucas, was now my son, and an integral part of our family. He doesn’t remember his mother or father but he does know the story, though some details have been omitted, someday, he’ll know it all. Back then, I wished for him to be two years old forever so that he would never have to know the pain in store for him.
The pain, my pain, is immense. My sister and I grew up together: We shared a room, toys and neighborhood friends. Mostly, we shared the sorrow of losing our mother at an early age, and because of this we were bonded for life. Our personalities were different, and we often quarreled. I was quiet and careful; she was wild and risk taking. Even as young children, our differences were apparent. In a letter to my grandmother my mother recounted the story of Ilene’s activity during one particularly boring school day. Ilene announced at dinner that she had spent the better part of her day at school kissing a boy. I was said to have replied, “You shouldn’t do that!” And she responded, “But there was nothing else to do”. As adults we would transcend our differences and laugh together and listen to each other’s crisis of the week. Between us, we had five marriages and four children, so there was an abundance to talk about.
My sister’s death had left a hole in my life, a crater with a diameter wide enough for me to crawl inside. The sorrow was wide and enveloping, a quivering caul enclosing a raw and bleeding soul waiting for a healing touch. I began to write poetry to express my pent-up feelings and, together with my youngest sister Mindy, to research domestic violence, specifically homicide/suicide. Mindy, who was then a graduate student in social work, uncovered some information describing the risk factors and precursors of femicide (a term coined by sociologists to describe male violence against women). To our horror, we realized that almost every risk factor was present in Ilene’s situation. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and even had we known then what we know now; it may have made little difference. But we didn’t know. Moreover, at that time, the professionals treating my sister and her husband apparently didn’t know either because she was never warned that her life was in danger.
In my sister’s case, the signs were there, every one of them, but we did not know how to read them. It was as if the road map was in Chinese, and we had no translation. We were concerned enough about her physical safety that we asked her for reassurance. And when that reassurance was forthcoming, we believed her, breathed collective sighs of relief, and went about our business. After all, we didn’t want to interfere or to appear to know what was best for her. After all, we couldn’t live her life for her. And what if we were wrong? So we resorted to giving tidbits of advice. Did murder ever occur to us? I don’t think so. At least, it never occurred to me. Hitting, yes. Bruises, yes. Kidnapping the baby, yes. Destruction of property, yes. Killing, no. Was I naive? YES.
I often wonder what Ilene’s thoughts were at the time. Was she afraid? Did she have a premonition of what was to unfold? We found her journals later. In a September 1995 entry, just two months before her death, she addressed Jeff: “I am in pain because it is over with us – you saw it coming and chose it – caused it. Please do not hurt yourself or Lucas. God, I pray – keep us safe.” In November, one week before her death she wrote again: “The gift of Lucas. The gifts of joy and love that I experience in such abundance… The peace I am beginning to feel – the healing that is taking place within me”. That was her last entry.
Often we harbor the misconception that these atrocities happen only to ‘other people’, strangers who live in neighborhoods we are too afraid to enter. We read the stories in the metro section of the newspapers, and shake our heads in disbelief and horror. Jewish tradition instructs us never to pray for a tragedy to bypass us; to do so would be tantamount to asking that it be visited on someone else instead. But when we read these stories, we can’t help murmuring under our breath, “Thank God it wasn’t me!” Sometimes, it is.
In the words of a Jewish song, “What’s the commitment to those who have died when we cry they’ve not died in vain?” Ilene’s death will not be in vain if even one woman is saved because of the lessons we have learned. “Don’t let her light go out. Let it shine through our love and our tears”.
In September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter. (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.). After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share. It’s always the most meaningful part of my work. Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik. Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence. It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday. Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister. She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her. The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful.
I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death. Each did. In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time. I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes. I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me.
Lisa’s story posted on March 8th. Now Mindy’s story:
Ilene’s Story by Mindy Kavalerchik, MSW ©2013
This past Thanksgiving night marked the 17th year anniversary that our beloved sister Ilene became a victim of intimate partner homicide. The question continues to haunt my thoughts: if we knew then what we know now, could we have saved her and kept our nephew from becoming orphaned that night and almost certainly deceased as well? My 13-month-old nephew was left in his crib: if not for my sister’s housekeeper entering her home the next morning, he surely would have died as well. I unfortunately know that the answer to my constant questioning is a resounding no. If a suicidal, estranged spouse wants to kill, he will always find a way. My sister and brother-in-law had signed a separation agreement three days prior to her murder. My estranged brother-in-law had wanted a statement included in the agreement that my sister would not date for some period of time; of course she refused to include the statement. I now know that this is the most dangerous time for an abused spouse due to the perpetrator losing his ability to exert power and control over his spouse; he will kill if necessary to attempt to maintain that power and control.
My brother-in-law began stalking behaviors such as constant calling, and threatening suicide immediately following the signing of the agreement. My sister had contacted the police; the response that she received was that nothing could be done until a crime was committed. My elder sister Debbie and I begged my sister to come to our homes for Thanksgiving, to change the locks on her doors, and I offered to come and stay with her. My sister, being the strong, independent, empowered woman that she now was, refused all assistance, feeling that she “ could handle it “.
My brother-in-law had been drinking Thanksgiving Day, found his twin brother’s gun and then drove to my sister’s home where he parked and hid his truck in the back of the house to lay in wait for my sister and their son to return home from Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. Only my sister and her abuser know the following events, and the horror of what she endured continue to torment me. The only solace that I can find is that my sister experienced the terror and her death once; those of us left behind experience the events over and over.
The following scenario is what we believe took place on that fateful Thanksgiving night, according to homicide detectives. My sister and nephew had gone to bed; my estranged brother-in-law awakened my sister and forced her downstairs. There was evidence of a struggle in the bedroom; pillows and sheets thrown from the bed and personal items lay all over the floor. My sister was shot three times – once in the right arm, twice in the chest and abdomen. There was very little blood where my sister had fallen; therefore we believe that she died very quickly. We will never know the suffering that she endured prior to her death, the argument and emotional torture that she suffered. Upon entering her home with the homicide detectives we found tremendous amounts of blood in the entry way, walls, sofa, living room rug; all from my estranged brother-in-law following his suicide by shooting himself in the head. I laid down where my sister had fallen, trying to find some comfort, be close to her in death. I stomped my feet in my brother-in-law’s blood as though that would punish him for murdering my beloved sister. I have since come to forgive him, and tell myself that my sister gave her life to save her child from an abusive man.
As I write the tears flow, the pain comes anew, but of course, it is always there. My sister was three years older than I, and she was my idol for as long as I can remember. I was blessed to look and sound like her; this was a tremendous source of pride and identity for me as I was growing up. Our mother died when I was three, my sister was six; my sister then became my surrogate mother, and I never dreamed that I would have to live without her love and her guidance.
By Guest Blogger Erika Evans
Myth: Domestic violence does not occur in same sex relationships. Fact: 1 out of 4 same sex couples experience violence and abuse in comparison to 1 out of 3 heterosexual couples (americanprogress.org.) As the controversy stirs over the current California Prop 8 banning gay marriage goes to the Supreme Court I decided to research same sex domestic violence relationships. It’s most likely the only subject less talked about than domestic violence itself. Domestic violence in the LGBT community can be a tough subject because they have fewer civil rights protection as heterosexual victims do. Also, authorities lack knowledge on how to handle these situations. Gays and lesbians are more likely to fight back against their abuser making it hard for law enforcement to believe it is abuse opposed to mutual fighting. Therefore both parties are treated equally in the charges making it difficult to get a restraining order or any type of legal protection. So it’s somewhat of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. If you physically defend yourself, it makes it near impossible for authorities to lawfully protect you. Laws, protection and resources are very limited for gay or lesbian victims. So in reality, not only the civil right of gays and lesbians pertaining to marriage are not upheld by the government but their right to equal protection and freedom from bodily harm are denied as well.
I was given the opportunity to speak to a college student who was in an abusive same sex relationship for several years. Catrina is a 35 year old female that shared her story with me about her first “live in” relationship she had with another woman. My first question to Catrina was if there were signs of abuse before the physical violence began. “I had no control of money. When we first moved in together we opened up an account that my paychecks got deposited into. She said she would give me a bank card but she never did.” I then asked if law enforcement was ever involved. She stated no. She said the physical abuse started slowly and in spurts. “In the beginning it was just pushing and shoving. It was years before the pounding began.” She also admitted that she was too scared to tell anyone what was going on such as family and friends. “It’s hard enough trying to be accepted as a lesbian. I couldn’t tell anyone.” I asked her if she were too scared to leave. She told me that her abuser had a drinking problem, was diagnosed manic depressive and felt that she made a commitment and just hoped it would get better but it had only continued to get worse. In her case fear wasn’t keeping her there, honor was. It was difficult for me to understand her rational because throughout our conversation she justified her abuser’s behavior many times. She stated that her abuser would only become physical when she embarrassed her or if she was stressed about finances. I asked when it was that she had finally decided to leave. She had come home to her girlfriend almost dead in the bath tub after slitting her wrists. She was petitioned to the court by her family to get help and was hospitalized for several months. Catrina had moved out and relocated before she returned home.
