Thursday, December 28, 2006

Life changes in the ordinary instant*

Here is the third Sound Safety podcast. Use the link to listen to this mp3 file, or read the text below. In these podcasts I focus on stories, some great successes, a few with not-so-happy endings. Women sharing their stories encourages and empowers other women to take action. All stories are true, though some details have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

Amy started off in this self-defense class skeptical that she would learn really effective skills. She'd been the victim of an especially brutal rape and beating at the hands of a former boyfriend. The memory kept coming back, triggered by particular sounds and odors. She had recurring nightmares. She struggled to trust anyone. She really wanted to finish school, but had difficulty leaving the safety of her home to go to campus. Forget about a social life! On a therapist's recommendation she enrolled in this self-defense class hoping it would help.

Each session was the same. She diligently worked on the physical skills, studied the manipulations used by perpetrators, worked with her body language, and gained proficiency in all these. Yet still she felt doubt that any of it would ever help.

Until the day she confronted the young man in the parking lot. Amy saw him on an intercept course as she left the college to go to her car. He whined at her for a ride to the other end of the lot. He whined it was hot, it was so far to walk, he'd miss his bus. Amy recognized he was trying to play on her reflex to help, her gut feeling was she did NOT want to be isolated in her car with him. And she then heard the voices. All were voices she knew, from her self-defense class. Myself, the other instructors, the other students, all urging her to breathe. To keep her distance. Keep a barrier between them. Make eye contact. Tell him NO, for however long it took. Do NOT let him into the car. When he tried to force his way in, she hit him with her car door and struck his throat with the edge of her hand. He backed off and doubled over, and she drove off, alone. The next day she reported the incident to campus security.

That week she came to self-defense class still shaken but confident. She realized that she didn't have to be the victim forever, and could confidently and effectively handle threatening encounters. Amy no longer had to imprison herself to stay safe.

This happened over two years ago. Amy finished school, is working, and even taking dance classes and dating. She's become more sure of her skill to read people's intentions, and feels more comfortable assessing possible risks and making plans to compensate. Amy said she's enjoying life in a way she never thought would be possible again since her assault.

Often the most critical aspect of self-defense is giving yourself permission to keep yourself safe, and knowing you have friends cheering you on.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe New Year.

*Tip o' the nib to Joan Didion.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Keeping Secrets

The Seattle Times has an ongoing special report on sealed court records. These are cases where as part of a settlement the entire proceedings have been made inaccessible. While Washington law does allow this in rare circumstances, the Times is filing to unseal cases that do not fit the legal criteria for sealing, and many of these cases are definitely of public interest. Cases include product liability, sexual assault, abuse, guardianship mismanagement, and malpractice. Visit their page on this series of articles for more details.

Abuse thrives in the darkness of secrecy. Our legal system, if it's to function for justice, needs to be open and accessible. Parents may want to know about teachers who touch students inappropriately. Patients may need to learn the importance of all features on medical devices. Families may seek redress for industrial accidents that injure or kill loved ones.

The prospect of public disclosure is a strong incentive for good behavior. Please read these stories, and support our right to know what our courts are ruling.

Monday, October 30, 2006

More than just a game

St. Louis just won more than the World Series. Besides being #1 in baseball this year, St. Louis was deemed this year's most dangerous city. Number 2, also in both baseball and danger, is Detroit.

On the scale of 1 to 371 (with 1 as safest, 371 as most dangerous), Seattle weighs in at position 262. The safest city is Brick NJ. The safest city in the Pacific NW is Bellevue at 57, the most dangerous is Tacoma at 324. New York City, my hometown, is 145.

The study was conducted by Morgan Quitno Press, a private research and publishing company specializing in state and city reference books.

See the Seattle Times article here.

Click here for the complete list.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Self-defense and lethal force on Seattle streets

An assault turned deadly in downtown Seattle this past weekend. One man assaulted another, and the second took out his gun and fired one shot. The first man, later identified as Daniel Culotti, age 25, died at Harborview Medical Center. The original victim (age 52) had a concealed weapons permit and was reported as very cooperative with the police. While the prosecutors' office will make a final determination, the second man was released by the police by reason of self-defense.

You can read the Seattle Time's original story here.

You can read the Seattle Time's follow-up article about the dead man's troubled past here. Towards the end of this article, there is a discussion on what constitutes self-defense, and the use of lethal force defending oneself and others.

