No Way to Treat a Lady: Victims Get Busted, Too

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"I talked a good game to get him off because I knew that if he had to go to classes or pay a fine, it was going to be hard on me," she says now. "I was afraid if he didn't get off scot-free, he'd be angry with me."

After reviewing the file on Mark, she says, the prosecutor "looked me right in the face and said, 'I don't feel this is domestic violence.' I looked right at her and said, 'Neither do I,' but in my heart I knew this was the stupidest bitch I'd ever met in my life. What if I don't even get to go to this class because I'm dead, because they let him walk?"

Last month Krystal and Mark had another argument. Krystal had been invited out by a girlfriend; Mark called her a barfly and took off with their son, forcing her to stay home. He called her frequently during the day, came home for dinner and watched boxing on the tube. She emerged from the shower to find him leaving again with her car keys and her son. When she protested, Mark decided to adjust her attitude.

"He lunged toward me, and I picked my fists up," she says. "If he'd come any closer, I would have punched him right in the mouth. That pissed him off, that I'd raised my hand to him. He put his arms straight back behind him and lifted his head up and rammed straight into me. He's 220 pounds, 6-4, and here I am, 5-5 and a hundred pounds. He pushed me clear through the screen door. I hit my back on the knob on the outside."

Clad only in a towel, she pursued him outside. He backed up their truck through the neighbor's yard to avoid hitting her in the driveway. The spectacle drew the attention of the neighbors and resulted in another call to the police. She says she was sitting at her vanity, trying to put her makeup on--"hard to do when you're crying"--when the cops came in and pointed a gun in her face.

Once again Krystal tried to minimize what her husband had done, but the ripped screen told the cops all they needed to know. This time Mark was arrested, fined and ordered into his own 36-week treatment program. Although he hasn't attended a single class yet, Krystal believes the experience has already made a new man of him.

"No matter how big you are, no matter how tough you are, being in jail scares the shit out of you," she says. "It completely changed him. It was like, 'I'm never again going to yell at you or talk shit to you, I'm never going to touch you, because I'm not going to jail.' We haven't even had one argument since then. But I haven't asked to go out yet. I'm okay until that happens."

Her own domestic-violence classes haven't done much to alter Krystal's view of her marriage. "Sometimes I feel like I'm getting something out of it," she says. "Other times I feel like it is such a waste of time and money."

Most of the women in her group are much older and struggling with alcohol and drug problems, and every time a new member arrives, the group has to go back over the basics "and you hear everything you've heard twelve times already." She's seen parts of the same movie in three different classes, a movie about spousal abuse among drunken Maori tribesmen. "Maybe I'm naive or stupid, but people don't live like that," she says. "Why are they showing a movie about people who tattoo their faces and dance funny?"

Victim advocates have quizzed Krystal about why she chooses to stay with a man who hurls her through doors and takes off with her car keys and her son, a man who's twice let her take the rap for his actions. "It really wasn't much of a help," she says. "Basically, they say, 'Do you want us to put you in a shelter?' Well, hello, I have a home. I wouldn't take my kids to a shelter. The state needs to look at the big picture."

But the big picture is a messy one. Too messy, perhaps, to fit into the neat categories fashioned by domestic-violence laws: victim and perpetrator, crime and punishment. Assist the victim to make "empowered" choices, contain and monitor the perpetrator. But what happens when the lines blur?

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast