They face harassment including death threats and racist abuse. Why are social media sites and police unable or unwilling to tackle the problem?
For the past 16 months, Suzanne Fernandes has been targeted online with racial abuse, pornography and death threats. The two individuals she believes are responsible share many similarities: an interest in far-right politics, an ability to create multiple anonymous fake social media accounts, and past convictions for extreme internet harassment.
After making 126 crime reports to the British police and numerous reports to Twitter and Facebook, Fernandes feels destroyed and defeated. Both men, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are known to law enforcement agencies and social media companies as convicted social media aggressors, a fact that she believes makes a mockery of the promises of the big tech companies to take such abuse and threats seriously.
Fernandes, a youth worker in London, said: Its been a constant, targeted, harassment campaign. There have been threats to kill and rape me. Various accounts sent tweets saying I had 10 days to live and images of extreme pornography were sent to me. This has been the worst time of my life.
The sexualised and threatening abuse of Fernandes began when she challenged the racism of a member of the far right on social media an attempt at so-called counter speech, which tech companies are encouraging across the globe to create a grassroots movement against hate speech on their platforms.
But all it did for Fernandes was elicit violent threats. The abuse has drawn in her family, as one of the perpetrators obtained a picture of her son through Facebook and used it to create a fake account from which he sent lurid messages.
Who is responsible for fighting online abuse?
In multiple reports to the Metropolitan police and to Twitter and Facebook, Fernandes has produced evidence of how the men are abusing her, including links which reveal connections between one of her abusers and multiple anonymous social media accounts. Accounts are taken down when she reports them, only to be replaced by new ones, often within minutes.
The Met is investigating the harassment and threats to Fernandes. The force said both men were arrested on suspicion of malicious communication then released on police bail.
Fernandes is growing increasingly frustrated at how long the investigation is taking, and the lack of any effective action by Twitter. In a recent complaint to the social media platform about one of the men allegedly continuing with the abuse while on police bail, Twitter responded by recommending she mute the account, contact law enforcement or reach out to a trusted individual.
The latest threats to Fernandes include images of knives and crime scenes, and a warning to watch her back.
Reporting to the police has only led to more abuse. Images of Fernandes and her children were posted on a website hosted by WordPress in early March. The posting read: She baits people on Twitter to troll her so she can make reports to the police.
When she attempted to get the images taken down, she received the following response from WordPress, a US-based blogging and website content management company: WordPress.com is in no position to arbitrate content disputes or make any form of legal judgment on allegations or claims, including defamation.
Fernandes believes social media platforms need to be held legally accountable for the abuse they host.
I believe the liability falls with Twitter and others: they should be prosecuted for aiding and abetting convicted trolls who have already been through the judicial system once, she said. There are so many reports that Twitter is combating trolls. I can testify that they are not, just on the evidence of this Met police investigation.
Hate speech in droves in San Francisco
In San Francisco, Malkia Cyril logs on to Facebook every morning to manage the international and local pages for the Black Lives Matter group. Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice (CMJ), said it was an arduous task.
Its hate speech in droves. The number of horrific, threatening and just awful statements that are being made about black people is out of control, Cyril said. I spend hours every day deleting, banning and blocking the hate from our pages.
Did you know that in the U.S., more women are killed by intimate partners — their boyfriends, husbands and exes — than any other type of perpetrator?
On average, that works out to three women dead every single day.
Last month, The Huffington Post published an in-depth investigation into fatal domestic violence in America. We highlighted the common risk factors that occur prior to intimate partner homicides. Thanks to years of research, many experts consider these types of killings among the most predictable and preventable of all murders, because they often follow well-established patterns.
After we ran the feature, many readers emailed us to ask what can be done to end the bloodshed. If experts believe these homicides can be prevented, they wanted to know, what should we do to stop them?
To answer that question, we turned to those with firsthand experience of this complicated issue: domestic violence victims themselves.
We crowdsourced suggestions from women who lived through abusive relationships — including some who survived near-fatal attacks — about what practical steps they believed would help reduce fatalities.
We also scoured through policy reports for recommendations, and asked domestic violence experts and violence prevention leaders to share their ideas.
All in all, we collected almost 60 ideas, some small, some big, some practical and some wildly idealistic. Here’s what we found.
