By Neil Schori
Just a few weeks ago, an appellate court in Illinois made a dangerous ruling. They decided that most of the "so-called" hearsay evidence against former police sergeant Drew Peterson would not be admissible in his upcoming murder trial. Some people felt as though this was a victory for Joe and Jane Citizen. I would agree if this were normal hearsay. But this is not normal hearsay.
The judge in this case ruled that it was likely that Drew Peterson caused his wife, Stacy, to disappear so that she would be unable to testify against him for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. This is certainly not normal hearsay, which should not and would not ever make it into a courtroom. But there is a problem here. Rulings like these will do nothing but hurt women in cases of domestic violence. Why? Because their abusers will become emboldened. They will actually be motivated to do more harm to those few who know of their horrible violent tendencies. Why? Because if they kill the ones that know the truth, then everything else can be labeled "hearsay," which we all know is not admissible in court.
So what is the solution? I think that we might take a three-tiered approach:
1. Educate women~ If you saw someone drowning, would you stop and help? Of course you would! If you were a lifeguard, you'd certainly jump in and skillfully rescue them. I want to see more and more lifeguards. What does that look like in the arena of domestic violence? It teaches abused women that they need to immediately seek out a trusted friend to complete an EAA (Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse). The EAA is an absolutely groundbreaking and game-changer for abused women. It was created by my friend, Susan Murphy-Milano, a true hero to victims of abuse. Susan created this tool in response to the senseless arguments that we've witnessed in the Peterson case. It acts to establish a foundation of truth that is admissible in any court of law should the abuser perpetrate violence upon the victim. What does it accomplish? It eliminates silly arguments over so-called hearsay statements. It brings the truth to light and justice for abuse victims and families.
2. Enlist church leaders~ Leaders in the faith community have a lot of influence in the lives of the people they serve. I've had multiple women come to and share with me the deepest and darkest secrets of their hearts while they have been abused. I'm now educated and strategically equipped to serve abused women. I'm also actively teaching other church leaders and pastors how they, too, can join me in the battle against domestic violence. Rescuing a victim of abuse is beautiful. Shaping a culture through education is game-changing.
3. Keep stories alive~ The media is quick to jump onto sensational stories but unfortunately has a terrible lack of follow-through. Stacy Peterson and Kathleen Savio were in the news for a short time, but they still have not found justice. That is a huge problem, and WE are the solution. We live in a time where each person can have a voice. This is the era of social media and when used skillfully and strategically, we can keep these victims in the minds and hearts of our society, and may even be able to re-define what is important to the mainstream media. After all, FoxNews, CNN, and MSNBC will share what you tell them is important. Tell them that domestic violence and intimate partner homicide is important to you. More importantly, tell them the names of the women whose stories cry out for justice. Write letters, send emails and make phone calls to these news leaders, and tell them that these are the kinds of stories that matter to you. This will keep these stories alive.
This is all just a start and is most certainly not all-inclusive in approach. But if we continue to do what we've done, then we will always get what we've always gotten. Status quo is not good enough. Let's start changing a fatally flawed system!