Slayings raise questions about domestic abuse protectionby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A pair of recent high-profile slayings by men who repeatedly beat their wives has made some people wonder if the criminal justice system is doing its job.
In North St. Paul, police officer Richard Crittenden was killed last month while answering a domestic-violence call. The woman who needed help had filed three orders of protection against her husband to keep him away.
And last week in Lino Lakes, Pamela Taschuk's husband shot her to death, despite a protection order and having served jail time. The news has caused some victims to ask if orders for protection really work.
A woman, we'll call Anna, said her abuse began one night last winter. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and she went to pick up her then-boyfriend from the bar.
"And he asked his best friend if he should hit me. We both thought he was joking," she said. "The next thing I knew, he put his keys in his hand, and he punched me in my face. I dropped to the ground. And after that night, it became a regular occurrence."
Anna asked that we not use her real name because she doesn't want her former live-in boyfriend to find her.
She said she dealt with the beatings for about seven months before she was able to escape with her children while her abuser was taking a shower.
She's in hiding now, staying at a shelter for battered women. Workers there helped her file for the protection order.
It took some courage for Anna to show up at an Anoka County courtroom to make her case. The 29-year-old mother of four believes the judge acted fairly after reading the police report and taking one look at her face.
"I think he saw someone who was broken," she said. "You basically feel completely alone, and you're embarrassed. He said, 'This woman has been through enough.'"
The judge ordered that her ex-boyfriend have no contact with her for two years.
But sometimes, Anna wonders if that order is enough.
The recent murder of Pamela Taschuk has put her on edge.
"After hearing the recent stories, it makes me more nervous," she said. "I don't have a lot of faith in our system at all."
Shelter workers like Barbara Rocheford at the Alexandra House in Blaine, say Taschuk's death was also a blow to victims' advocates. Not only did Taschuk receive a protection order against her husband, she told police she thought he was going to kill her.
"We knew she was doing everything in her power to keep him away from her," Rocheford said, "and nothing worked."
Rocheford said orders for protection do keep abusers away from their victims most of the time, and she said battered women must continue to seek these orders. They are critical tools because they give police the authority to protect the victim's space and arrest the abuser for invading that space.
But to an abuser who is intent on killing, it's only a piece of paper.
"And who wants to tell a victim that? Who wants to tell a victim that there's no guarantees?" Rocheford said. "We empower women here. We encourage them to move on, and build their life."
More than 30 women in Minnesota have been murdered by their partners or exes since the beginning of 2008.
Liz Richards of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women said searching for one magical shield to protect abuse victims is futile. Instead, she said, advocates are looking at the system comprehensively. Richards said she hopes the state will take a uniform approach to assessing whether an abuser is out to kill.
"It's about gathering the correct information, asking the right questions," she said.
Richards said the case of Pamela Taschuk is troubling because there were a number of red flags indicating her husband might do harm once released from jail. It appears there was a long history of domestic abuse, and Taschuk recently separated from her husband -- another risk factor.
"It's possible the judge had none of that information in front of him, or it's possible the judge had the information and didn't find it significant," Richards said. "But it appears that [the] setting of a $5,000 bail with no conditions doesn't really fit if you have all the information."
Advocates say every person involved in a domestic-abuse case -- from the 9-1-1 operator to the judge -- should have access to all of the necessary information to make the right decisions.
One program, called the St. Paul Blueprint, is gaining statewide attention attempts to close those gaps. Program manager Rebecca McLane of the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project said abuse victims are screened to try to determine the danger they're in.
"Has this person ever threatened to kill you? Have they ever threatened suicide? Have you been stalked or harassed? Has the person who has abused you ever violated a court order, such as a protection for order? Have you been strangled or choked by the abuser?" McLane said.
The assessment is just one part of the Blueprint program. It aims to keep victims safe and hold their abusers accountable. The St. Paul police department is already implementing some of the practices, and advocates hope more communities follow its lead.
Back at the shelter, Anna said she is lucky to tell her story. She's been here for several weeks now and said she's ready to start a new life.
"I want to move on," she said. "I don't want him to try to call me, I don't want him to try to contact me, find me, nothing. I want this to be it."
And while Anna is nervous, she believes the judge's order is the only tool she has to protect herself.
Domesitc Abuse Information
Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 1-866-223-1111
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- All Things Considered, 10/09/2009, 5:24 p.m.