When Abusers Kill: How The Justice System Has Failed Women

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The late Elaine Coleman

A few days ago my father, my two year old daughter and I visited my 75 year old grandmother and aunt.
I sat quietly while the elders exchanged their stories from their week, and my daughter played quietly.
I glanced at the television screen; the news was on. Admittedly, I haven’t watched the local news for a few days. I needed a break from the barrage of negative stories.
One of the stories that immediately caught my attention started when the female anchor stated: “Did the Justice System fail Stephanie Goodloe?”
Stephanie Goodloe was a 40 year old woman who filed three police reports, received an emergency protective order and repeatedly told the police she feared for her life, all as a result of her controlling ex-boyfriend.
Her ex --who I will not name, because I don’t respect monsters-- banged on her windows and doors, slashed her tires and harassed her at work. He was angry at the break up and that Goodloe did not want him to keep a relationship with her 11 year old daughter.
The day after she filed for a restraining order, she was found dead in her home as a result of a gunshot wound. Her 11 year old daughter called 911 after hearing gun shots.
Seriously.
This really upset me on multiple levels. I think about Stephanie Goodloe trying to do the right thing to protect her family. I think about the ridiculousness that this monster felt he was some sort of God to make the decision who lives and who dies. I hurt for her 11 year old child who had to call 911 as a result of her mom’s death.
I am reminded of my 24 year old self; I too had to make that same call as I came upon a similar scene. My mother, Elaine Coleman, was also murdered by her boy friend. My parents were divorced.
I know how Goodloe now has to continue her life without her mother to teach and guide her. I know she will feel trapped by the memories of this horrible situation.
To grow up a motherless daughter. To uncomfortably explain to people who ask: how did your mother die? And see the shock when replying: She was murdered.
The answer to the question whether the justice system failed Stephanie posed by reporters (every-single-time something like this occurs) is provided by the question itself.
Yes! Of course it did.
She made multiple claims to the police; the monster was not investigated nor arrested. She filed for and got a restraining order. Yet, without meaning to sound malicious, in the grand scheme of things what is a piece of paper meant to protect? That stay away order on multiple occasions does nothing to keep people away. It does not create an invisible force field that makes one untouchable. It is just that; a piece of paper. For Stephanie --and many other women-- it did not keep the abuser away, it did not keep him from going into her house, and it did not keep him from killing her.
There is need for a better system that actually protects.
I understand that things can get tricky when trying to prove that someone is genuinely fearful for their life. Yet, consider that
6,410 women were murdered in this country by an intimate partner using a gun
from 2001 to 2012; more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined according to a Center for American Progress Study.
That is a huge problem.
I acknowledge that this isn’t something that just happens to women. However, women are much more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence; 85 percent of domestic abuse victims are women and 15 percent men.
We live in a jaded society where we would rather blame the victim, such as in the Brock Turner rape case; or the Oklahoma court ruling that forced oral sex is not rape. Though these cases did not result in the death of these women, it still raised the point that even when you go through the justice system it still fails victims.
We have to create better legislation to protect the victim. It is a growing problem. One in four women will experience domestic violence and 3 million children have witnessed domestic violence in their homes every year.
According to the ACLU, nearly 60% of people in women’s prisons nation-wide and as many as 94% of some women’s prisons populations, have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated.
This is why women don’t speak up. This is why women stay in abusive situations. The abuser is either excused or punished when it is too late. Or the victim is imprisoned as a result of standing up against violence such as was the case with Marissa Alexander.
It seems though society continually tells it’s victims they are supported. Society’s actions suggest that victims are better off if they just stay quiet.
The justice system did not just fail Stephanie Goodloe; we all did.
As I sat I with my aunt, my daughter and my grandmother I look around at these generations of women, and I wonder, who will the justice system fail next?
It already did my mother.

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