Facing Off

Despite the efforts made to streamline Colorado's domestic-violence system, it can still move dangerously slowly for some victims. Afraid and frustrated, some reach out to the extreme end of the victim-services spectrum: They call Mike Newell.

Newell, a former Denver cop, teaches women how to work the system--keeping a journal to document restraining-order violations, for instance, or videotaping instances where a stalker shows up outside their home. But he also advocates more controversial measures: He'll personally confront stalkers and threaten to make their lives miserable if they don't stop.

Despite best intentions, the special domestic-violence units run by many police departments aren't staffed for effective followup, says Newell. "They can't stalk the stalker to find out what he's up to. They don't have the resources to be with a victim or stake out the offender. And the victim doesn't understand that."

Adds Newell, "If someone had been stalking Albert Petrosky for three or four days before he killed his wife--who had a restraining order, by the way--they would have seen him go into a gun store and come out with some really big weapons."

Victim advocates say some of the things Newell tells his clients--keeping a journal, for instance--make sense. "But it's the same thing we've been telling victims for years," says Laine Gibbes, the director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

And many advocates worry about Newell's theory of "stalking the stalker."
"We've all had fantasies of being 'domestic-violence ninjas,'" says Linda Ferry, coordinator of Denver County's domestic-violence unit. "But in reality, you have to worry that 'stalking the stalker' might just escalate the problem. Some of these guys live for the contact, whether it's her videotaping him or sending someone else after him--it's still contact. And you really have to worry about a male confronting another male.

"I mean, the guy already thinks she's screwing the waiter, and here comes another waiter, telling him to back off."

Michelle Drea, who runs the Denver city attorney's domestic-violence advocates' office, says it's understandable that victims get frustrated with the system. "By law, the system is reactive," she says. "Police can't arrest people because of what they might do. But some guy threatening to beat up some other guy, well-intentioned or not, is also illegal."

Bobbi Spicer, coordinator for Jefferson County's comprehensive community re-sponse program, says she has concerns about vigilantism.

"Mr. Newell isn't the first," she notes. "There have been others here and there. Recently we had two calls from private detectives who wanted to get 'hooked up' so they could 'help women.'" She raises her fingers and makes a cross as if to ward off a vampire. "Help," she laughs. "Get back."

Betty, the woman whose personal experience with a stalker is detailed above, acknowledges that for a time she was very dependent on Newell. "But it was at a time in my life when I needed somebody strong enough to get me back on my feet," she says. "Michael got me to that point."

Would she describe Newell as a vigilante? "Well, he sure uses intimidation," Betty says. "But I never saw him go outside the law.

"Everyone else was blowing me off. I was going to be dead before they acted. Even the police told me the restraining order was just a piece of paper; Michael was the one who enforced it."

Newell doesn't deny that initially, the women he helps tend to become dependent on him. "It's the 'knight on a white horse' syndrome," he says. But he insists his program is geared toward promoting independence.

"They have to take these steps themselves," Newell says of the victims. "We suggest victim advocates do what we do--teach the victims to be proactive instead of saying, 'Oh, my, isn't that terrible, but we'll be here for you.'"


Metro-area resources for victims of domestic violence (some include counseling programs for offenders):

Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Statewide referrals for domestic-violence shelters. 831-9632, or toll-free, 1-888-778-7091.

Project Safeguard: Legal assistance and restraining orders. Hotline 863-7233.

Karlis Family Center: Counseling, support groups, legal clinic. 462-1060.

Promoting Alternatives to Violence Through Education: Family-violence education programs in schools, family counseling, group counseling for juvenile victims and offenders. 322-2382.

Stalking Rescue: "Proactive" victim education and intervention. 797-2635.

SafeHouse for Battered Women, Inc.: Support groups, legal-assistance clinics, restraining-order clinics, divorce clinics, housing clinics, family and friends support groups, children's groups, referrals to area safehouses. Hotline 892-8900.

Servicios de la Raza: Group and individual therapy and education, advocacy support, referrals to emergency funds and other services. Geared toward Spanish-speaking clients. Hotline 458-7088.

Denver Victims Service Center: Crisis hotline for victims of crime, short-term crisis counseling, and emergency financial assistance for Denver victims. Hotline 894-8000; TTY 860-9555; Spanish language 461-8587.

Family Violence Intervention Program: County-run program offers referrals, counseling, family evaluation for Jefferson County residents. 271-6966.

Gateway Battered Women's Shelter: Shelter for female victims and their children, non-residential counseling and support services, criminal-justice program that provides advocacy and referrals plus public education in Arapahoe County. Hotline 343-1851.

Women in Crisis: Safehouse referrals, advocacy, restraining-order clinics in Jefferson County. Hotline 420-6752.

Boulder County Safehouse: Safehouse referrals, advocacy/support for battered women and children in Boulder County. Hotline 444-2424.

Women's Crisis Center of Douglas County: Safehouse shelter, residential and "out-client" counseling for women and children, recovery support, child-care support. Hotline 688-8484.

Alternatives to Family Violence: Adams County-based services for battered women, children's shelter, "out-client" treatment program for offenders, support for women seeking to leave abusive relationships, individual and group counseling for children. Hotline 289-4441.

Brandon Center--Volunteers of America: Safehouse and shelter for homeless women and children, education for children and adults, employment services, self-esteem groups, case-management services. Hotline 296-9090.

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Steve Jackson