Lisa Provost: Brushes With Domestic Violence

Lisa Provost: The Body

Born in August 1974, in Brooklyn, NY., Lisa Provost grew up in the Catskill and Adirondack mountains of upstate N.Y. where, from the time she was 12 – 16-years-old, she raised dairy goats.

Lisa studied Biology at RIT in Rochester, N.Y. from 1992-1994. Later, in 1998, Lisa married and moved to the Midwest when her husband enlisted in the US Air Force. The couple moved to N.C. in 2003 when his enlistment term was done. In August 2007, Lisa began studying Forensic Biology at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. Lisa is an avid knitter and lover of four legged mammals.

Brushes With Domestic Assault

My home is one without violence. It is a place of safety and retreat for me. I can’t imagine being afraid to go home but I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people who are afraid to go home.

Domestic assault like any other crime just makes me tilt my head on its side like a confused puppy. I just don’t get it. Sure you can be upset or angry with someone but angry enough to cause pain, bruising and bodily harm to someone you supposedly love? I just don’t understand it. And being the victim of an assault, I just don’t understand how someone can stay/keep going back. My time in the two crime labs I interned with allowed me to see plenty of domestic violence scenes against adults and even children.

The first one I had the opportunity to work was at the home of a single mother of two. She was leaving him. He was not happy with that.

From my notebook:

1. White female, two children
2. Broken in twice in the last week.
3. Thinks its ex (a few lines later) confirmed ex
4. Stole AC unit in prior B&E
5. House trashed, litter, CD’s pictures all over floor.
6. Front windows, side windows, back windows all smashed in.
7. Stove on, all the way.
8. Back door opened from inside. Front door kicked in.

I didn’t have many more notes because this scene was a secondary one to the prior breaking and entering the woman had suffered earlier. She still had the black eye from the last time he punched her and she walked slowly, hunched over as if in intense pain. When I mentioned ‘house trashed’ that is not strong enough description. We couldn’t see the rug because of all the debris on the floor. There were pictures of the woman, the man (the ex) and the children which had boot prints on them and/or were torn. CD’s were all over the floor, pulled from their cases. Their cases were on the floor as well. Glass was intermixed with all the debris. There was no furniture in the home since she had already removed all of it. Really it was the last few boxes of personal items and toys that were left in the home. The contents of all these boxes covered the floors. This all happened on the third day I was in the lab on my first internship. I remember leaving and thinking “Wow, that’s awful!” I didn’t realize that was the tamest domestic assault scene I would be on during my two internships.
A few days later we were called to the home of a couple and their three children. When we drove up the husband was being hoisted into the back of the patrol car. People were standing in their yards peering over fences and holding their hands over their mouths in shock and dismay.

From my notebook:

1. Hispanic female with 3 kids
2. Son, daughter, son. 3, 5 ,7.
3. Husband drinking beat wife in kitchen on table.
4. Choked hit in face
5. Three children tried to help mom, father threw them off. No injuries to children.
6. Clean home, moderate area. Lower class but clean area.
7. Husband will be held for 48 hours. This is standard operating procedure for this city.
8. Female has visible evidence of choking on neck, bubble of blood/cut on lower right eyelid.

This scene was very surreal to walk into. There was music playing and cartoons on the big TV in the front room as we walked in. When I entered the door, I had to dodge a balloon coming right at my head. When I heard the happy giggle of a child at my sudden movement I instinctively sent it bouncing back toward him. When the balloon cleared my field of vision, I saw the woman. The trails of tears were obvious on her face and her eyes were red and puffy. A welt was beginning to form on her face. I was sure that was going to be one hell of a shiner in a day or two. As the officer on the scene gave us the details of the situation and his requests for additional photographs, the children begged the other officer for another balloon to play with. He obliged and pulled one out of his shirt pocket and began to blow it up to their gleeful clapping and laughter. Through this briefing and over the scratching of my pen on my notebook I could hear the woman sniffing and trying to compose herself.

We turned and asked her to allow us to take photographs and she nodded her consent. As we moved into the other room she asked the officers if her husband would be coming back tonight. “No ma’am. It’s the law here. He will spend 48 hours in jail.” A look that I can’t quite describe crossed her face. It seemed almost like sorrow, relief, disbelief and worry. At that look the officer asked her if she would like to go to a shelter with her children. She shook her head no and then turned to us. The tech I was with was all business. She was gentle as she helped move clothing near sore areas of flesh. She was soft spoken in her requests for each and every photograph. When it was all done we turned to the children. With no warning I heard “Hey! Who wants to take a picture for me? You? You? You? Yay!” I spun and looked at the tech I was with and she was clapping her hands much like the children had been for their second balloon. The officers were smiling and clapping too. The children all readily agreed and were nearly climbing over each other to get closest to the camera. “Okay line up youngest to oldest!” They scrambled to get in the line. “Did you try to help mommy? Yeah? Good! That’s what you are supposed to do right? Right! Okay say cheese! One more… say cheese!” The harmony of “cheeeeeeese!” they sang out will stay with me for quite some time. Not even an hour prior they had been in the middle of a fight for what could have been their mother’s life. Now they were chatting excitedly with us and the officers, comparing stickers and balloons given to them by the officers and laughing with joy. As we climbed back in the truck I couldn’t help but ask “Okay what the hell was that?!” The tech I was with turned to look at me and I could see the sadness in her eyes. “In all my years doing this I have found it is best to make it as positive of an experience for the kids. See, this is probably not going to be the last time they see us here… it’s best if they think good thoughts about the arrival of the police.”

