I never knew Dorothy Giunta-Cotter.
In fact, until I sat down to analyze the CDC’s recent report that confirms that most murders of American women involve domestic violence, I had not heard Dorothy’s story. As I read about her 20-year ordeal with a man who abused, threatened, and ultimately killed her, I sat in my kitchen stunned by the facts of the case.
Dorothy did everything “right.” Everything. She reported her abuser to the authorities. She made a plan to escape with her daughters to a women’s shelter. She petitioned judges to grant her restraining orders against her enraged partner. Every day, she fought back against her abuser, and yet, on March 26, 2002, Dorothy was murdered in cold blood: her partner shot her at close range with a sawed-off shot gun while her daughter hid under a bed and authorities were helpless to stop his attack from outside the house.
Dorothy’s children no longer have a mother because the man she lived with killed her in a fit of rage and jealousy after years of terrorizing her.
Sadly, though, Dorothy’s story is just one of millions in our country.
American women need not fear strangers lurking around a dark corner or hiding behind their cars in a parking lot or sneaking into their houses at night.
Because American women are far more likely to be harmed, abused, or killed by the men living in their homes.
Ninety-three percent of female murder victims were murdered by someone they know.
While the results of the CDC report are not shocking and produce facts that have been well established by researchers for years, the fact that intimate partner violence remains the No. 1 violent killer of women should be concerning to everyone.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women (and 1 in 4 men) have been victims of some sort of physical abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
And even more concerning: 1 in 4 women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. 1 in 4.
That means, while you are sitting at your PTA meeting or standing in line for your latte, there’s most likely a woman sitting or standing next to you who has experienced severe domestic violence in her life. Let that sink in.
We should be appalled.
And we should be angry.
But what can we do? How can we help ensure that women and children are safe in their homes?
Well, we can start by enacting some common sense gun laws. Considering that the CDC found that firearms were involved in 54% of female homicides, it would stand to reason that expanding background checks and closing loopholes would be a logical next step. Women are dying here, and they are dying from gunshot wounds inflicted by their domestic partners, and if we don’t do anything, then we are complicit.
Women’s shelters need funding and the ability to house not only women, but families including teenagers. Many shelters do not allow women to stay if they have boys over the age of 12. Think about that slowly. Women are having to choose between their safety, and having to leave their teenaged sons behind in a home with a known domestic abuser. You can imagine what most women choose to do in this situation. They choose their child over themselves because that’s what moms do
When a woman is brave enough to leave her abuser and break the cycle of abuse for her kids, her children should get to come with her, regardless of their gender or age.
It is also imperative that we offer support, kindness, and love instead of judgment, shame, and victim blaming. Don’t silence victims, and don’t force them to retreat in shame. It could cost them their life. If we do nothing else, we can be kind and supportive and empowering.
Police departments, women’s shelters, and other programs designed to help victims of domestic violence need access to resources like the Danger Assessment Tool designed by well-known domestic violence researcher Jacquelyn Campbell. Her method consists of not only a calendar that a woman can use to rate her daily domestic violence experiences on a scale from 1–5, but also a 20-point assessment that helps social workers, police officers, and crisis managers to pinpoint women who are in the most danger of being murdered in the immediate future by their domestic partner.
And programs like Green Dot can assist communities in helping to train their citizens about personal violence with the premise that a “violence prevention strategy is the belief that we cannot expect others to engage in a process we are not willing to engage in ourselves.” The programs are designed to help participants not only recognize violence in their communities, but to also take steps towards managing their own anger or violent behavior.
Dorothy Guinta-Cotter’s Danger Assessment, if done before she died, would have been scored at an 18 out of 20, according to those who were involved with her case. She was in imminent danger and helpless to stop the inevitable.
We have to do better for all of the other the Dorothys out there. Full stop.
If you or someone you know is being abused, you are not alone. Click here for help.