By guest blogger Erika Evans
My experiences volunteering at the shelter have opened my eyes to all aspects of domestic violence. Did you know that domestic violence not only affects emotional health but it greatly impacts physical health as well? It is exhausting on the body to endure trauma and stress and as time carries on may begin to cause illness. It is very important to seek medical care and routine checkups as a means of preventive medicine as well as to deal with any current health issues. Being able to recognize the physical symptoms of domestic violence will give you the ability to take measures to correct these conditions. Some common symptoms are headache and muscle tension, upset stomach, nausea and vomiting and fatigue or sleeping difficulties. Illness related to domestic violence may be heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive illness and may lower the immune system. Often victims of abuse don’t realize that these issues are symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). To make managing these health issues even worse is that the cause is often over-looked by health care providers. More often, they are occupied with managing the symptoms and treatment as opposed to helping the victim pinpoint the original source of the problem; past or current abuse, and helping that person escape from and find the therapy and emotional healing they need.
Intimate partner abuse (meaning the psychological damage without necessarily the physical battery) can also be damaging to your health. One common effect on someone who is in an abusive relationship is change in sex drive. Intimate partner abuse gives the abuser power and control through reproductive coercion which may lead to unwanted pregnancies by the victim. Statistics show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men experience intimate partner abuse at some point in the life and is considered a significant public health issue. Domestic violence is toxic in many ways, including your physical health.
A colleague of Stephanie Angelo’s, Ellen Taliaferro, wrote The Physician’s Guide to Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse: A Reference for All Health Care Professionals, available on Amazon which focuses on her years of medical practice in emergency room medicine where she saw a strong connection with high frequency in medical trauma and domestic abuse. This book is invaluable for any physician. Has your doctor read this?
Last September I had the opportunity to speak at Sojourner Center, Phoenix’s largest domestic violence shelter. (In fact it’s the largest shelter in the U.S.). After the presentation I was approached by several attendees who had questions to ask and stories to share. It’s always the most meaningful part of my work. Two of the women who introduced themselves to me were sisters; Lisa Pressman and Mindy Kavalerchik. Sixteen years earlier one of their sisters was murdered in an act of domestic violence. It was impossible to talk with these two and not feel their pain, as if it were yesterday. Lisa, a singer, musician and song writer, along with her husband, had written a song to express her feelings on the death of her sister. She shared it with me on a CD she brought with her. The song, TEACHER – MOTHER – SISTER – DAUGHTER is haunting yet beautiful.
I asked if each sister, including Debbie, who was not there that day, would be willing to write the story of her own experience with Ilene’s death. Each did. In the next months I will post these powerful, heart-wrenching stories, one at a time. I will also post Lisa’s song with a purchase link to iTunes. I know it will mean as much to you as it does to me.
First, Lisa’s story:
The day after Thanksgiving 1995, I was back at work. My job was wonderful – I was the pianist at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix performing seven afternoons a week for lunch and high tea. It was an elegant day (like most days at the Ritz!) and I was lost in the reverie of playing a beautiful grand piano in a luxurious hotel lobby. And, as usual, on my break that afternoon, I checked my cell phone voicemail. Though I have forgotten the exact words, I will never forget the message – my mother telling me to come home now! I called and though the tears and the screaming I learned that my sister Ilene was dead.
How could this be true? Ilene and her one-year old son Lucas had visited with us in Phoenix to celebrate her 40th birthday just one month before. We had a wonderful time doing what we usually did when we were together – we were just plain silly – singing and laughing! We reminisced about dancing wildly around the living room furniture as children to the music of Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and singing all the songs from our favorite movie, The Sound Of Music. THIS COULD NOT BE TRUE!
But unfortunately it was…my sisters Debbie and Mindy knew some of the horrible details, but I did not. Ilene was always protecting me, helping me. I had never met her husband from whom she was now separated from and had only spoken to him once on the phone, which intuitively made me shiver. Ilene did not tell me about the abuse, the hurt, the fear, or the sadness. We usually talked of about our dreams, our spirits, and our creative hearts.
In one small space and time, life changed for all of us. Healing came slowly through music for me as well as for my husband Tim, also a musician and composer. One afternoon upon my return from the Ritz, Tim had a song for me to hear as was usual with him (he is incredibly prolific), though this time the song was very, very different. This song was for Ilene. We did not know in 1996 that this song could be of service to others and in 2001 we only knew that we had to produce it as best we could. I had to reach deep within me to sing and play through my sorrows. “Teacher Mother Sister Daughter”, with words and music by Tim Ponzek, was our journey to healing. And now, hopefully our song can help you or someone you love.
Ilene’s Story by Lisa Pressman ©2013
Get the song here: