State v. Survival: a story of a young women’s fight against domestic violence
For the past two years, Jill (not her real name) has been living in a constant state of fear. Jill has been forced to live a life shadowed by a mad man.
Jill, only 17-years old at the beginning met Steve (not his real name) at a house gathering and bon fire. She had him on social media prior and saw him at the gathering leaning up against a car. She was trying to get over past relationship, so she decided to go and talk to him. As soon as started talking to him she fell for him instantaneously. They both knew they would become important to one another from the first conversation.
They began snapchatting every day, always talking to each other. They began just hanging out all the time watching movies and picking her up from her house going on local adventures around town.
“The love bombing began after a few months; cute dates, sushi dates, drive ins and parks. I never saw the affection in parents, so it seemed perfect. I spent so much time at his place I was almost living with him, I fell in love,” Jill said.
Jill refers to the bad moments as red flags, shadows to what was to come. The red flags began to show after three months. The first incident was Steve screaming at her over a comment about his friend, claiming she was “embarrassing” in front of his friend. She kiddingly hit the steering wheel making the car move and he screamed at her and made her cry.
The second was a time Jill and Steve went out to get food late at night at a 24-hour open gas station. Jill got pizza logs but only got 4 instead of 5, and his reaction was to throw the pizza logs on the ground, destroyed a bunch of stuff in his car, having a meltdown saying, “workers don’t know how to work”. She was embarrassed and apologized for him to the workers as he continued to throw things in front of the workplace.
After four months together, she had found out there was an order of protection against him from a previous relationship,
“He’s a fighter, I knew that, but I never saw a sign of him getting physical towards me, I just couldn’t see him doing that,” Jill explained.
The first sign of violence occurred at Home Depot, as they were getting paint for her bedroom. This was the first time he called her a bitch.
“You’re acting like a fool in front of people working here, you’re acting like a bitch,” Jill quotes.
The first true sign of violence was when Steve punched a hole through a wall outside his house. He chased her out the house and his family were there screaming at her as well. Jill called an uber so she could escape, but this infuriated Steve more, as he threatened the uber driver saying he will kill her and slash her tires.
“Always over nothing,” Jill explains is the root of Steve’s anger. “Something was going wrong everywhere we would go,” Jill said.
Jill knew that what was happening was no longer common, but her friends still normalized it claiming they would love for someone to be that obsessed over them with how he was obsessed with her. People would respond to her outreach saying they wish guys would want her as he wanted her.
Eventually, incidents became bad enough where the police became involved. And this is where the criminal justice system began to fail her.
Jill now has endured two years of consistent domestic violence getting worse with every month that passed. From one month of car crash threats to the next getting her head pounded into the pavement, the justice system was bound from helping by written law.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of girls like Jill. Domestic violence is often a fight for your life. It may start with small incidents like yelling, maybe even a shove, but the violence tends to increase rigorously over time. According to research done by NCADV.org, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the US. During a year, this racks up to 10 million women and men impacted by domestic violence.
During one specific incident, a responding police officer to a call from Jill told her that if she were killed by this person, it would be the only way they would go to jail that night. Since she was left unmarked and without serious injury, he would not get arrested, only spoken to.
Officers always encouraged getting a restraining order but the process of obtaining this order of protection is rigorous and exhaustive to the victim more than the accused.
In New York State alone, The Daily Mail found 482 people charged with felony assault were released without bail only to be arrested with new crimes 846 times, according to officials. With such a high frequency of cases in Rochester alone, many women fear their safety. With the recidivism rate being so high amongst violent offenders, most women fear the repercussions of continuing to report crimes against them.
“It makes people want to give up and not even try. For example, serving an order of protection in general, we must do all that work. You get three chances, three attempts, it’s literally called the server… then if it fails you must start over again and put a new case together—it’s all you on your own… There’s like no communication. So, you basically need to pay for a lawyer just to find out the result that’s most likely the person still going to be able to do what they want to do. There’s just nothing. It feels so hopeless,” Jill explained.
Officers explained to her regardless of what occurred, they were held back by New York State law. There was simply nothing they could do to help.
“Somehow the police couldn’t do anything about it even though it seems like there definitely should be something done. This person tried to break into our house and the cops literally said that his license plate wasn’t in the surveillance, so they couldn’t do anything about it. Even if I showed a picture that matched up with the same video we have with him outside of our house, they said that they still can’t legally prove it to him,” Jill said.
New York State defines assault at three different degrees.
As defined by Penal Law 120.00(1), Assault in the Third Degree is a Class “A” misdemeanor and is based on the premise physical injury was caused with the intention of harm. Penal Code 120.00(2) similarly states this injury must cause “substantial pain” but is, in theory, reckless and unintentional. This is punishable by anything from one year in the local jail, three years’ probation, or lesser penalties such as a conditional discharge, fines, community service and/or surcharges.
As defined by Penal Code 120.05(8) and Penal Code 120.05(9), Second-degree assault is a Class “D” felony where injuries are more severe and constitute “serious physical injury”. This is punishable by either two to seven years in state prison or five years’ probation.
As defined by Penal Code 120.10(2), First Degree Assault is when serious disfigurement or permanent disability is caused by the assault, often involving a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. This is defined as a Class “B” felony with a sentence of up to 25 years in prison with a minimum of five years served.
Plea Bargains are not uncommon, especially in cases that involve possible jail time. According to research done by the law site Nolo, more than 90% of convictions come from negotiated pleas, which means less than 10% of criminal cases end up in trials. This is done to avoid cases going to trial, as well as free up space in the local jails and state prisons. But by letting these violent offenders out, this puts the victims back at risk.
Jill explains her most recent experience with this after her abuser was seen by police chasing her with his car trying to run her over.
“These officers finally put him in jail, but he wasn’t even hardly there that night. There was proof that I had, a video of him saying ‘I’m gonna kill you’ with his face in it. That’s the only evidence they had because his actual face was in it. But was he let out? Yeah, he didn’t even go to jail,” Jill explained. “They literally said to him, ‘if you confess, you don’t have to go to jail.’ Like if you confess to doing the crime, you don’t have to go to jail. But if you don’t confess then you are put in jail and can be released on bail. But if you turn yourself in, you don’t have to go to jail. You could just wait for your court dates. And that’s what he did. He turned himself in and he’s been waiting for his court dates. He didn’t even go to jail at all,” Jill said.
Every day she must keep her eye out, knowing he could show up again at any moment to try and get revenge, it has been nearly impossible to escape his web of abuse. Although there is a new order of protection in place for her case, other girls are at risk since he was seen back on a dating app as of this week.
Criminal Justice is in place to protect the people but where is the protection when the reaction given to such events is for girls to carry pepper spray and a taser, when they’re 21 they are told to carry a gun.
If you are experiencing any form of domestic violence, you are not alone. You can reach out to the 24-hour free and confidential Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1.800. 799.SAFE (7233) or texting “START” to 88788. You can also reach out to Willow Center for Domestic Violence for local assistance by calling the 24-Hour Hotline (585) 222-SAFE (7233) or texting (585) 348-SAFE (7233).