One of the most powerful images for me from the Desmond Clark sentencing earlier this month happened as I walked out of the courthouse after the hearing. Judge Jim Stucky had imposed a life sentence for Clark’s murder of Na’lisha Gravely, the 19-year-old mother of his son, the cameras had gone and the media had dispersed. There, talking calmly on the sidewalk, stood Tina Gravely, Na’lisha’s mother, and Valerie Clark, Desmond’s mother.
It was a sad reminder that these women are linked forever, not just by the tragedy that happened in the Patrick Street Taco Bell last July, but because De’mahjae, the grandson they share, has now effectively lost both of his parents forever.
I thought of this moment as I read about a new academic study, conducted by Solveig Vatnar, a PhD. candidate at the University of Oslo. Vatnar interviewed 157 survivors of domestic violence, and her conclusions speak for themselves.
Violence inflicted by an intimate partner lasts longer if the couple has children together, and the violence continues after the relationship ends. In addition, children are harmed more by witnessing violence between their parents than previously thought.
“Our analyses show that violence by an intimate partner lasts longer for women who have children, even when we control for the duration of the coupleâ€™s relationship,” Vatnar told Anita Haslie, a writer with KILDEN, an information center for gender research in Norway.
In other words, being a mother does not protect a woman from violence. It has no significance for the severity of the violence, the type of injury sustained by the woman, the frequency of the violent episodes or whether the violence is perceived as life-threatening. If the couple has children together, the risk that violent episodes will continue after the break-up also increases.
Vatnar also found that the victims’ version of events should not be discounted, because they often provide the best insight into a situation once it has reached a crisis point. Police officers in particular may want to take note:
â€œStudies also show that the women themselves judged the threat involved as well as the best threat assessment instruments. If a woman was wrong, it was because she underestimated the threat. This means that when someone contacts the police, it is usually a high-risk situation that needs to be taken seriously,â€ says Vatnar.
â€œI compare this to a heart attack. We donâ€™t refuse to dispatch an ambulance when someone has symptoms that resemble a heart attack just because we have had cases of false alarm.â€