Domestic violence death should have been prevented

Amid an uproar over the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck, whose father is accused of dropping her from a bridge into Tampa Bay last month, questions are being raised about whether domestic-violence allegations should have alerted authorities to concerns about the girl’s safety.

Experts say a history of stalking, battery and domestic-violence arrests involving John Jonchuck should have disqualified him as Phoebe’s custodial parent.

“They never should have given the dad custody of this child,” said Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), a battered-women’s shelter in St. Petersburg. “It was a preventable death.”

“There is a very large correlation, an overlap, between woman abuse and child abuse,” said Robin Hassler Thompson, who served as director of former Gov. Lawton Chiles’ Domestic Violence Task Force. “The range in terms of the research is that between 30 and 70 percent of the cases where you have domestic violence, you have child abuse. And that is a huge red flag.”

A report released Monday on Phoebe’s death showed that John Jonchuck’s background includes a number of arrests for domestic violence, battery and stalking — in incidents involving Phoebe’s mother, his own mother and two other women. The report also pointed to allegations against Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr.

“Viewing the combined collection of law enforcement, legal and child welfare-related events connected to this family reveals an established pattern of domestic violence,” the report said.

Rita Smith, former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence who now works with the National Football League on spouse-abuse issues, said simply witnessing family violence can damage children’s health, social skills and academic performance.

“Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to repeat that pattern and become either an abuser or a victim,” Smith said. “There’s just too much history in this one case.”

The report also coupled Jonchuck’s alleged history of violence with “concerns regarding substance abuse and mental health issues that should have been viewed as indicators of maladaptive family functioning.”

In other words, the three biggest risk factors for child fatalities — domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse — were all part of Phoebe’s story.

A fourth risk factor, the age of the child, applies to her as well. The youngest children are the most at risk, and Jonchuck was arrested for domestic violence the year Phoebe was born and four times more during her life.

The report was the work of the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, which was created last year as part of a child-welfare reform bill and included an expert on the dynamics of domestic violence.

The pattern of arrests in the family shifted in June 2013, after Jonchuck was arrested for an altercation with Kerr, whereupon he and Phoebe moved out. About two weeks later, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted a child-protective investigation, but did not refer either Jonchuck or Phoebe for services. According to the report, this was because Jonchuck and Kerr were no longer living together.

“This contributed to the situation being primarily viewed as rooted in the problematic relationship between the two adults, with the majority of safety concerns arising out of their altercations,” found the report. “There is also no documentation of (Jonchuck) being offered any kind of services despite the fact that the investigation was closed with a verified finding and he had become the sole primary caretaker since the event that primarily led to the finding.”

At that point, after repeated arrests for alleged battery and domestic violence, Jonchuck began trying to establish legal custody of Phoebe. In June 2013, he was granted a domestic-violence injunction against Kerr, prohibiting her from contacting him. In 2014, he filed for three more injunctions, two against Kerr and one against another woman. All three were denied.

“The appearance that subsequent reports were related as much to custody struggles as child welfare concerns contributed to future decision-making throughout the remainder of the case,” noted the report.

Hassler Thompson observed that women as well as men abuse their partners. But she also said that experts in the dynamics of domestic violence are familiar with the use of the courts to commit what some call “abuse by litigation.”

“We see quite often that abusers will use the system against the victim,” she said. “They flip it on its head. What you really need to do as a judge, as an advocate, is to look at these cases and make sure that the person who’s coming forward is the true victim — and that you have a complete list of all the incidences of domestic violence that have come to the attention of the system.”

Additionally, said Leisa Wiseman of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, having an expert on spouse abuse at the table is crucial to accurately assessing the threat to a child’s safety.

Wiseman pointed to her group’s collaboration with the Department of Children and Families, which pairs experts in child abuse with experts in spouse abuse.

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Filed under battered women, child abuse, child services, children & custody, domestic violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it.

S.H.A.R.E., Inc. and Help for Abused Partners provide Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Healthy Relationships education for elementary, middle, high school and college students in Northeastern Colorado.

Teen Dating Violence is a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by an adolescent against a current or former dating partner. Abuse may include insults, coercion, social sabotage, sexual harassment, threats and/or acts of physical or sexual abuse. The abusive teen uses this pattern of violent and coercive behavior in order to gain power and maintain control over the dating partner.

Teens are at high risk as they are beginning to explore dating and intimacy.

Another reason to focus on teens is because the severity of intimate partner violence in adults is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.

  • Statistics have shown that teens age 13 to 18 are the least likely group to disclose warning signs or abuse to a friend, family member or trusted adult or to report to the police.
  • More than 1 in 10 teenagers experience physical violence in their dating relationships.
  • 1 in 4 teens report experiencing some type of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional mental, or sexual abuse.)
  • 1 in 3 teens report knowing a friend or peer who has been physically hurt by his or her partner through violent actions which included hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, and/or choking.
  • Nearly 80% of girls who have been victims of physical abuse in their dating relationships continue to date the abuser.
  • Nearly 20% of teen girls who have been in a relationship said that their boyfriend had threatened violence or self-harm in the event of a break-up.
  • Nearly 70% of young women who have been raped knew their rapist; the perpetrator was or had been a boyfriend, friend, or casual acquaintance.
  • The majority of teen dating abuse occurs in the home of one of the partners.

Call S.H.A.R.E., Inc. at (970) 867-4444 for presentations in Kit Carson, Morgan, Washington and Yuma Counties, and Help for Abused Partners at (970) 522-2307 for Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick Counties.



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Filed under domestic violence, Domestic violence services, intimate partner violence, teen dating violence

Obituary for Gloria Rivera, S.H.A.R.E., Inc. Domestic Violence Victim Advocate

Gloria RiveraGloria Rivera, 50, passed away on January 9, 2015, at the University of Colorado Health in Aurora. She was born on January 2, 1965 to Margaret (Whatley) and Raymond J. Becerra in La Junta.

Gloria worked with S.H.A.R.E., Inc., Morgan County Domestic Violence Program, as a domestic violence victim advocate for over 10 years. She had a passion for fashion, especially high heels. She also was a diehard Denver Broncos Fan. Gloria was a wonderful person inside and out and loved her family dearly and would go above and beyond for them. She will be missed dearly.

She is survived by her children, Celia (Beto) Vasquez and Anthony (Victoria) Montanez; mother, Margaret Becerra; sister, Lori Becerra of La Junta; grandchildren, RaeAnna, Alicia and Amaya Vasquez, Noah and Aaliyah Montanez; Isabel Henry and Jennavie Garcia. She was preceded by her father and her brothers, Raymond Becerra, Jr., Miguel Becerra; great-grandmother, Delfina Whatley.

Recitation of the Holy Rosary will be Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. followed by the Funeral Mass at 10:00 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe/St. Patrick Parish with Father Matthew Wertin officiating. Interment will follow at Calvary Cemetery. Visitation will be Wednesday, January 14, 2015 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Peacock Memorial Chapel.

Peacock-Larsen Funeral Home Obituary


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One group has higher domestic violence rates than everyone else – and it’s not the NFL

In families of police officers, domestic violence is two-to-four times more likely than in the general population — from stalking and harassment to sexual assault and even homicide. As the National Center for Women and Policing notes, two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of families in the general population.

America’s police domestic abuse problem was on full display in Monday’s horrific murder of Valerie Morrow, who police say was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend, Stephen Rozniakowski, a Philadelphia-area police officer. Morrow, 40, had just been granted a protection from abuse order against Rozniakowski, who had been charged with 75 counts of stalking.

Full story

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No Holiday for Domestic Violence

By Jan Schiller, Executive Director, S.H.A.R.E., Inc. Morgan County Domestic Violence Program

For victims of domestic violence, making plans for the holidays – Thanksgiving through News Years Day – often includes trying to figure out how to keep it from turning brutal. Stress can build up during this time of year with increased financial pressure, alcohol consumption, family pressures and more contact with the abuser. Victims can feel very motivated to stay through the holidays because they don’t want to break up families at this time. At S.H.A.R.E., Inc., we may experience a decrease in crisis calls on holidays with more calls for help in January and February. For survivors, it is a good time to review safety plans and start new family traditions.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. Each year more than 1.3 million women are the victims of violence by an intimate partner. This number includes as many as 324,000 women who are pregnant at the time they are battered or abused. One in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. These numbers probably underestimate the true magnitude of the problem because we know that most incidents are never reported.

Here at S.H.A.R.E., Inc., we strive to change these numbers with the ongoing support of the community.


What Do You Know About S.H.A.R.E., Inc.?

Sometimes we hear that the reason a victim of domestic abuse didn’t call us or an agency didn’t make a referral to us was because the victim didn’t need emergency shelter. So what services do we provide other than shelter for domestic violence victims and their children?

In 2014 alone, we have assisted 79 adult victims with safety plans, protection orders, and parenting plans. There have been a total of 66 women in support groups and 84 children and youth in kids’ groups. As I write this, with another six weeks left in the calendar year, the staff has provided follow-up contact in person or by phone a total of 866 times! Wow! And 83 families have been able to rent an apartment, shop for some groceries or diapers, or put a tank of fuel in their cars thanks to the financial assistance provided by S.H.A.R.E., Inc.

This is in addition to the 550 projected nights of housing we will provide in the emergency shelter, which is a three bedroom house with playroom for children.

Thirty-three years. Thanks to our great bilingual (English and Spanish) staff, the crisis call volunteers, the volunteers who assist weekly with the groups, the visitation monitors and our outstanding Board of Directors, we are approaching the end of our 33rd year of providing essential services to the victims and children who experience violence in their homes in Morgan County.

Ways to Help. Please consider our agency when you are making your United Way pledge or donate directly using the easy donate buttons on this newsletter or on our website. During the holiday shopping time, you may also want to help women and children in the shelter by using the Amazon Smile program, or donating items on our wish list.

Together, we will continue this great work in 2015!

Shelter Wish List

    • General cleaning supplies – dish-washing soap, trash bags
    • Laundry supplies – detergent, bleach, fragrance free fabric softener
    • Paper products – toilet tissue, facial tissue, paper towels
    • Disposable diapers, pull-ups and wipes
    • Hand sanitizer
    • Children’s socks, underwear and sleepwear
    • Shampoo, conditioner, hair brushes, combs
    • Toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash
    • Bedding – crib, twin and double sized sheets, blankets; pillows.
    • Bath towels, wash cloths, shower soap, body wash, hand soap, deodorant
    • Phone cards
    • Gas cards
    • Gift cards ($15 – $30 range): Safeway, Wal-Mart, Walgreens

We accept items that are new and unopened. Your donations are tax-deductible.


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Filed under domestic abuse, domestic violence, Domestic violence services, violence against women

Supervised Visitation Program to be discontinued effective December 15

S.H.A.R.E., Inc. will no longer provide supervised visitation and safe exchanges through the Safe Haven Program effective December 15, 2014. Among several reasons for this decision were small number of clients, relocation of staff monitors, and the great number of hours devoted to scheduling. The Safe Haven Program provided a valuable service to a large number of children in the past seven years. 149 families took advantage of either supervised visits or exchanges since the program started.

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‘Heartsick’ Elias-case judge challenges domestic-violence myths

By Judge Amy Holmes Hehn

On Nov. 10, Ian Elias kicked in the door of the home of his ex-wife, Nicolette Elias, and shot her to death with a handgun.  He took their two young daughters to his home where he ultimately stepped out into the back yard and shot himself in the head in front of police.

I am the Multnomah County Circuit Court judge who has been presiding over Ian and Nikki Elias’ highly contentious custody and parenting-time case. Everyone connected to the case is heartsick. Nikki Elias was a smart, articulate, hard-working, loving mother to her two children. All of the professionals in the case, including the court, were extremely concerned about Ian Elias and took his behavior seriously.  Nikki was clear with us all about how dangerous she thought Ian was and we believed her. She sought and was given the all the protection the court has to offer.  She did everything we like to think of as “right” to protect herself and her children from Ian’s abuse.  In the end, none of our efforts were enough.  The grim reality is that when an abuser wants to murder his intimate partner, he’ll likely find a way to do it.

As a professional who has fought the good fight against domestic violence throughout my 27-year career, first as a prosecutor and now as a judge, it’s hard not to give up in despair.  As a society, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and walk away saying, “there’s nothing we can do.”  That would be a mistake.  There’s a lot we can do.

First, we must shatter our myths and biases about domestic violence:

* With rare exceptions, domestic abusers, including those who murder their partners, aren’t “crazy.”  While Ian Elias suffered from anxiety and depression, he wasn’t insane; he was arrogant, entitled, abusive, selfish and controlling.  He played the victim at every turn.   When the court held him accountable for his conduct and put limits on his behavior, he reacted with the ultimate narcissistic act of control, with no concern for the children he professed to love so much.

* Domestic abusers don’t have “anger management problems.”  They are generally able to manage their anger just fine outside the home.  An abuser uses his anger as a tactic to punish, control, terrorize and coerce his partner to achieve specific goals – to shut her up, to isolate her, to prevent her from spending money, to keep her from complaining about his infidelity, to keep her from asserting her independence.  In this way domestic violence is “functional.”  It’s always a conscious choice, and sadly, too often it works.

* We should never again ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”  Nikki Elias, and thousands of others like her who end up dead at the hands of their abusers in this country every year, did leave.  Leaving is the most dangerous step a victim can take.  When we hear about a victim of domestic violence we so often want to know what’s wrong with her and wonder what she did to deserve the abuse.  This supports the abuser’s world view, that his abuse is justified.  When a victim of domestic violence stays or returns to her abusive partner, what we should be asking is, “What are the conditions he created to cause her to feel that she has no other safe choice but to stay?”

* Some of the worst domestic violence isn’t physical; it’s verbal, emotional and psychological.  While Nikki reported extensive past physical abuse by Ian, including grabbing, punching and strangulation, more recently Ian terrorized Nikki using social media.  His postings were not overtly and specifically threatening to her, however, and thus were protected by the First Amendment.  This is a huge gap in our ability to intervene on behalf of victims.

* Domestic violence isn’t something that just happens to “those people.”  It cuts across all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and socieoeconomic classes.  Chances are someone you know personally has been a victim of domestic abuse.
Second, we must step up and speak out.  Domestic violence is preventable.

* Men need to start standing up to men about domestic violence.  For too long the fight against domestic violence has been fought by women talking to and on behalf of women.  Until men own the fact that, while there are certainly exceptions, domestic violence is primarily perpetrated by men against women and children, abuse will continue.  It was refreshing to finally see men of power and privilege speaking out against abuse in response to recent revelations about domestic violence among high-profile sports figures.  Corporations with substantial influence pulled contracts from abusive players.  At last, domestic violence seemed to be impacting the status and pocketbooks of men in a mostly man’s realm, the world of professional sports.  This is a trend that should be supported and encouraged.

* Everyone needs to educate themselves about domestic violence.  Most survivors turn first to friends, relatives, employers and co-workers for help.
Domestic violence pervades every type of case in our legal system.  Judges and other legal professionals must be vigilant and educated about the dynamics of domestic violence and about factors known to be linked to high risk and lethal violence in order to recognize it and respond appropriately.

* We need to put money where our mouths are.  Consider the public attention and resources focused on the Ebola outbreak in recent months.  Yet how many Americans have actually died from Ebola?  Since 2003, 18,000 women have been killed by their intimate partners, yet domestic violence services, including advocacy for survivors, safe housing, resources to help survivors achieve financial independence, specialized domestic violence law enforcement and prosecution units, and services for perpetrators are all grossly under-funded.  Until we embrace domestic violence as the public health crisis it is and put our resources there, abuse will continue.

* We need to talk about guns.  Women who are victims of domestic violence are six to eight times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner if there are firearms in the home.  “[A]ll too often,” as former Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., noted during a 1996 debate over federal legislation, “the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.”

* If you see or hear abuse happening, call 911.  She may not be able to do so safely, but you can.  If you have a friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who is being physically or emotionally terrorized by her intimate partner, reach out.  Listen and sympathize without judgment or blame.  Don’t tell her what to do.  Instead, ask her what she needs to be safe and do your best to support her.
Our good efforts weren’t good enough to save Nikki Elias.  If we all pull together, perhaps we can save the next wife, mother, sister, brother, daughter or child, and the next.

Amy Holmes Hehn is a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge.


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Filed under domestic abuse, domestic violence, victims of crime, violence against women