Last month, the state of Texas joined a legislative vanguard that serves to help protect victims of Domestic Violence and Interpersonal Violence, turning the focus on the abuser. Seventeen states in America now have GPS tracking systems.
From every corner of our lives, domestic and interpersonal violence seems to rear its ugly head in some form or fashion. Case after case, victims of these often under reported crimes are left without true protection from the violent hand of their abusers, some ending in fatalities.
History of abuse in those who do report it to the authorities serves as a tracking record of sorts but it is really just a snapshot in the overall relationship. With the majority of abusers escalating over time, the decision for a victim to leave the relationship is not necessarily one that will provide an abuse-free environment. Even the court issued restraining order and for some, ankle monitoring device does not protect these victims from their husbands, wives and boyfriends returning to punish and seek their revenge.
In June of this year, Texas joined a coalition of nearly 20 states in the United States dedicated to implementing GPS tracking on certain convicted domestic violence offenders. The tracking system enables law enforcement authorities to not only monitor a convicted offender but respond quickly when an offender goes near specified locations such as a victim's home, school or place of employment.
One woman tells of her fight with the Illinois court system under the local Cindy Bischof Law:
In May 2006 my daughter was handcuffed, raped and beaten by her husband - he confessed and was still allowed to plea out of the sex crime status. He got 3 yrs 9 months and served 19 months. We knew he would do it again upon his release. He stalked my daughter from prison. We were told from day one you’ll never get a GPS put on him. Well we did.
The law was not scheduled to go into effect until January of 2009 but the determined mother of an abused daughter fought the system and won. Her daughter and grandchildren are alive today because of what she believes is GPS tracking for convicted domestic violence offenders.
Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard Law lecturer and key player in getting GPS electronic monitoring implemented in many states, including Illinois and Massachusetts, explained in an interview how the monitoring device served a double role in victim safety. First it helped establish boundaries and if those boundaries were violated, then immediate notification would be sent to the authorities and second, notification or warning could be provided to the victim.
Abuse victims are most often beaten and killed in the own homes, family homes, job sites or other places that would normally be deemed as safe.
The Illinois legislation was passed after a woman named Cindy Bischof was murdered by her estranged boyfriend who had violated a restraining order twice. Cindy, a Chicago area real estate broker, took the legal steps to ensure her safety and the system failed her. She was shot and killed in her employment parking lot by her ex-boyfriend who had just been released from jail for a violation of the restraining order. Her grieving family turned that tragic event into a real life saving endeavor that will give victims in the state a chance.
The story of Cindy Bischof is not an exception, however.
A woman in Texas remained married to her abusive husband for two decades before finally leaving him. The court had honored the request that a restraining order and monitoring device be issued against Matthew O'Connor after he continually harassed his ex-wife. On August 23, 2006, Matthew O'Connor kicked in the door of his ex-wife's home and shot her over 20 times before turning the gun on himself. Her family feels that had GPS been required on convicted offenders who had also violated a restraining order, their loved one would still be alive.
Even in Massachusetts, a 51-year-old mother of two whose West Point graduate husband and abuser tormented their family for years attributes her being alive to GPS tracking. "Joel" was said to have violated the restraining order three times and had no concern over the consequences of doing so. He continued to threaten, beat and stalk his wife and family. Massachusetts has issued over 30,000 domestic violence related restraining orders, with 1/4 of those having been violated.
A story in the New York Times tells how a 21-year-old woman was continually harassed and stalked for two years by a man she met at a Weslyan University summer course. Despite initially notifying the police, Stephen P. Morgan left town so the woman did not press charges. He returned and shot her execution style seven times while she was working at her campus bookstore job. Police later uncovered evidence of a more sinister plot that involved a mass campus shooting.
Across the nation, the focus of responsibility has historically been placed on the victims of abuse by individuals and law enforcement officials, sometimes forcing the victim to uproot and run to shelters or into hiding. As Rosenfeld said in an interview on Fox News, it's time to shift that focus to the abuser and hold them accountable. Although not all victims of abuse are women, it is shown time and time again that over 3/4 of those stalked and murdered by an intimate partner are female victims.
Although the GPS monitoring is being implemented in more states, nay-sayers continue to hold up excuses in opposition. Criticisms against the GPS tracking system include false victim safety, lack of funding and even increased violence on certain populations, specifically minority groups.
In the United States alone, three women are murdered by their husbands and intimate partners every day; one-third of all female homicides in America.
In an already skewed system that places the blame on the victim for allegedly getting themselves into a violent and abusive relationship where abusers are often masterminds at manipulation and deflection, implementing a system of tracking for convicted abusers and violators of restraining orders could give those victims a fighting chance at life.