This is doubly sad. Sad first because Mr. Culotti managed to fall between the cracks of the mental health and justice systems. Sad second because the unnamed defender was sufficiently endangered to kill his assailant, which probably was a highly traumatic experience for him. Hopefully there's more help available for him than there was for Mr. Culotti.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pet store ravaged, small mammals killed

A local pet store & adoption shelter was broken into this past weekend. All the reptiles and some merchandise were stolen. The thieves weren't content with robbery, so they let loose the birds and smaller animals such as gerbils and mice, along with all 44 cats. Some of the small animals were stepped on intentionally, as their remains were flattened. Many of the surviving critters will need veterinary care. The store, Animal Talk, is a non-profit that also shelters and adopts out stray cats.

You can read King 5's report here, and the Seattle Times article here. You can send donations to Animal Talk Rescue, c/o Animal Talk, 6514 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle WA 98115; or online at I have.

If I believed in hell, there would be a special room reserved for these perpetrators.

BTW, there's a strong correlation between animal abuse and other forms of abuse such as domestic violence.

Another animal care organization I really like is Pasado's Safe Haven. They are offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators: "Pasado's Safe Haven cruelty investigators believe there were at least two individuals involved in this crime. We hope that they brag about their crime. We've found perpetrators of animal cruelty may "talk" about what they did. And hopefully, someone will come forward based on our reward."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Violence against women begins at home

Today's New York Times reported on a comprehensive study by the World Health Organization, which found that women's greatest risk of assault comes from domestic violence. You can read the article here. Another good article, this one with more people interest, is published by FOXNews with WebMD.

The WHO study was published in this week's The Lancet (368:1260-9, 2006). Due to copyright law, I cannot publish the link to the whole article, but the summary is below:

Prevalence of intimate partner violence: findings from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence

Claudia Garcia-Moreno, Henrica AFM Jansen, Mary Ellsberg, Lori Heise, Charlotte H Watts, on behalf of the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women Study Team*


Background: Violence against women is a serious human rights abuse and public health issue. Despite growing evidence of the size of the problem, current evidence comes largely from industrialised settings, and methodological diff erences limit the extent to which comparisons can be made between studies. We aimed to estimate the extent of physical and sexual intimate partner violence against women in 15 sites in ten countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Japan, Namibia, Peru, Samoa, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Methods: Standardised population-based household surveys were done between 2000 and 2003. Women aged 15–49 years were interviewed and those who had ever had a male partner were asked in private about their experiences of physically and sexually violent and emotionally abusive acts.

Findings: 24 097 women completed interviews, with around 1500 interviews per site. The reported lifetime prevalence of physical or sexual partner violence, or both, varied from 15% to 71%, with two sites having a prevalence of less than 25%, seven between 25% and 50%, and six between 50% and 75%. Between 4% and 54% of respondents reported physical or sexual partner violence, or both, in the past year. Men who were more controlling were more likely to be violent against their partners. In all but one setting women were at far greater risk of physical or sexual violence by a partner than from violence by other people.

Interpretation: The findings confirm that physical and sexual partner violence against women is widespread. The variation in prevalence within and between settings highlights that this violence in not inevitable, and must be addressed.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Parental Alienation" now legal tool of choice for batterers

According to the Sept 25, 2006 issue of Newsweek, a concept called "parental alienation" is now "the leading defense for parents accused of abuse in custody cases, according to domestic violence advocates. Conceived in the 1980s, parental alienation proposes that children fear or reject one parent because they've been corrupted by the other.

While it's commonly known that batterers use children to further abuse their partners, this tool give more teeth to the threat. It works in part because various parts of the judicial system do not communicate with each other, or judges decide that evidence of spousal abuse is irrelevant to custody cases. Or because there is little documented evidence--because if there was a report of spousal abuse, oftimes the abused spouse is further abused by the justice system when Child Protective Services take children away for failure to protect them from an abuser even though the abused partner took steps by reporting abuse.

The Newsweek article suggests that this tide may be slowly turning, as a few states begin to limit the use of parental alienation in cases involving domestic violence, and as the abused and their attorneys connect with each other across the country and craft legislation intended to tease out abuse of the law from real cases of parental alienation.

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr on Courage and Leadership - Podcast

Here's Sound Safety Podcast #2, Oct 1, 2006. King County Sheriff Sue Rahr addressed Seattle's Women's Business Exchange breakfast meeting on September 14. She spoke on courage and leadership, and how it applies to women business leaders. But it applies to all of us, and this podcast recounts a small portion of her presentation. This can be opened with QuickTime, RealPlayer, iTunes or other program that reads MP3 files.

Sound Safety 10-1-06

This is now available by subscription as an iTunes podcast. Search for Safety in Seattle News or Joanne Factor. If you subscribe, you'll get the latest issue downloaded to your computer automatically. Best, it's free! Subscribe today.

