Remembering Gail - Protecting Women and Children From Family Violence

BlogHer Original Post

BlogHer contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest posted this weekend about her brand-new niece, and the joy of being able to share her birth with the world - most of all the baby's dad, Erin's brother, in Iraq.

By bedtime, I was congratulating Dad the soldier via webcam and getting a tour of his room in the Middle East.

I had spoken to people all over the globe over one tiny little girl.

I wasn’t doing business. I wasn’t blogginig. I wasn’t connecting with old friends or reading techie news. I was simply celebrating life.



This is the best of family, of connections, of parenting and being a sibling. As Erin puts it, "It's not Web 2.0. It's life."


Today, a reader of Erin's blog asked that we remember a family that did not have a happy ending, and for whom any initial joy was unsustainable. Gail Pumphrey and her three children were killed by Gail's ex-husband and the childrens' father on Thanksgiving day. Pumphrey brought the kids -Meghan, David and Brandon - to a park to drop them off with their dad for the rest of the holiday. He chose, inexplicably, to kill them all and himself, in the county right next to mine. Gail had moved about a half hour away, in her efforts to separate herself from her ex-husband.


It is ridiculous that this is a familiar story - an angry divorce, an ongoing custody and visitation battle, financial struggles and relocations - that ended with a murder-suicide. The local news site listed five more incidents of domestic murder involving spouses and children in our area just this year alongside this family's story.

But just as this story is like many others in its sad details, it is still this family's alone, and it is still unacceptable. Specific, irreplaceable lives ended, and many others remaining feel unique grief.

Full disclosure: this is a topic that I typically don't address, and as a counselor have not chosen to focus on in my work. I've learned that we are all equipped to support certain populations without becoming emotionally devastated ourselves, and this is one I knew I couldn't manage on a daily basis. I have great admiration for the social workers, victim advocates and shelter staff who can. And I feel especially compelled by the gravity of this story and the pressures of this particular season, to give voice to others today who are writing about it more eloquently and more personally than I can.

Cole, Erin's reader, is devastated by the violent loss of her friends, Gail and her children, and is disturbed by the coverage. She wants them to be remembered well.

My friend was Gail Pumphrey and her children were David, Megan and Brandon. She was a wonderful mother who was trying to follow the law to get away from an abusive asshole.

In these last few days there have been invasive, inaccurate and mean articles written about them in the Washington Times and Post and I have found a few "pro-men" blogs talking about how men always get the short stick in divorce and this is what happens when you push a man too far.

I am sick with disbelief that anyone could rationalize what this monster did...kill one child after another with a rifle after killing their mother in front of them.

Please, blog world that I am familiar with, please write something about domestic violence. Post links on your site. Don't make it sensationalistic. My friends deserve so much more than that. It is heartbreaking for their family to hear of slanderous stories only out there to sell papers and have done nothing to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence and the brutality it is.

The Individual Voice is a friend of Cole's and a therapist who says:

Angry exes with guns. They scare the shit out of me as a therapist. They are the main reason I quit private practice, not wanting to be vulnerable to the violent men who fathered children I treated in an office without security personnel.

She too encourages remembrance and writing to keep awareness going.

It's almost Hannukah. I'm going to light four candles early for Gail and her three children. Don't let Gail be forgotten.

Post four candles in memory of Gail's family and against domestic violence. Come up with your own creative posts on Domestic Violence too.

Debbi at Look Into My Head suggests giving to domestic violence support organizations this season.

In a nation that often seems to adopt "every man for himself" as its motto, women and children are far too often left with no place left to turn, trapped in lives of fear and secrecy. When a woman does muster up strength I can only imagine and leaves her abuser to save herself and her kids, she is almost entirely on her own. The few laws that are set up to protect her are weak and ineffectively enforced. If she tries to get child support (often desperately needed) and/or gets a restraining order (because the abuse and threats almost always escalate when she leaves), the abuser all too often uses her temerity as an excuse to snap entirely, and front-page tragedies ensue that leave pundits shaking their hands and wondering, dumbly, how this happened...

I don't have the answer. I hope smarter people do. This Christmas, in lieu of gifts to many of my nearest and dearest, I will be donating money to The Heartly House. I encourage everyone to consider donating to a group doing similarly critical work to protect mothers and children, either locally or at a national level. This Christmas, I'll be even more thankful for the serenity of my home and the safety of my children.

Don't forget them the rest of the year, either. Social service organizations are open every day of every month. Abused people are often financially controlled, and if they do get out, must leave with nothing and cannot access bank accounts for fear of being traced. Most nonprofit support organizations operate on a slim budget, and shelters are one such type that can accept supplies and clothing as well as money. It's a very worthy cause.

Keith at Not So Empty Nest Syndrome wonders why something wasn't done to help Gail and her kids.

What struck me was that Gail Pumphrey asked the courts twice to have her ex's gun confiscated as part of an order of protection. State law requires handguns to be turned in when protective orders are issued, but not long-barreled guns, such as the .22-caliber rifle used in this mass murder. Two Frederick County court orders that resulted from the requests - one read into the record May 3 and later signed by Circuit Judge John H. Tisdale, and another signed Aug. 8, 2005, by District Judge Oliver John Cejka Jr. and renewed on appeal by Circuit Judge Julie S. Solt later that year - did not require David Brockdorff to surrender his rifle. Perhaps the law will be amended and this sort of thing won't happen again, but I wish that common sense rather than politics would have prevented this senseless tragedy.

Domestic violence affects women, children and families everywhere.

Sabrin Chowdhury wrote this post on the Adhunika blog in October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Adhunika is "a global volunteer based organization, dedicated to promoting technology usage for the Bangladeshi women worldwide. Adhunika aims to bring about social change in the lives of women through the use of technology."

But we must ask ourselves, how many instances are out there of women who have never reported their cases and women who continue to silently suffer abuse? A common misconception also is that domestic violence is a problem only faced by immigrants, or those who reside in South Asian countries. Many feel that professional women who are financially independent and have strong careers are also immune to such problems. Even though we may think that such incidents only occur amongst immigrants or more so amongst specific religions and nationalities, this is not the case. Domestic violence is a problem present in all societies, regardless of ethnic background, religion, or even socioeconomic status.

I recently started volunteering for Sakhi for South Asian women, a community-based organization in Manhattan committed to ending violence against South Asian women by educating the community about domestic violence issues through advocacy and outreach. Having worked with domestic violence victims before, Sakhi provided me with further opportunity to help give victims a voice and allowed me to help establish a safer community through organizing fundraising and outreach programs.

NYU journalism student Clare Trapasso writes a blog about homelessness in NYC. She writes about the correlation between homelessness and domestic violence.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of bruised and battered women who wind up in shelters across the city after fleeing their abusers. And their children are often plunged into the shelter system along with them.

Domestic and sexual violence are leading causes of homelessness nationally, especially for women, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Over half of homeless mothers are victims of domestic violence, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

The statistics may be frightening, but they make sense. Scared of being found by their abusive boyfriends or husbands, victims are sometimes hesitant to stay with friends or families. And in some cases, they aren’t prepared to make it on their own.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon reviewed a book back in September, "Why Do They Kill?" that is worth a look in trying to understand violent behavior and how to respond.

From the victim interviews, Adams paints a picture of a group of women that were basically kidnapping victims, held in captivity by their abusers and a society that all too often values saving marriage over saving women, and like kidnapping victims they cultivated a series of survival strategies that were a mix of compliance and resistance that varied according to the situation.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a very informative Website with loads of resources for learning about this complicated issue and ways to support individuals as well as the support organization itself. They define battering here. It's a good place to start, especially if the behavior patterns are new to you, because it is often insidious, secretive behavior that is as difficult to identify as it is to combat. Factor in fear and shame, and you may never know that someone close to you - or even you - need help.

Battering is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person with whom an intimate relationship is or has been shared through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes that they are entitled to control another.

Intimate partner violence in intrinsically connected to the societal oppression of women, children, people of color, people with disabilities, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans, elders, Jewish people, and other marginalized groups. While oppression functions in similar ways regardless of which group is targeted, different target groups have unique experiences of oppression stemming from their specific historic, cultural and social experiences and realities. The work to end domestic violence must necessarily include the fight against all oppressions.

Domestic violence may include not only the intimate partner relationships of spousal, live-in partners and dating relationships, also familial, elder and child abuse may be present in a violent home. Abuse generally falls into one or more of the following categories: physical battering, sexual assault and emotional or psychological abuse, and generally escalates over a period of time.

Some more resources:

Wellness.com posted an article by Ahmad Safi at the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press that discusses the increase in domestic conflict and violence at the holidays and in the winter.

Stop Family Violence is another organization that works to support funding of domestic violence prevention and intervention programs in the U.S.

Verizon WirelessVerizon Wireless recently awarded more than $43,000 in grants through its HopeLine Program to three San Francisco Bay Area community-based organizations working to aid victims of domestic violence and promote prevention awareness in the Asian American community.

I encourage you to carry forth Cole's message of remembering Gail, her children and other victims of domestic violence. If you write a post, please post it in the comments below.

I want to know that there is something good being done. Something honest. Something helpful. Something. Anything that will deflect from the bullshit and meanness that seems to have surfaced.

Her family and friends and I thought on the day after it happened how many thousands of women woke up, saw that story and thought, "That could have been me."

The viewing on Wednesday consisted of about 700-800 people who waited for an hour or more in the cold to say their condolences to Gail's family. Many, dozens of women, were victims of domestic abuse. Many of them still in those situations too afraid to leave, too broke, too broken but came to tell Gail's family how very sorry they are.

Please, write something, because I just can't. I can't think of words to say that don't cheapen her memory or make me feel like I am exploiting it. Don't link it to me or my blog. Just be a voice. A voice for women and children living in fear that a Daddy, might do them harm.

We all live with/know courageous and lovely men with whom we share our lives and I for one and thankful for that. Truly.

Laurie White blogs at LaurieWrites

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