Document 8: Statement of Donna Baietti, Director, Battered Women's Project, Aroostook County. Senate Hearing 103-878, 12 November 1993. Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 103rd Congress, First Session on Examining the Rise of Violence Against Women in the State of Maine and in Other Rural Areas, South Portland, Maine. Serial No. J-103-36.

Introduction

       Donna Baietti was the Director of the Battered Women's Project in Maine. Like the local domestic violence organization of rural Utah, the Battered Women's Project was a small organization providing services for victims of abuse. Like the organizational representatives from Utah, Baietti articulated the need for remedies from the point of view of those who dealt with the problem on the front lines. She offered a statewide perspective on domestic violence with collected accounts of battered women's experiences that shared common themes.

STATEMENT OF DONNA BAIETTI

       Ms. BAIETTI. Well, thank you. I usually do not get a chance to open up. I usually get very nervous, so this will help.

       I represent the Battered Women Project in Aroostook County. In preparing for today's program, I felt an obligation to offer a statewide perspective on domestic violence and knew that my 6 years' experience with battered women might be limited because it is based on lives of abused women living predominantly in northern Maine. But then I thought again about what battered women's stories have in common. Besides the important factor that they are told by women, I would like to suggest that collected accounts of battered women's experiences share some common themes that must be acknowledged. To do this, I would like to introduce you to Betty. She has been a friend of the domestic violence project for awhile, but for today I would like to focus on Betty from April 1992 until October 1992, a brief 6 months in the life of a this 40-year-old woman.

       On April 16, 1992, after talking with support people in her life, Betty met with a Battered Women's advocate at the local district court to request and emergency order of protection. Betty stated on the affidavit to the court that she had recently been abused by Paul, her intimate partner. She wrote that he forced her to have sex, was very rough, and even broke her rib in the most recent attack. She broke up with him because of the abuse and wanted the protection order to ensure that he would not come to her home. She was afraid he would hurt her again. This was a giant step for Betty. She was embarrassed and ashamed to talk about her intimate relationship. She thought that some things should stay private, but her fear of being hurt by Paul again motivated her to seek protection.

       After reading the affidavit, the judge spoke to Betty. He asked her how long she had been with Paul, if there were other ways that he had abused her, and if she ever had consented to sex with him. Betty was not at all prepared when the judge denied her request explaining that he did not think that she was in immediate danger for further harm, but he did schedule a full hearing on the matter for May 1992.

       Please take a moment to consider what Betty might be thinking or feeling at this point. Let me tell you some of the things she expressed: If the judge does not believe me now, why will the same judge believe me in May? I knew I should not have talked about this to anyone. When I go to court in May, how many people will be in the courtroom and know all about my personal life? I think I will need a lawyer, but I cannot afford a lawyer. But the worst part is Paul will be there, and he will know that the judge did not believe me, so he will hurt me again and again and again.

       Betty is now as afraid of the process as she is of Paul. Her fear became paralyzing. She never went through with the full hearing. It all became too much for her. And after all, Paul had moved away, so things went OK for a while.

       Betty continued to reach out to others. She found support with a church group, got counseling from a pastor. She felt good about herself and decided to give Paul another chance, and to be more tolerant, to try to communicate with him. She felt that couples counseling might help them. So Paul came back into Betty's life sometime in the early fall, and then on October 22, 1992, Paul killed Betty. He tore off her nightgown, cut off her underwear, threw her on the bed, and strangled her. The medical report said she also had a few more broken ribs. Betty died at the hands of her intimate partner in what should have been in the safety of her home. She died just the way she told the judge she was being abused.

       Whose fault was it that Betty was killed? The judge's? The advocate's? Betty's? No. It was Paul's fault. Paul had a history of abusing women at other times. Other women in other places in this State had requested orders of protection against Paul. The district court judge did not know that, the advocates did not know that, and Betty did not know. But the superior court judge knew and sentenced Paul in October 1993 to 55 years in State prison for the murder of Betty.

       What can we learn from the loss of Betty's life? What does her story have in common with other battered women everywhere? Battered women know that their abusers can kill them if they choose to at any time, and they live with that constant fear, but they cannot always convey how afraid they are or why.

       As a community, we do not believe this thing called domestic violence is that bad. We continue to minimize, and battered women continue to be killed. Battered women know that it is far more dangerous to leave their abusers than to stay. The most recent fact sheets from the National Women Abuse Prevention Project states that a battered women frequently faces the most physical danger when she attempts to leave. She may be threatened with violence and death or attacked if she tries to flee. She fears for her safety, her children's safety, and the safety of those helping her. She does not believe that the community she lives in can protect her.

       Another common theme that the stories of battered women tell us is how difficult we make it for her to leave. She must jump through endless hoops of victim blaming every place she turns for help. We continually ask her why she stays even after she has left. The tasks that we assign battered women to ensure their own and children's safety are incredible burdens for the women that just want to heal and live violence-free.

       The Violence Against Women Act is an appropriate acknowledgement of the plight of women in the United States. Title 2, Safe Homes For Women, may offer some hope to battered women and their children courageously struggling without adequate community resources or support. Violence against women in their homes must not be tolerated. The five steps outlined in Title 2 may set the stage for the necessary social changes needed to end this violence and insure that women can find safety in their own homes.

       Senator COHEN. Thank you very much.

       Dr. McAfee?

 
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