Friday, September 22, 2006

North Carolina: Women killed by abusive husband

A man in North Carolina pushed his way into a domestic violence shelter earlier this week and shot his wife to death.

You can read about John "Woody" Woodring's murder of Bonnie Woodring in this article. Along with the news report, the Asheville Citizen-Times also includes good educational material on warning signs of domestic violence and a person's rights in a relationship. This is important information. I teach in Seattle, a city with one of the most highly-educated adult populations, and I still encounter students who conflate jealousy with love or rape with passion.

Woodring's criminal history contained other instances of domestic violence, which is a prime indicator of future violence. At this time, very few abusers are effectively rehabilitated.

One more item of interest. Woodring was in graduate school studying to become a counselor. That's particularly concerning. Abusers are very often great manipulators and readily learn how to work legal and social services to further their aims.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Ago

I'd hoped to sleep in, I didn't have to be anywhere for hours, but the phone rang. My partner asked if I'd spoken with my father yet that morning. I routinely speak with Dad on Sunday mornings, and it was only Tuesday. Then she said a plane had flown into one of the World Trade towers. Dad still lived in Brooklyn--my home town--so she was concerned for his safety.

Still barely awake, I trundled downstairs and plopped myself in front of the TV. Over the next couple of hours I was stuck there, watching replay after replay of the still barely-understood events that had happened 3 hours earlier. I didn't have breakfast or even my mandatory morning coffee til noon. Two passenger jets had each slammed into the World Trade Towers, which soon totally imploded. Another jet had crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth, and last, was apparently interrupted by passengers who ended its flight in a Pennsylvanian field. The FAA ordered all planes to land immediately.

My brother's a frequent business flyer, and I phoned him in Chicago. His fiancee assured me that he was in town and OK, but there were fears for the Sears Tower and he was somewhere in the mass migration leaving the city. I knew one friend from college had an office in one of the towers, and found out a few days later from mutual friends that she hadn't been in the building and was also OK. I phoned Dad, and didn't get him for a while. When I finally spoke with him late that afternoon I was the one who broke it to him--so close, and he hadn't heard the news. Months later my brother said he'd gone over the list of names of those missing and dead, and recognized several he'd gone to high school or college with. I still haven't brought myself to look.

Still that morning, I walked into my front yard and listened. I live between the flight paths of both SeaTac International Airport and Boeing Field, so there's always the throbbing drone of the prop planes and helicopters, and the dull distant roar of jets. This morning was quiet. Maybe the birds seemed more rambunctious as they squabbled over the feeders and flowers. It was a warm and sunny fall day, and at that moment I would have traded anything to enjoy the silence.

Joanne Factor
Sept 11, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sound Safety Podcast

While this blog looks at news from the perspective of your safety, Strategic Living's podcasts are about our stories. Some are great and uplifting, a few have a not-so-happy ending. Here's the first one, recorded Sept 8, 2006. This is a QuickTime file on the Strategic Living blog. You can also listen on iTunes, and even subscribe: search for Safety in Seattle News!

Sound Safety 9-8-06

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Mental Illness and Violence?

Dr. Wayne Fenton of the National Institute of Mental Health was killed by a 19 year old patient over Labor Day weekend. You can read the Washington Post's article of Sept 5, 2006.

Over the last 50 years, the number of people who connect mental illness with violence, though still a minority, has increased. Some studies suggest that the rates of domestic violence involving mentally ill adults against their family caregivers is higher than the rate of general domestic violence; or that while the vast majority of the mentally ill are no more violent than the general population, a small subset are more likely to commit more violent assaults. The question is pushed to a more public light since--like the rest of the nation since Ronald Regan's presidency--so many of Seattle's homeless are mentally ill, and so many self-defense students see them as a threat.

One of Strategic Living's core tenents is the need for accurate information to assess your real safety risk. Students in my classes almost always express concern about assault from strangers as their biggest safety fear. In fact, most assaults on women are committed by people know to them, and the risk is exacerbated with substance abuse. The same seems to be true for mentally ill assailants.

Rather than focusing on a person's label, it is more productive to look at their behavior. Some behavior keys include violating your physical space, verbal abuse, unwanted touch or staring, or trying to isolate you. Substance abuse and a fascination with guns and violence are also red flags. More women in Seattle will be assaulted in their own homes by their husbands than by homeless strangers. Homeless women are even more likely to be assaulted, also most often by significant others and acquaintances.

On a National Public Radio report about Dr. Fenton's murder, colleague Dr. Thomas Insel made it a point to say that violent acts committed by the mentally ill is highly unusual, and what is more likely is the mentally ill becoming assault victims. You can hear the interview with Dr. Insel on NPR's website.