Criminal justice system
1. “Treat choking as the serious crime it is. Choking/strangling the victim is one of the top indicators of future homicide.” — Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network To End Domestic Violence
2. “Create a national domestic violence registry, like the sex offender registry. Because the recidivism rate is so high.” —Kimberly Brusk, domestic violence survivor
3. “A lethality assessment protocol, used to determine how much danger a domestic violence victim is in, should be utilized across the U.S. Results should inform sentencing and treatment guidelines. Police and court officials should undergo training to understand lethality factors.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
4. “Relocation services and assistance for victims with high lethality risk, with a change of identity similar to current witness protection programs.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
5. “We need to do what the U.K. did and make psychological abuse a crime. Just because one was never hit, doesn’t mean you’re not a victim too.” —Jennifer Tetefsky, domestic violence survivor
6. “A system of detaining and monitoring the abuser rather than the victim having to drop everything and go to a shelter would afford greater safety. The victim still needs to go to work, still needs her kids to be in school, and those are both huge exposures to lethal violence. Remove the threat, not the threatened.” — Lisette Johnson, domestic violence survivor
7. “An electronic monitoring system where victims are alerted when their abusers who are on parole or probation are in their vicinity.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
9. “Law enforcement should arrest abusers when they violate restraining orders.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
10. “Better communication across counties and states with law enforcement, prisons, jails, court systems and treatment providers regarding information about abusers. Perhaps a central monitoring system?” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
11. “Harsher consequences for stalking, harassment, ongoing emotional and verbal abuse.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
13. “Judges: When a victim is asking for a permanent restraining order, grant it!” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence and gun violence survivor
14. “Do not force victims to be in the same courtroom as abusers. Allow for testimony to be taken separately and safely.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence and gun violence survivor
15. Annual domestic violence training for police officers and court officials incorporating victim impact stories to put a face on the issue that they often become numb to.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
Gun safety reforms
16. “Recognize that one of the most dangerous times for victims is when they are trying to leave the abusive relationship, or have already left. Make it easy to get a temporary restraining order, and remove firearms (and prevent gun purchases)Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network To End Domestic Violence
17. Congress should close the loopholes in the federal gun prohibitions to ensure that stalkers and [abusive]dating partners are barred from gun ownership, just like other dangerous abusers. — Everytown for Gun Safety
18. Every state in the nation should prohibit possession of firearms by anyone convicted of abusing an intimate partner or family member. And every state should prohibit gun possession by anyone subject to a protective order prohibiting them from harassing, threatening or stalking an intimate partner or family member. — Everytown for Gun Safety
19. “Require police departments to investigate if domestic abusers are prohibited from owning guns, or [have the police]be subject to serious fines and imprisonment if their lack of proper investigation results in a shooting.” — Jennifer Tetefsky, domestic violence survivor
21. Congress should require comprehensive background checks and ensure that prohibited domestic abusers cannot easily evade background checks by buying guns from unlicensed sellers. — Everytown for Gun Safety
22. There are 46 percent fewer intimate partner gun homicides of women in states that require background checks for private handgun sales than in states that do not. State lawmakers should require private, unlicensed sellers to conduct background checks on gun sales, just as licensed gun dealers do. — Everytown for Gun Safety
23. States should pass laws requiring that domestic abusers turn in their guns to law enforcement or licensed gun dealers when they become prohibited. — Everytown for Gun Safety
24. Research shows that domestic violence victims do indeed lack adequate access to affordable legal services. What about subsidized lawyers for domestic violence survivors? — The Institute for Policy Integrity
25. “Comprehensive financial and legal services available immediately to victims. Job placement. Housing. Money to get out of the home.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
27. “Abusers mandated to pay into a pool that gives rental assistance to victims, so fewer become homeless because of domestic violence.” — Barb Weems-Mourglia, domestic violence advocate
28. “Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Due to a critical lack of affordable housing, families in domestic violence shelters typically have no safe, affordable options and are unable to leave shelter. Moving victims and their children as quickly as possible into safe, affordable housing reduces the trauma of domestic violence, the disruption of children’s lives, and increased cost to the public sector to house a family in a shelter.” — Carol Corden, executive director of New Destiny Housing
29. “My situation was one of abandoning rights to marital property if I left the house. I was shot while we were working out who would leave. In situations of abuse, partners should be protected from any forfeiture of marital property.” — Lisette Johnson, domestic violence survivor
30. “Allow victims to be on stand-by [for court hearings]so they aren’t continuing to miss work every time court is postponed.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
Education and training
31. “Education in elementary schools. Little boys need to know that daddy pushing mommy around is not normal, and availability to a counselor should be there if a child wants to talk about their home life to someone.” — Anonymous
32. “Funding for domestic violence education at every high school in our nation. Teach our youth about red flags and not being a bystander. It truly makes a difference.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
33. “Attitudes need to change toward the victims of domestic violence. Many people still feel like the woman should ‘just leave.’ The problem is they don’t understand how dangerous it is to leave. The most volatile time is when the victim tries to separate.” — Lisa Riveglia Rasmussen, domestic violence survivor
35. “More needs to be talked about in terms of signs of manipulation and power/control in the mass media. When there’s no blood it’s just not ‘sexy’ or dramatic enough to make the news.” — Jennifer Tetefsky, domestic violence survivor
36. “We need more education about financial abuse. My ex-husband verbally and psychologically abused me for years. He systematically broke down my psyche until I could barely decide between wheat or rye on a sandwich without talking to him about it. Then, for six months on an almost daily basis, he worked to convince me that I was a bad parent because I was working 20 hours a week, 15 minutes from home. Once I left the best job I ever had, he had me totally under his control.” — Anonymous domestic violence survivor
37. “Become educated as a bystander on how to offer help in the right way (without judging) if you suspect/know someone in that situation.” — Lovern Gordon, domestic violence survivor
38. The National Governors Association, in collaboration with the Federal Government and Tribal Governments should launch a public education campaign in every state, territory and reservation. — Futures Without Violence
39. “Study funded to provide data of how often a woman lies about domestic violence versus it being legit. To shut up those who believe women lie about abuse.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
Divorce and child custody
40. “In my first domestic violence case as a young lawyer, a client was shot by her estranged husband when he arrived for visitation exchange. Courts must stop forcing victims to share custody, legal or physical, with an abuser (who will doubtless use the child to punish her for leaving, and maintain power and control over her), and must not require the victim to be alone with the abuser for visitation exchange.” — Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network To End Domestic Violence
41. “Immediate divorce granted for victims nationwide. It’s currently state by state, with most not immediate. I was made to wait until after his prison sentencing (14 months) to get my divorce trial.” — Kimberly Brusk, domestic violence survivor
42. “Never require divorce mediation in cases of domestic violence.” — Nicole Beverly, domestic violence survivor
43. “Separate CPS cases for abuser and victim.” — Kimberly Brusk, domestic violence survivor
44. “Require intensive domestic violence training for guardian ad litems and child protective services.” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
46. “Intensive mental health services for victims and children (covered by insurance or free).” — Kate Ranta, domestic violence survivor
47. “San Francisco was able to eliminate domestic violence homicides for 44 months. Domestic violence victims who access community-based services are less likely to be killed. We must ensure that there are funded community-based services that are accessible to all the various communities in an area, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, immigration status, sexual orientation and disability.
City agencies must also be willing to come together with community-based agencies to identify gaps and weaknesses, so that the response both from government and non-governmental agencies is continuously being analyzed and improved.” — Minouche Kandel, Esq., Women’s Policy Director, City & County of San Francisco
48. “An interconnected system to research shelters and specific services.” — Jennifer Tetefsky, domestic violence survivor
49. “Career training for survivors of domestic violence is a crucial part of their successful journey to self-sufficiency and freedom from abuse. Our staff regularly encounter cases where abusers exert financial controls to intimidate and isolate their victims, including limiting access to bank accounts and preventing them from pursuing education and career opportunities. Our Economic Empowerment Program, a replicable workforce training initiative, was created to address the needs of survivors living in the nexus of abuse, poverty and homelessness, and has helped hundreds of survivors learn marketable skills and obtain living wage jobs since it began in 2011.” — Judge Judy Harris Kluger, director of Sanctuary For Families
50. “Don’t deny people access to shelters because of drug use or sex work.” — Hilary Hanson, HuffPost reporter
51. “More money for domestic violence shelters. Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence does a one-day survey of domestic violence programs nationwide to calculate how many people are accessing help. On a single day in 2015, 71,828 victims were served across the country. Yet, 12,197 requests for help went unmet because of lack of fundingKim Gandy, CEO of the National Network To End Domestic Violence
52. Invest in treatment programs for children who have witnessed or experienced violence. — Futures Without Violence
53. Invest in treatment programs for men and boys who use violence in relationships. — Futures Without Violence
54. Paid sick days and paid family leave laws and policies are essential. It is also crucial for the leave to extend explicitly to survivors of violence. Women comprise two-thirds of minimum wage earners and are disproportionately subject to violence and stalking both in and outside the workplace. Most low-wage jobs, unlike many office or white-collar jobs, don’t come with paid leave, health insurance, or other benefits.
Missing work means not getting paid and the very real risk of getting fired. In the aftermath of a traumatizing assault or frightening stalking incident, a worker may need to go to the police, to court, or to the doctor. Employers can and should be first in line to provide support and protection to their workers — not punishments that further jeopardize their safety and economic security. — Futures Without Violence
55. “More companies should offer paid domestic violence days if a victim has to attend court or is out because of an attack (this was a big one for me).” — Lovern Gordon, domestic violence survivor
56. “Laws to protect domestic violence victims from losing their jobs.” — Melissa Saporito, domestic violence survivor
57. Public agencies should receive a fine for decisions that put victims at increased risk. — Futures Without Violence
58. Employers should develop and implement workplace policies/protocols that specifically address domestic and sexual violence and stalking. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 70 percent of U.S. workplaces don’t have a formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence. Most employers don’t think about violence affecting their employees until an incident occurs at the workplace. Rather than reacting to specific incidents, workplaces should adopt a more comprehensive approach. They can do this by focusing on protections and policies that create a culture of prevention — not reaction. — Futures Without Violence
59. Educate and train company leaders and employees. Employers should ensure that employees, including those in supervisory roles, know how to identify an employee who has experienced violence, and what resources are available for assistance. — Futures Without Violence
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — As she awaited her day in court, held on $1 million bail, Cherelle Baldwin missed milestones. Her son’s second birthday, then his third, then his fourth. His first day at preschool. Her younger brother’s college graduation. Her father’s 60th birthday. Funerals for two family members. She had to put her own dream, to become a registered nurse, on hold.
Baldwin, a slight black woman with shoulder-length hair and glasses, is now 24. When she was 21, police say, she killed her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Brown, 24, by crushing him against a cinderblock wall with her car.
Baldwin is now standing trial in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She has pleaded not guilty to murder, which carries a sentence of 25 to 60 years in prison in the state.
Baldwin has said that Brown was an abusive ex who was trying to kill her when a tragic accident occurred. It is now up to her and her lawyer to convince a jury that she was acting in self-defense when she hit him with her car. Otherwise, she could spend the next few decades behind bars.
It is her second trial; the first ended with a hung jury.
Baldwin told police that on the morning of May 18, 2013, she was in bed with her 19-month-old son when Brown broke in and began strangling her with his leather belt. She managed to escape, she said, and ran outside. Brown followed. According to her report, she got in her car to flee, but he managed to get into the vehicle and tried to strangle her again. Then there was a crash.
When Bridgeport police arrived, they found Brown pinned between a garage wall and the car, and Baldwin immobilized on the ground with a broken leg. A firefighter reported that she was crying out for her baby, who had been left unattended inside the house, and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Brown died on the scene. Firefighters found a man’s black leather belt under his body.
Baldwin told first responders she wasn’t sure how Brown ended up in front of her car, but maintained that he was trying to kill her. Bridgeport police did not buy her story. In an affidavit, they wrote that her statements didn’t match up with the physical evidence, and concluded that she had “ample time to consider the actions she took before the events that caused and led to the death of Jeffrey Brown.”
Three weeks later, Baldwin was arrested and charged with murder. She attended the arraignment in a wheelchair. She had no prior arrests.
“We want to present this story in the context of domestic violence, and highlight the fact that this is part of an old, longstanding pattern of criminalizing black women for acts of self-defense,” said Holly Krig, director of organizing for Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration.
She drew a parallel to the case of Marissa Alexander, a black mother in Florida originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her estranged husband, who she said was abusive.
“It seems to me if a woman cannot defend herself from an act of violence, what is her legal option? Is a perfect victim one who does not survive?” Krig asked. “It’s a no-win situation, particularly for black women.”
Domestic violence advocates say that women who resort to force to protect themselves or their children are frequently given long prison sentences, regardless of their abuse history.
If a woman cannot defend herself from an act of violence, what is her legal option? Is a perfect victim one who does not survive?Holly Krig, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration
“Most battered women who kill in self-defense end up in prison,” Rita Smith, who at the time was the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told The Daily Beast in 2013. “There is a well-documented bias against women [in these cases].”
It’s hard to estimate how frequently this occurs, as no government agency tracks the number of women in prison for crimes committed against their abusers. In 2005, the New York State Department of Correctional Services found that 67 percent of women sent to prison that year for killing someone close to them had been abused by the victim of their crimes.
Yet, it is typically women who bear the brunt of fatal domestic violence. About three times more women than men are killed by intimate partners in the U.S. Black women face especially high rates of intimate partner homicide. In 2013, black women were murdered by men at a rate more than two and a half times higher than white women.
Cindy Long, Baldwin’s mother, said her daughter became pregnant with Brown’s son soon after they began dating. She was 19. Over the course of their two-and-a-half-year relationship, Long said, Brown became controlling and violent.
“I know she was very afraid of him,” she said.
According to court documents, police responded to alleged altercations between Baldwin and Brown on at least two occasions. One incident took place a few months before Brown’s death.
No one should live in fear in their own home.Cindy Long, Cherelle Baldwin’s mother
On Feb. 24, 2013, Baldwin told police that Brown had been throwing her clothes out of the house. When she tried to call 911, she said, he ripped her phone out of her hand and threw it to the ground.
He was arrested and the couple broke up, Long said.
On May 8, 2013, 10 days before he died, Brown was convicted of breach of the peace. That’s when the abuse increased, according to Long.
She said Brown bombarded her daughter with threatening texts in the days and hours leading up to the fatal incident, and those texts are expected to be presented during the trial.
“She should have been able to live her life without him harassing her,” she said. “Jeffrey wanted full control, and he couldn’t have it anymore. Cherelle had moved on with her life.”
She called the case a dismal waste of taxpayer money.
“Women of color should be able to protect themselves. There should be a right to self-defense,” she said. “No one should live in fear in their own home.”
Brown’s family denied that their son had a history of domestic violence, and rejected the possibility that Baldwin was acting to protect herself from harm.
Greta Brown, Brown’s mother, said it was more likely that Baldwin hit her son with a car because she was jealous about him dating someone else.
“I want justice for my son because he did not deserve to die like that,” she said. “There was no abuse.”
Brown’s father, Jeffrey Hines, said someone must be held accountable for his son’s death.
“In society, you don’t murder someone because you are angry,” he said.
Pamela Esposito, senior assistant state’s attorney, declined to comment on the case.
Baldwin’s lawyer, Miles Gerety, said Baldwin is expected to testify this week, and will tell the jury her side of the story. “
Melissa Jeltsen, a senior reporter who covers domestic violence, will be reporting from Cherelle Baldwin’s trial in March. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
But even though she was back outside, free to go anywhere she wanted, whenever she wanted, Baldwin said she felt trapped. On her first day out of prison, she went to Walmart for an eye exam to get new glasses. She ran into the jury forewoman from her trial. The woman pressed her into a bear hug, and said she deserved to be home. The optometrist got curious and started asking questions.
Later, at the supermarket, strangers approached Baldwin and welcomed her back. She wondered if they were judging her.
“Every time someone looks at me, I think, ‘Do they know what happened?'” she said. “It makes me very fearful to be around people. I try not to go out in the public.”
On May 18, 2013, Baldwin hit her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Brown with her car, killing him. She told police he broke in, beat and strangled her in front of their 19-month-old son, and that a crash occurred in her driveway while she desperately tried to get away. Brown was pinned against a cement wall and died. Baldwin broke her leg. First responders discovered her on the ground in her nightgown, without shoes or glasses, crying out for her child.
Media coverage of the incident wasn’t pretty. The New York Daily News described Baldwin as a “crazed woman” who crushed her lover to death in a “savage attack.” The story didn’t mention her telling police that Brown had tried to kill her. Or the slew of threatening texts he had sent her that morning. Or the protective order she had against him. Or that 10 days prior, he had been convicted of breach of the peace for an earlier domestic incident. Or that he was found grasping a belt, which she said he had used to whip and choke her.
“When I first heard my story on the news, I was like, ‘That’s not what happened,’” she said. “They make you sound crazy.”
So she stays in, mostly at her mom’s apartment in Bridgeport. It’s a tiny two-bedroom that now houses three adults — Cherelle, her mom and her brother, Bernard, who just graduated college. They take turns sleeping in the bedrooms, and someone, usually Bernard, takes the couch.
Struggling To Adjust
On a cold Saturday in April, Baldwin sat on that couch in her mom’s living room, sipping from a bottle of water. Her son, Jeffrey, wearing an Adidas tracksuit, sat by her side, transfixed by a game he played on an iPhone.
Baldwin said she is grateful for her freedom, but she’s also overwhelmed with anxiety.
“My nerves are bad,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t been here in awhile. It feels like a different planet.”
She said she can’t eat. Nerves. She drinks Ensure for nutrition. It’s not too bad, she said, sort of like a milkshake.
Baldwin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder while in prison. From the accident, but also from surviving a violently abusive relationship. For the first three months after it happened, she said, she had vivid nightmares and would wake up covered in scratches. The prison doctors prescribed her anti-anxiety medicine.
It helped during the day, but when she slept, she relived May 18 — the day she killed her ex-boyfriend — over and over. At one point, she was put on suicide watch as she grieved the death of the man she had considered the love of her life, and pined for her toddler son.
She was only 21 when she was charged with murder, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 60 years in Connecticut. Her bail was set at $1 million, even though she hadn’t been arrested before and had a young child.
Baldwin’s mother, Cindy, called it a ransom.
“No one in Bridgeport has that kind of money,” she said, shaking her head.
Bridgeport, an old industrial city, is plagued by poverty and crime. It sits just 30 miles north of Greenwich, a town whose $135,258 median household income is more than three times that of Bridgeport’s. Her family openly wonders if Baldwin would have been charged with murder if she lived in Greenwich or Stamford, or if she was white and wealthy. “Not a chance,” her mother said.
Baldwin’s first trial, held in 2015, ended in a hung jury. So she had to spend another year behind bars waiting for her day in court.
During the trial in March, Baldwin shook uncontrollably, an involuntary jerking that was visible from the gallery seats. She testified that Brown had stalked her, beat her, choked her and made her life a living hell over the course of their relationship. The jury deliberated for two days.
When the jury forewoman began to read the verdict, Baldwin collapsed to the floor. Murder; not guilty. Intentional manslaughter; not guilty. Reckless manslaughter; not guilty. Manslaughter in the second degree; not guilty. Criminal negligent homicide; not guilty.
“My baby, my baby will have his mommy back,” she moaned.
A court marshall passed a box of tissues to the jury.
Less than an hour later, Baldwin was released.
Rebuilding Broken Bonds
Jeffrey is now almost 5. Baldwin looked over at him and laughed. He wore headphones while gleefully singing off-key to a Justin Bieber song. He could barely talk when she left, and now he’s downloading apps.
It’s hard not to still think of him as a baby, and to realize he’s a strong, spunky kid, she said. A few times when he was in the bath last week, she raced in, afraid he had drowned. She had last bathed him when he was a toddler who couldn’t be left alone for an instant.
Time did not stand still for him, but it did for her. Baldwin doesn’t remember turning 22, 23 or 24 while in prison, she said. In a way, she feels frozen at the age of 21.
Now that she’s out of prison, her most important goal is rebuilding a strong relationship with her son after missing so many years of his life.
“That’s time you can’t get back,” she said.
He was named after his father: Jeffrey Brown. Before she went to prison, there were times she fantasized about changing her son’s name. Even the sound of her mother calling for him can make Baldwin feel anxious. But now she sees how much her son enjoys introducing himself. He says, “I’m Jeffrey Brown Junior!” He just learned how to write his name. It’s his identity. So it stays.
Now, Baldwin has to file paperwork to regain custody. While she was incarcerated, her mom and Brown’s mom were granted shared custody. It’s just one thing on a long list of bureaucratic steps that she must take to get her life back on track.
She wants Jeffrey to continue having a relationship with Brown’s family, even though it’s emotionally complicated. She knows it’s important to them, too: He’s the only piece of their son that they have left.
“I want my son to be able to have both sides of his family still, even though he doesn’t have his father anymore,” she said.
Baldwin worries about how she will explain to him what happened to his father. What’s the appropriate age? What if someone else tells him, or he finds out on Google? He already knows how to search his own name.
“I don’t want him to be resentful toward me for anything that happened,” she said.
A Familiar Story In Prison
Her mom brought in the mail, including a letter from York Correctional Institution. Baldwin opened it eagerly. It’s from her former cellmate, congratulating her on the acquittal. Tears flowed.
“I never got to say goodbye,” she said.
In prison, she said, she met other women who were incarcerated for crimes related to domestic violence. They read Bible scriptures together. Some were in there for acts committed in self-defense, like her; others for crimes committed under the coercion of abusive partners.
“There are a lot of women incarcerated because of men,” she said.
It’s impossible to know how many women nationally are incarcerated for defending themselves against their abusers, as no government agency tracks it. But anecdotally, advocates say the problem is endemic across the country.
It’s understood that the majority of incarcerated women were victims of domestic violence or sexual assault before being imprisoned. According to the Correctional Association of New York, about 75 percent of incarcerated women were physically abused during adulthood.
Prison can be doubly traumatizing for domestic violence survivors, who have already lived in a volatile and dangerous environment where they lacked control over their own lives.
Baldwin said that was true in her case. The correctional officers were mostly men, and they constantly yelled at the female inmates, she said, calling them derogatory names. Then there was the ever-present threat of violence. The lack of dignity and privacy. And no rights.
“To have someone control you, it’s horrible,” she said.
A New Career Path
Baldwin said she’s is in the process of declaring bankruptcy because her credit was ruined when she went to prison. After she was arrested and abruptly incarcerated, all her bills went unpaid. Her student loans. Her car payments. Her credit cards. Her mom said the family is sinking in legal bills.
“My life changed in an instant,” she said. “Friday, I’m at work. The next day, I’m in the hospital. When you date someone, you don’t plan your life, two or three years later, to be on trial in their death.”
In the future, she thinks she would like to help other domestic violence survivors. Maybe she’ll become a motivational speaker, or an advocate.
“I would never have thought in a million years, when I was younger, that I would be a victim of domestic violence,” she said.
If there’s anything she can say or do to help other women avoid her fate, she wants to try.
“Sometimes, I honestly feel like I don’t have my freedom back because of what I went through,” she said. “Even though I’m out, my life will never be the same.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the year Baldwin’s first trial occurred.
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
Jennifer Lopez broke down in tears on Thursday after watching “American Idol” contestant La’Porsha Renae‘s emotional performance of “No More Drama.”
Prior to performing the Mary J. Blige hit, the 25-year-old contestant opened up about surviving an abusive relationship in a pre-taped segment for the show. After she finished singing the song, Renae — and Lopez — were both in tears.
“It takes a lot to overcome. It takes a lot to overcome, it takes a lot of strength to overcome those things in your life,” Lopez said.
The singer was clearly moved by Renae’s performance and struggled to speak as tears rolled down her face. “Baby, I know, everybody knows, we’ve all been through stuff like that. You know what I mean? And honestly, you’re an inspiration,” Lopez said.
After the performance, Renae spoke to People about her powerful song and how Lopez’s reaction helped her.
“It made me feel not so alone,” Renae said after Lopez gave her a standing ovation and shared her experience. “I felt so much humility because I saw a wonderful, incredible woman before me and she was saying that she’s been hurt like I have been. Just to share that moment was really special.”
“The only way you can be mistreated is by allowing yourself to be mistreated, and that was something I did over and over again,” the “American Idol” judge wrote. “I’ve never gotten a black eye or a busted lip, but I’ve been in relationships where I have felt abused one way or another: mentally, emotionally, verbally. I know what it feels like for your soul to be diminished by the way your loved one is treating you … maybe it’s a push, a shove or a nasty word that stays with you.”
Fortunately, charity knows no bounds; almost any skill or interest can be applied to helping people. You just sometimes need to get a bit creative with your approach.
Thats exactly what talented tattoo artist Flavia Carvalho did when she realized that her skill could be put to use for a very special purpose: covering up scars.
The artist, who lives in Brazil, started a yearlong project called “A Pele Da Flor,” or, translated from the Portuguese, “Deeper Than Skin.”
The heartwarming project was aimed at creating beautiful body art free of cost for women looking to embrace and learn to love their scars.
Some of them came in with marks left by mastectomies or cesareansections, but the majority of women that Carvalho treated were victims of violence or domestic abuse.
She chronicles the project in a beautiful before-and-after photo series that touches on the heartbreaking stories behind her art, and the profound strength of the women who take their scars and use them to heal, despite everything.
Please note that the following content may be disturbing to some viewers.
Flavia Carvalhooriginally began her project to make a difference in the healing process of the victims of violence. She told Huffington Post:
“It all started about two years ago, when I worked with a client who wanted to cover a large scar on her abdomen. She told me that she was at a nightclub, and when she turned down a man who approached her, he stabbed her with a switchblade. When she saw the finished tattoo, she was extremely moved, and that deeply touched me.”
Each and every tattoo Carvalho has created since has a similar story, ofturning a reminder of something ugly and violent into an emblem of beauty, hope, and self-esteem. She chronicles these stories briefly on her Facebook page.
Many times the biggest hurdle in leaving an abusive relationship is the overwhelming nature of actually having to physically leave the situation.
After all, this is not a case of simply moving. It is very emotional and can be very stressful to pull off when you are dealing with an abusive individual as a partner. There is a heroic California moving company which is offering up a service which will move you out of your abusive situation, for free.
The name of the company is Meathead Movers and they have teamed up with non-profit Good Shepherd in order to assist domestic violence victims with getting out of their situation as quickly and easily as possible.
The non-profit identifies the abusive situations and Meathead works directly with them to assist at no cost. The service is in line with the character of the mostly men working at the company who all beleive that real men never resort to abuse. Instead real men help out those in need.
Those who qualify will work through the nonprofit to set up a moving situation. The charity will work with the movers on a monthly basis to provide these services.
Meathead Movers was founded in 1997. The president and CEO Aaron Steed says the following about working with the non-profit to provide the services to those in need:
We know how hard it is to pack up someones life and move it to a new location but its unimaginable to think about a woman and her children trying to pack up all their belongings and flee before the abuser returns home. When we realized we had the resources to help provide a fresh start for these victims, we knew Good Shepherd was the perfect organization to connect us with those who need our services most.
“Today” and MSNBC host Tamron Hall is finally speaking out about the murder of her sister, Renate, after much hesitation.
In an interview published by People on Wednesday, Hall talked about her relationship with Renate, her stepsister, and shared her sister’s past experiences with domestic abuse, saying that she had a tendency to “fall for men who took advantage of her.”
“No one deserves what happened to my sister,” Hall told the magazine. “For a long time I was hesitant about sharing our story. I didn’t want to be another well-known person saying, ‘Look what happened to me and my family.’ But then I said, screw that. I can save a life.”
In 2004, Renate was found brutally beaten and floating facedown in her backyard pool in Houston, Texas. The only person of interest named in the case was a man with whom Renate said she had a “love-hate relationship.” But due to lack of evidence, no arrests were made and her homicide case remains unsolved.
“Do we know who did this to her as defined by a court of law? No,” Hall said, explaining that she once witnessed a “brutal altercation” between her sister and the man. “But I can tell you I witnessed an act of violence and there were only two other people in that room.”
Since her sister’s death, Hall has taken a stand against domestic violence by working with groups like Safe Horizon and Day One. In addition, Hall’s show, “Deadline: Crime” helps families who’ve faced similar tragedies as her own find closure.
One woman established a new law to prevent child marriage, and is enforcing it with serious gusto.
Theresa Kachindamoto, senior chief in the Dedza District in Central Malawi, was tired of seeing 12-year-old girls walking around with babies on their hips, according to Al Jazeera. She decided to take a stand and made 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated,'” Kachindamoto told the news outlet.
While marrying under age 18 in Malawi has been illegal since early 2015, children can still be married under so-called “customary law,” meaning with parental consent and overseen by traditional leaders, reports Al Jazeera.
When four male chiefs continued to approve underage marriages, Kachindamoto suspended them as a warning to others, only hiring them back once they confirmed they had annulled the unions, according to Al Jazeera.
“First it was difficult, but now people are understanding,” she said to the outlet.
To ensure children are not being pulled out of school, Kachindamoto operates a secret network of parents to keep an eye on others. And when parents can’t afford to pay school fees, she’ll pay them herself or find someone else who can.
“I don’t want youthful marriages,” Chief Kachindamoto told U.N. Women. “They must go to school. No child should be found at home or doing household chores during school time.”
Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with an alarming one in two girls married under age 18, according to Girls Not Brides. Marrying underage negatively affects girls’ development, interrupting their education and putting them at higher risk of domestic violence and early pregnancy.
In poor, rural regions like the Dedza District, rates of child marriage are particularly high, according to Unicef, and it can be hard to convince parents not to marry off their daughters in exchange for a dowry.
That’s where Chief Kachindamoto comes in.
“I talk to the parents,” she said to U.N. Women last year. “I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.”