The Beaten Path

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Many women, no matter where they were born, have trouble admitting they've been abused. They find the legal process degrading and worry about what others will think of them. But the problem is often magnified when dealing with people from other cultures, says Cheryl Martinez.

"Picking up a phone and calling police is a significant act for the population in general," she says. "And the fact that they're undocumented and there are cultural and linguistic barriers...they might not even recognize where to go for help or treatment. It's almost beyond comprehension."

And the frightening experiences of some women who have spoken up have given others further reason to stay quiet. The case of Susana Remerata Blackwell is perhaps the most infamous example.

Susana Remerata, a native of the Philippines, was 22 when her photograph appeared in an issue of Asian Encounters magazine. Theoretically a vehicle through which Filipinas could strike up pen-pal relationships with American men, the publication actually was a mail-order matchmaking club that hooked up marriage-minded men with like-minded women.

Taken with Susana's beauty, 44-year-old lab technician Timothy Blackwell began a year-long postal courtship of her. He flew to the Philippines in 1993, where the couple met and married. He returned to Washington state a few weeks later. The INS spent almost a year checking on Susana before allowing her to enter the United States to join her husband.

Susana Blackwell arrived in the United States on February 5, 1994. She left Timothy Blackwell less than two weeks later, claiming that he'd pulled her hair and tried to choke her. When he realized that Susana wasn't coming back, Timothy Blackwell filed for an annulment of the marriage and suggested to INS officials that Susana may have violated the law by fraudulently inducing him to marry her.

But an annulment would have made it easier to send Susana back to her homeland, and she one-upped her husband by filing for divorce and asking that the two-year conditional residency requirement be waived due to the abuse she allegedly had suffered at his hands.

The case of Blackwell v. Blackwell waged on until March 1995, when Timothy ended it with a bang--he pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and killed Susana and two of her friends in a courthouse hallway where they were waiting for the annulment hearing to begin. Timothy Blackwell was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison without possibility of parole.

In early 1994, after two years of hiding out, afraid to meet up with either her husband or the INS, Mary was found out--her husband discovered where she was living and immediately began threatening her with deportation, she says. Exhausted by the secrecy and the struggle to stay in this country, Mary gave up. "Do what you want to do," she told him.

He reported her. After being picked up by authorities, Mary spent days behind bars, then weeks in a hospital bed, where she was treated for diabetes and exhaustion. INS agents declared her deportable, but she still had a legal right to file an appeal based on the length of time she'd been in the U.S. The INS then released her so she could prepare to plead her case.

While Mary was being detained, her husband had demanded that their daughter be turned over to him. Upon her release, Mary felt that she had to return to live with him, at least for the short term, in order to get the girl back.

She planned to take her daughter and run at the first opportunity, but escape would not be easy. Her husband, Mary says, had established a new daily ritual shortly after her return to the fold: He'd walk their daughter the five blocks to school after locking Mary inside the house with a deadbolt, taking the key with him. He'd pick the girl up from class in the afternoon on his way home from work. Mary says she was allowed to leave their apartment only to fulfill her volunteer obligations at their daughter's school.

One evening, however, Mary told her husband, who had resumed his abusive ways, that the girl had to attend a rehearsal for a school play. "I said, 'I want to take her.' He said okay, but he told me to call him when I got to the school and that when the rehearsal was over, I should call him and he would pick us up.

"And we left with nothing. He watched us walk away until we got to the corner." The two then went to the school, where they phoned for a taxi to take them to safety at a program for women run by Catholic nuns. It was the first week of April 1994, in what would prove to be a very good year for Mary. She discovered that same year, she says, that not only were both her parents alive and well, but that they had been searching for her for years. Her husband had been hiding their letters to her since 1989.

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Karen Bowers