If you would like citations for the studies mentioned, please contact Strategic Living.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Level 3 sex offender charged with recent murder

Curtis Thompson spent 17 years in prison for 4 rape convictions. He had a history of sexual sadism and was deemed highly likely to offend again. Released in 2003, he is now being charged not only with murder but another rape and several other felonies. Prior to his release, prosecutors had sought his commitment to a facility for sexually violent predators because he was highly likely to offend again, but "a King County jury was swayed by his attorney's arguments that he had been a model prisoner and developed good relationships with women who worked for the Department of Corrections." (The Seattle Times, 8/22/06)

Most of us would love to believe that we can tell when someone is sincere, and when they are lying. In fact, the vast majority of us are not--our judgement is about as good as a guess. However, a small percentage of us are indeed very good at deceiving others. Thompson apparently is one.

Dr. Robert Hare has conducted research and written extensively on people he describes as psychopaths. See this page for a listing of his more recent writings.

Hare "points out that among the most devastating features of psychopathy are a callous disregard for the rights of others and a propensity for predatory and violent behaviors. Without remorse, psychopaths charm and exploit others for their own gain. They lack empathy and a sense of responsibility, and they manipulate, lie and con others with no regard for anyone's feelings."

As well as no regard for anyone's safety.

I believe it's important to cultivate people-reading skills, and that takes time and education. However, if we're to have a safer society we need those who decide the fate of violent offenders to understand the manipulations used by them. And for the rest of us, too, so we can become more adept at dealing with those who mean us harm.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Victor David was released from prison

Victor David was released from prison on Monday, August 21.

If you've lived in the Puget Sound area since 1997, you know the story. An emaciated Linda David was found stuffed in the bow of their boat, covered in vomit and dog feces, her body wracked by years of physical trauma. Her husband Victor was convicted of second degree assault in 2001. This case made headlines due to the viciousness of the beatings and the environment surrounding Linda. Linda David--now permanently brain-damaged and disabled--is cared for 24/7 by nurses and an appointed guardianship firm, paid for by a multi-million dollar settlement from Washington state. Her location is kept secret from Victor, and her caregivers have pursued divorce on her behalf. Restraining orders are in place to keep him away.

According to The Seattle Times (8/24/06), Victor believes that Linda does not want the divorce. He speaks of being happily married for over 25 year. He wants to reunite with her, return the settlement money to the state, and "whisk her away to Iraq, where he plans to drive an oil-tanker truck." However, Victor, a Canadian citizen, now faces deportation because of his felony conviction. Victor is apparently appealing both the dissolution of the marriage and deportation.

Victor David was exceptional only in his level of brutality, as he reflects all-too-common patterns of abusers. He is persistent in his pursuit, even over the years. Significant numbers of abusers refuse to let go. In fact, the most dangerous time for many abused women is while they are trying to leave and shortly afterwards.

Isolation in various forms is a common abuser tactic. Linda fell through the cracks in Washington state's social service agencies, despite clues that something was very wrong. Victor tightly controlled when and how social service personnel were allowed to see Linda, and when he denied access they did not persist (until 1997). She was isolated: physically on the boat; socially from what was left of her family, and she had no friends of her own; financially as Victor controlled her state-given disability.

Denial is yet another abuser tactic. Victor denied his role in Linda's injuries, instead blaming her repeatedly falling or on the multiple sclerosis (that she did not have). Denial also takes the form of defining another's experience for them, as in Victor's answering for Linda on those few occasions when social service officials were able to interview her. Many abused women in fact deny that they're being abused, as they've accepted blame for the isolation, threats and beatings.

Abusers are often very skillful at manipulating the social service and justice systems, way better than are their partners. Abusers recognize that social service officers are grossly overworked and highly regulated, and hone their skills at telling officials what they'd like to hear. Although individual officials may want to pursue cases that appear irregular, the agencies are often reluctant to allocate the "extra" resources.

This story may be exceptional for its brutality, but also for the amount of press it generated. Somewhere between 20-25% of women will be touched by domestic violence in their lifetimes. DV is the most common reason for a woman to be in a hospital emergency room. About half the homeless women with children in Seattle are fleeing an abuser. Yet we hear little about DV unless the result is sensational. When such cases do hit the press, DV hotlines get an extreme spike in calls as women watching the news suddenly recognize their own situations and realize they CAN take action.

The Seattle Times credits itself for forcing authorities to arrest and press charges when it ran it's 1999 story chronicling how the state mismanaged Linda David's case for years and that Victor David was still at liberty. You can read their news archives at: