“THERE are women alive today who would otherwise have perished at the hands of an intimate partner, due to the success of the Blueprint for Safety.”
This was the message from St Paul’s 39th Chief of Police John Mark Harrington to a public seminar in Ennis on Tuesday outlining the Blueprint system.
He referred to a comprehensive, co-ordinated justice system response to domestic abuse crimes, developed in St Paul Minnesota and now being shared with the Irish Justice System.
Between 1996 and 2016, six women were murdered by someone they knew intimately in County Clare. The hope is to pilot the Blueprint model in Ireland, and for County Clare to lead the way as a demonstration area.
This week, the delegation from St Paul, Minnesota, met members of the Clare justice system and senior figures in An Garda Síochána and the justice system in Dublin.
Leading the charge on this proposal is the Clare-based Irish domestic abuse research and development group, Haven Horizons, who have spent the past year working to adapt the Blueprint for Safety model for the Irish Justice system.
On Tuesday, domestic abuse survivor Christy James addressed the gathering, outlining how she was an example of a life saved, thanks to the Blueprint system.
“I am here today because all of these agencies have been working together,” she said.
In an emotional address, she chronicled this dark period of her life, which began with a warm glance across a parking lot and ended with a trip to the emergency department.
“A man [JD] reached out to me with the warmest smile. I kept walking but I could not help smiling myself,” she recalled.
Christy had been through an amicable divorce a year previously and was still adjusting to life on her own, raising the four-year-old son she shared with her ex-husband.
When she kept running into JD, it led to an exchange of phone numbers and, then, dating. She later introduced him to her son and was impressed by how JD took an interest in him. They fell in love and moved in together.
“Over time, our relaxed household began to change. JD was working less and was having friends over during the day, when I was working. I knew they were drinking beer and smoking pot, and some of the people were creepy. He would be nice and try to convince me he had another job in the wings, cook me supper and tell me to lighten up. I did not like to argue in front of people and JD would always end up yelling when I wanted people to leave,” she said.
Christy began to notice a sinister change in the people JD had over and that he was becoming angrier and more controlling.
“One night, I went to my best friend’s for support and to get away. I went home the next morning and told JD things had to change, I could no longer live this way. He started yelling at me and, for the first time, I yelled too. I told him I would help him get his things together. He grabbed me and yelled not to touch his things. I stepped back to get out of his way and he shoved me so hard, I flew several feet and landed hard on my back and tailbone. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t move. He walked away as if nothing had happened. I lay there, throbbing in pain and crying. From that point on, I knew real fear. I had never felt fearful of a man before. I became quiet. I didn’t stand up to him any more and he knew I was afraid of him,” she said.
JD began asserting more control over Christy. He wouldn’t let her go out or talk to her friends. She lost weight, lost her job and wasn’t sleeping.
“JD constantly told me I was worthless. I remember thinking everyone was mad at me. I couldn’t control anything and I really wasn’t any good for anyone. I soon learned JD was using meth and had joined a shopping ring, which involved creating fake IDs to buy and sell merchandise.”
Christy said JD coerced her into this illegal enterprise. “I kept telling him no. He’d lock me in a room and wouldn’t let me out for hours, or even days. I couldn’t take being locked up anymore and finally agreed,” she said. Christy ended up being arrested for identity theft; JD was charged with nothing. “I was in jail for three days and told the officers everything I knew about the shopping ring. When I got out, we had been evicted,”she recalled.
JD had found a duplex for them and she felt she had nowhere else to go. While there, she described being covered in bruises “almost all the time” and staying locked in a room, frightened.
She dropped her son to his dad’s one day, packed a bag and went to a friend’s. She didn’t turn to her parents, as she thought they wouldn’t understand and would be upset or disappointed in her. She was drawn back to the duplex and, when she arrived, JD was “acting crazy”.
“He thought I was contacting the FBI. He began to punch and kick me, and then started choking me. I started to black out and believed I was going to die.
“Suddenly, he let go of my throat and threw me in a room and locked the door. I remember lying there, curled up in a ball, feeling incredible pain and wanting to be free of him,” she said.
Her dad reached out to her, after concerned friends made contact. “My dad said to just say the word and they would come and get me out of there. I stood there, holding the phone and whispered ‘Word’ into the receiver.”
Christy’s family arrived with a big truck and started packing her things. While they were there, JD confronted Christy’s mother, throwing a huge box at her.
“My mother called 911 and, when the police arrived, they told JD to calm down, leave the duplex and let me get my things. My parents took me to my grandmother’s.”
While there, and in front of her son, a man came to the house with a bat and broke her car window and drove away. She felt JD was behind the attack, as he was leaving messages on her phone, making threats against her and anyone helping her.
Following a further attack on her car, Christy called the police and went to the domestic abuse office to get an order for protection. “I started to feel better but I honestly still didn’t feel safe because, to me, it was just a piece of paper,” she said.
She went to stay with her mum but JD tried contacting her there. Having heard JD’s voice on the answering machine, threatening to smash windows, Christy left the house to move her car.
“I walked out, looking everywhere each step of the way. I jumped in my car and drove into the garage. As I was pulling in, a hammer came flying in through my back window. I was trying to lock my car door and close the garage door, but JD was already there, with his hand on the door handle. He pulled me out and kept holding me by the hair and beating me with his fist – punching me in the nose, head and jaw repeatedly. I tried screaming for help. He dropped me to the ground, still holding my hair, and continued to beat me. There was blood everywhere but I kept screaming, hoping someone would hear me. But nobody did.”
Eventually, the beating stopped and, still screaming, Christy opened her eyes and realised JD had gone.
“I crawled to the door. Every part of me was covered with blood. I was bleeding from my mouth, nose and head. I picked up the phone in the kitchen and called 911. Thankfully, the police were in the area and arrived in two minutes. The moment the officer saw me, she called an ambulance, then contacted two investigators from the Family Violence Unit. They immediately dispatched other squads to arrest JD. They asked me what happened, the history of the relationship, took pictures and contacted my sister to meet me at the ER,” she recalled.
Christy received five staples in her head, and every part of her body was bruised. Three days later, JD was arrested and a no contact order issued.
“I was no longer afraid to get help. The St Paul Police were reassuring and made me feel safe. I connected with SPIP advocates, who were there for me 24/7 every step of the way.”
JD eventually pleaded to felony domestic assault and was sentenced to 26 months in prison but was released 14 and half months later. SPIP advocates helped Christy file an order for protection when JD was getting out of prison, prepared her for court and held her hand during proceedings.
It has been eight years since this process began for Christy and enhancements of the Blueprint for Safety have seen JD serve five years in prison for domestic crimes involving three other women.
“When I was being abused by JD, I did not have what it took to leave. I had plenty of people to go to, yet I had nowhere to go. It is hard to ask for or accept help, when you have been broken. I wish I would have let all those people help me sooner. But when I finally did, my life began to change. I am in a good relationship. He knew what I have been through and let me guide the relationship,” she said.
Christy explained that she is a stronger person now and back to her old self.
“I feel more empowered because I’m on the other side of it. When fear takes over your life, that’s an emotion no one normally deals with and, when it is consuming all of your life, you don’t know what to do. It’s not that you don’t want to leave, you can’t, you have no strength. When I made the call, it didn’t feel real because everything was negative. To have someone listen to me and take me seriously, I didn’t feel it was real at first.”
The support and help she received has helped her regain her life and she said now people are surprised to learn she has been a victim of domestic violence.
“I think it helps them see that domestic violence can happen to anyone, and it reaffirms for me how far my life has come. I am thankful I can share my story, give real-life testimony to why this work is so important and, hopefully, help someone else who is abused,” she concluded.
Clare Haven offers a 24-hour helpline to those affected by domestic violence. For support, information or just someone to talk to, call 065 6822435 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Carol Byrne