How Hawaii Government Makes Domestic Violence Worse

I originally was going to write an article on what an ideal government response to domestic violence in Hawaii might look like. Then I thought to myself: "This is Hawaii... baby steps." There is no political will behind any meaningful systemic change here, especially if it would actually cost money and make some politically powerful segments unhappy (ex. law enforcement).

So, I will attempt to illustrate, through a case study, how government here actually makes domestic violence worse. The hope is for citizens to have a better grasp of what their government is doing in their name, and to understand the holes in the system.

Our sad story started maybe 20 years ago. Let's call the victim Mary. Mary is an attractive, funny, caring lady from a middle class family who married her high school sweet heart -- lets call him Ted. Ted's parents are respected members of the community. He has a good job at a good company. They have a bright and beautiful young child. Outwardly, everything seems ideal.

But behind closed doors everything is very wrong, and getting worse all the time.

I believe Ted to be a psychopath. Psychopaths are often outwardly charming, even charismatic; but beneath the facade there is something much different. Most sociopaths are not obviously psychotic because they can readily distinguish right from wrong. The key is that it has minimal effect on their behavior. They do not have feelings of guilt or remorse. Often they are narcissistic and have poor judgment. The most noticeable trait is that they are egotistical manipulators who think they can con anybody. His two siblings have had many run ins with the law, but Ted has managed to avoid any, and it's not because he's an angel.

Hard to say when the "troubles" began. I think Ted began verbally abusing Mary -- demeaning, nasty, relentless put downs. Slowly trying to control everything Mary did. Slowly eating away at her self esteem and once happy spirit. She turned to drinking and smoking to try and cope. He began to drink more too as the fighting escalates. Then the passive aggressive behavior ramps up. Next, Ted went to humiliating and degrading behavior. I can't really elaborate on it because it is too explicit.

Then there was the violent threats. Speeding in the car threatening to drive off a cliff with the family in tow. Taking or destroying her phones to isolate her. Damaging her car -- like throwing a bottle through her windshield. Partially to make her dependent upon him for transportation and money too.

She had an out though. She would take her child and run back to her mom's house. But he would always cry, apologize, say he'd never do it again, and threaten to commit suicide if she didn't return. This was the only man she had ever loved, and he was able to manipulate her like a pro.

Like with most domestic violence situations it's cyclical. The pattern of violence building up, leading to an explosive violent episode, and then starting up all over again with her returning to him and making up - until it got worse again. The cycle is really a spiral of violence that is a perpetual downward one.

Next came the actual physical abuse to compliment the emotional abuse. He probably tried to kill or seriously injure her maybe a dozen times to date -- but who's counting? Trying to light her hair on fire while she slept. Kicking out a ladder from under her. Regular kidney jabs to her failing kidneys. Intentionally worsening her now critically high blood pressure Mary developed from all the drinking and smoking that she used for an emotional crutch.

One time there was a big fight on the lawn, which was the first time the police were called. He pushed her buttons and had evidence so that the police would threaten to take her away. Psychopathic manipulation setting her up, and conning the police. Then another fight. Police came again. His father lied to side with his son -- as Ted knew he would to keep him from getting arrested. No domestic violence info was offered, as is often the case.

But then, one day, Mary got struck from behind with a hard heavy object in the head while she was reaching in her car. Lots of blood. She called the police. Although she had the injury she was unable to prove that he caused it. Police didn't have enough evidence to make an arrest, but they notified Hawaii State Child Protective Services (CPS) because the law, passed by the legislature, requires police to report the incident. Since the child could be subject to a reasonably foreseeable, substantial risk of being harmed they were legally mandated to report the incident.

This was the third time the police were called out, harassed the victim, and empowered the perpetrator. Ted knew the law, and that they would call out CPS this time. This is what he wanted because he'd be able to control Mary from then on out.

She erroneously believed that CPS would not let her return to her mother's house because the mother's house was messy. This was a notion that Ted was aware of and manipulated her fears with. The systemic institutional problem here was that CPS is supposed to do what is in the best interests of the child. And the best interests of the child was clearly not watching daddy abuse and attack mommy, much less ending up as a casualty in the crossfire.

The CPS worker believed that it was her job to try and keep the family all together -at daddy's house, because that was in the best interests of the family. However, that is not the legal standard. It's "the best interests of the child" standard. So despite knowing about the attacks, and despite there being two other ex-convicts in Ted's house (Ted's siblings), as well as another woman who had previously had her own child taken away from her by CPS due to drug addiction, the CPS worker believed mommy and child needed to stay with daddy at daddy's house as one big happy family. Nationally, CPS workers and domestic violence advocates are often at odds for this reason. Hawaii appears no different.

The kicker was that if Mary took off (with or without child) he'd get sole custody of the kid. The subsequent result would be that if she kept calling the police -- whether the police victim-blamed her, arrested her, or just went back to the station after being called -- CPS might take her kid away from both of them. So no more calling the police. The police are no longer an option.

In fact, thanks to the Legislature, there is a new law that makes it a felony to commit violence in front of a minor under 14 years of age, so the next time she calls the police she also risks being arrested, because Ted has proven he can con the police easily and clearly the first 3 visits did not go well at all for Mary.

At about this point you may be feeling like people tend to feel watching these situations - frustrated about it all and wondering why she doesn't take the child and run. That is an emotionally complicated question, as well as a logistically complicated answer. We'll just leave it at the common refrain of most domestic violence victims -- they "feel trapped."

In my humble opinion, society needs to put their energies into pushing politically for some serious systemic change, and spend less time judging the individual victims -- especially Hawaii where systemic change to the government's domestic violence response is sorely needed. Victims believe the system is broken and are not calling the police anymore.

So thanks to the state: inadequate response and training of the police; lack of programmatic and material help offered to domestic violence victims early on; and laws passed by the well meaning, but clearly misguided legislature; and a CPS system that is way, way, out of whack on many different levels, the only way this story seems like it can end is with someone dead.

Mary started contemplating suicide. She mentioned multiple times she was thinking about "checking out." Being familiar with suicidal people, she's definitely moving in that direction.

Besides talking about wanting to die or to kill herself, she has corresponding feelings of hopelessness. She feels trapped. She's increasing her use of alcohol. She's clearly agitated, and is behaving recklessly. Last but not least, it seems like she is feeling isolated. She is withdrawing from people, which is not a good sign at all. Whenever Mary's mother sees an ambulance she wonders if her daughter is in it. Her Mom prays a lot. Religious counseling services instructed Mary to learn to be obedient and subservient to her husband, and pray a lot. As for any potential rescuers, any possible perception of outside intervention on Mary's behalf is avoided by her like the plaque for fear of angering Ted -- again.

So when she kills herself, police will come, examine the scene, and rule it a suicide. This is despite the fact it will be an intentional premeditated murder by Ted who manipulated and pushed her until he got what he wanted, which is her dead and himself in the clear for causing it.

One last government failure in her case...but still plenty more government failures yet to come for future victims, unless people start demanding a change.

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