The Overlooked Heroes

On November 13th of last year, a woman in Oregon, Ohio, called 911 to order a pizza.  She was not, in fact, in the mood for pizza. “This is 911; you have the wrong number.”  Fortunately, the 911 operator did not then automatically hang up. Emergency operators have a talent for picking up on and understanding tone of voice.  Nothing much surprises them. And they are skilled at thinking “outside the box”, as well as thinking logically and practically.

The woman continued with her plan.  “Pepperoni. One large.” The 911 operator proceeded to ask crucial questions.  The conversation would have gone something like this: “Are you in danger?” “Yes.”  “Is someone dangerous in the house with you?” “Yes.” “Is anyone else with you in the house besides the person of danger?” …  “Police are on their way to you. Stay on the line with me if it is safe for you to do so.”

In this November 13th 2019 case in Oregon, because of the awareness and carefulness of the 911 operator who took the pizza ordering call, a potentially very much worse situation was averted.  He, Tim Teneyck, is a hero. But “According to the National Emergency Number Association, … there are no national minimum training guidelines for 911 operators”.  Therefore, “responsibility for adequate training falls to states and local jurisdictions”.  Source:  Retrieved 01/04/20.

The caller’s mother was being physically assaulted.  The 911 dispatcher ordered the police cars responding to the incident, to switch off their sirens as they became close to the destination.  The result of Mr. Teneyck’s judgement: A Mr. Lopez was arrested and charged with Domestic Violence.

For victims of Domestic Violence, speaking in a code language in an attempt to safely alert police to the imminent danger that they’re in, without raising suspicion on the part of the perpetrator, or would-be perpetrator, is potentially life-saving.  However, “Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week”, although in favor of clever, coded safety techniques “warned that strategies such as ordering a pizza, which was … depicted in a 2015 Super Bowl commercial about domestic violence, may eventually become too familiar for survivors to use, and could tip off abusers.”  Source:  Retrieved 01/04/20.

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Was it Overkill?

“The Washington Post found that nearly half of the women who were murdered during the past decade were … killed by a current or former intimate partner. In a close analysis of five cities, about a third of the male killers were known to be a potential threat ahead of the attack.”  Source:  Retrieved 12/19/19.

It is understandable that women in physically abusive relationships are petrified of being murdered by their partners.  It can so easily happen, and it does! Some women fight back when being physically assaulted. Or at least attempt to. Sometimes a physical fight in which a woman fears for her life, will end with her killing her physically abusive partner.  “In U.S. law, killing in self-defense is not a crime; however for most women, neither the laws of self-defense nor evidence of battering work for women in actual trials. 75-80% of women who killed in self-defense are convicted or convinced to plead guilty, and are sentenced to long terms.”  Source:  Retrieved 12/19/19.

When it comes to cases where a woman killed her current or former intimate partner in self-defense, for self-defense to be accepted by law, there are, what seem to be, massive hurdles that the defendant must surpass in order to escape being convicted of murder.  For example: There must be enough significant proof that there had been a history of physically violent behavior towards the defendant, committed by the deceased partner. “The majority of U.S. jurisdictions require that defendants use force only when there is a threat of “imminent” harm.”  Source:  Retrieved 12/19/19.  But would a victim of domestic violence take the risk of not taking preemptive action?  When her life was at stake! Also, part of this assessment can include the exploration of whether there was a way to retreat safely from the situation, instead of attacking/defending, that was not taken.  I would argue, perhaps controversially, that if a woman found herself about to be murdered by her partner or former partner, if she were to retreat, that threat of being murdered by him would follow her. She would remain in the category of “High Risk” for being murdered by him on another occasion.  

Additionally, “Virtually all formulations of self-defense require that the force used against an attacker be “necessary” for protection, or that the defendant reasonably believe it is.”  Source:  Retrieved: 12/19/19.  Is it fair to convict a woman who killed her intimate partner or former intimate partner, of murder on the grounds of excessive force?  For example: Sixteen stabs to his body, resulting in his death, in comparison to one fatal stab. The point I’m making: She had not trained in the “art” of stabbing techniques, to include knowledge of how many stabs are needed in order to render an attacker unable to strike back.  And in the moments of utter panic and fear for her life, she would likely not be thinking about the amount of stabs, but purely that she was protecting herself from being murdered.

Furthermore, “When victims of battering use self-defense, there are often stereotypes and misconceptions at play … a jury might disbelieve a defendant’s claim that she was in fear of her abuser because she chose to be in a relationship with him”  Source:  Retrieved 12/19/19.  And such a lack of accurate understanding about Domestic Violence and the dynamics involved, on the part of both jurors and judges, can result in a woman having successfully fought for her life, only to lose her freedom to a term behind bars.

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