Written By- Mubina C
“He doesn’t let me see my child!”
Erica shouted at the other person on the line. It was my second year in college. We had 15 minutes for the Biology class to start and were both waiting outside the lecture hall. She hung up the phone in rage, wiping her tears with the sleeves of her sweatshirt. I could not resist and asked her if she was ok. She looked down in misery with tears dropping on her open textbook. She told me she was fighting a complicated custody battle of her four-year-old son.
Erica got pregnant when she was a junior in high school. Afraid to be a single parent, she continued to stay in an abusive relationship with her child’s father. One day during an argument, Erica’s boyfriend attempted to beat her. To save herself, she threw a paperweight at him, which accidentally hit her son. He was hurt so severely that they had to take him to the ER, where her boyfriend, upset about Erica fighting back, accused her of hitting her son and child neglect. Since Erica didn’t have a stable job after high school and never contacted domestic violence support about her abuse, her boyfriend was given temporary custody. She luckily didn’t go to prison because the act was proven unintentional but reckless. However, she had to take court-ordered parenting classes and pay an attorney $3,000, given to her by friends and family. Erica decided to transform her life while continuing to fight for her son.
I wondered how many Erica’s there were in the U.S prison who weren’t that fortunate. How many women linger in an abusive relationship with their children too scared to get out? End up getting killed? Alternatively, sent to jail for attacking their abuser in self-defense?. Even with domestic violence support and human services, it is not always easy for abuse victims to get up and walk out. Even after the abuser is detained, he could get out of jail in less than two years. Unfortunately, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the abuse despite issuing a restraining order.
- Nan hui Jo escaped an abusive relationship by fleeing to her home country with her daughter. The father reported her for child abduction in 2009. She stated that she didn’t know that she and her child could not leave the country to escape and not violate her U.S citizenship in 2014. She served 175 days in jail and lost her child’s custody.
- Marissa Alexander was prosecuted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon to protect herself from an abusive ex-boyfriend. She fired shots at the garage door when she couldn’t get it to open and escape. Even though no one was injured, she was sentenced to 20 years in jail. However, her conviction was overturned in 2013, and she renegotiated a deal to serve three years in prison and two years on house arrest.
- Bresha Meadows, 14 years old, shot and killed her abusive father in Ohio in 2016. She had reported her father to authorities multiple times but was dismally turned away. She spent a year in juvenile detention.
The list goes on…
In 2018, van der Leun started a project to provide that context and tell the complete stories of battered girls and women serving time for their victimhood being criminalized. Out of 5,098 surveys being sent to 45 detention facilities in 22 states, only 608 were completed. 60% reported abuse before being incarcerated. 43% confirmed their partner abused them. In comparison, 41% killed their abusers while claiming to be protecting themselves. That is 250 women serving years in prison for self-defense. Sadly, This is not even 1/3 of the actual numbers.
Around 4,000 women are killed yearly due to domestic violence in the United States. Approximately 75% of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left an abusive relationship. So what options are there for women repeatedly traumatized by abuse other than leaving their home in a body bag or handcuffs?