Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three Mothers Dead, Three Fathers Under Arrest

From The Indianapolis Star:

3 domestic violence deaths prompt questions of what can be done

By Francesca Jarosz
Posted: June 28, 2009

For Angela Warnock, getting a protective order against her abusive husband was a huge step toward freedom. In the weeks after she obtained it May 27, her friends noted the typically soft-spoken woman was more open to talking about her problems.

But her fatal stabbing June 21 -- a few days before she was to move to Hawaii with her daughters -- highlights a grim reality: Protective orders can't save those whose abusers intend to kill. In cases such as Warnock's, experts say, preventing such a tragedy requires drastic steps.

"A protective order is just not enough. Going to a friend's house is not enough. You need a shelter," said Ann DeLaney, executive director of the Julian Center in Indianapolis.

Police say Warnock's husband, Joseph Warnock, entered her Brownsburg home on Father's Day and stabbed her multiple times. Their daughters, ages 8 and 12, were present. He has been charged with murder.

The death of Warnock, 38, a devoted mother and hairstylist whom friends remembered for her empathy and thoughtfulness, was the third domestic violence fatality in less than two months in the Indianapolis metro area.

In all three cases, the women recently had broken away from their husbands. Experts say this is a point at which victims are at the greatest risk, because abusers think they are losing control.

In May, four of Amenda Yang's children found the 43-year-old dead in her Lawrence home from blunt-force trauma to the head and strangulation. Her husband, Michael Yang, has been charged with murder and violating the protective order she had filed against him.

A month later, Beth Stayer, 34, was fatally beaten with a hammer and tire iron in her Whitestown home. Her ex-husband, Michael Stayer, faces charges in her death.

The number of protective orders filed in Marion County during the first six months of this year is up more than 15 percent, to 1,911, over the same period last year, when there were 1,649. Some experts say the increase can be explained by an uptick in domestic violence because of added stress brought on by the recession.

Nationwide, about 1,600 victims die from domestic violence each year, said Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins University who authored a nationwide study of intimate partner femicide. At least 75 percent of those victims are women.

There have been 44 such homicides statewide, including 15 in Marion County, since July 1, 2008, according to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which tracks the numbers by fiscal year.

Victims' advocates say protective orders serve as valuable tools that can keep violence from escalating. But their power is limited and depends on how well they are enforced.

Violators of protective orders typically would be charged with a misdemeanor, but in some cases, charges are not filed, said Maria Larrison, executive director at Sheltering Wings in Danville.

Another shortcoming, experts say, is that the system often fails to identify subjects of protective orders who are highly dangerous. That's something Campbell said could be done by evaluating domestic violence offenders or having victims complete a risk assessment.

Some who have protective orders realize their limitations. A domestic abuse victim, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears for her safety, said the protective order she received this month has helped encourage her abuser to stay away but hasn't alleviated her worries.

"I'll live in fear the rest of my life and hope to God that a protective order helps me," she said. "But if the law doesn't reinforce the protective order, it's not going to do any good."

On the day Angela Warnock was granted a temporary protective order, she called the Hendricks County Sheriff's Department to report that Joseph Warnock kept calling and harassing her, according to emergency dispatch records.

A month later, during a hearing to determine whether that protective order should be permanent, Warnock testified that the temporary order hadn't stopped her husband from stalking the family. He had called up to 18 times a day, and sent gifts and cards, text messages and flowers.

In the years before she got her protective order, Warnock was generally private about her husband's behavior but had confided that she was verbally abused, said Sally Shattuck, a massage therapist and Sheltering Wings volunteer who worked with Warnock at a Brownsburg salon.

Shattuck said she occasionally would suggest Warnock visit Sheltering Wings, but Warnock always insisted the abuse hadn't elevated to that level.

Advocates in the Indianapolis area are working to increase awareness about domestic violence in an attempt to prevent future tragedies.

A new state law goes into effect Wednesday, giving courts the authority to require a protective order violator to wear a GPS monitoring unit that also informs victims if their attacker is nearby.
Central Indiana's Domestic Violence Network is leading a three-year effort to improve educational efforts and strengthen the way domestic violence-related cases are handled by the criminal justice system, said Julie Marsh, the group's chief executive officer.

Marsh's group also is holding a rally Thursday to bring attention to the issue, and on July 13, Larrison will host a workshop in Brownsburg.

Warnock's friends, meanwhile, are asking themselves what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Those questions remain unanswered.

"The questions come up, but we've all admitted we don't get it," Shattuck said. "You don't have any idea what goes on behind closed doors."

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