Nearly a month later we were called to another domestic assault. As we pulled up we could see the officer on scene helping the female back into the house. The other patrol car with the boyfriend in the back passed us and gave us a blip of his siren in greeting. I looked up from my notebook waved and headed inside.

From my notebook:

1. Black female
2. Has trouble walking/ moving
3. Female has injuries on neck, upper chest (above breasts) and elbow.

As I was writing these notes she interrupted us by saying “It’s not as bad as last time…” Her voice trailed off and she began walking toward the bedroom. The male officer on the scene said he would wait in the front room while we took photographs out of courtesy for the woman. We both nodded and followed her toward the back.

More from my notebook:

4. Middle class neighborhood.
5. House is dirty! Smells fine though.
6. Clothes piled everywhere in some places to ceiling. (Has “pack rat” feel.)
7. Picture of her and infant on mantle. No sign of infant.
8. Female mentions that male offender made her bathe. She states that she only washed shins down.
9. Male dragged her across lawn by hair.

I was the last one in the bedroom and carefully closed the door after nudging clothing away from the door jam with my foot. When I turned around the woman already had her shirt and bra off and was reaching for the ABFO#2 scale that is used to measure/document injuries.

The tech and I looked at each other in confusion at first until the woman asked “Do they always send girls for this sort of stuff?” I’m sure it was our look of confusion that made her continue; “I mean every time this has happened it has always been a different girl that came to take pictures.” (We confirmed over the next few weeks that all six women in the crime lab had been at this home in response to a domestic assault call. Some of them more than once.) When we were done we brought all the equipment back to the truck. As we chatted with the officer about when he could review the photographs for his report we saw the woman stumbling to a car where a male relative was waiting. As she opened the door I could hear the man telling her to “get out of that house”. She just shook her head and as she closed the door I heard “I can’t…”

One of the last scenes I had the chance to work was at the ER. We were called to document injuries of a domestic assault since “This time she’s gonna press charges.” At least that is what the officer at the ER said when we first got there. When we arrived the woman was just being rolled back into her room from radiology. Her voice was hoarse from obvious sobbing and her makeup was smeared all over her face. The running mascara couldn’t hide the blooming bruise that was forming on her cheek and the blood dripping from the side of her mouth made her pink lipstick much darker as she sucked on the blood. When we walked in, she began crying anew. She knew what we were there for since this tech had seen her before. I donned a pair of gloves and asked her if she wanted me to help her take her earrings off. One earring was nearly ripped completely through her ear and I could see where blood had dripped on her shoulder. She nodded and cried out from the pain of the movement. I tried to pull them out as gently as I could but I had to tug since scabs were forming around the posts and fresh blood began to flow anew. A tear rolled down her cheek and I apologized for hurting her. With that phrase she looked me in the eyes and fresh tears welled up. I placed the earrings in her purse for her and let her know that they were there. She tried to nod again and once more, cried out from the pain of that movement. She had old bruises and fresh bruises and cuts all over her body. As she described her injuries it was obvious we were going to have to take most of her clothing off to be able to document them all. The first was her jacket. We had been informed that her wrist or arm was possibly broken. As we held the cuff of her jacket and let her pull her arm out, the nurse came back in and said “Yes honey. He re-broke it.”

We pulled the curtain closed around her and as we undressed her to her panties and bra, the officer questioned her from the other side of the curtain. Once again this was a male officer and he felt it was best for her personal comfort that he not be able to view our photographs as we took them but later for his report. He asked his questions as we verbally documented her injuries. The one that stands out the most for me is not even the broken bone. It was what I saw as I was hunched over letting her use my back and shoulders to stabilize herself as I pulled her pants down. I was the blood on her inner thigh very close to her genitals. When she lay back on the bed, I could see the full extent of the injury. She had a tear to one of her labia. This is when the question hit me. How do we keep her privacy/dignity but get an open legged picture of her genitals? In order to get a proper angle on this injury she would need to spread her legs quite wide. The answer was simple. Use a towel or two. We laid one over her other labia and thigh, and another towel over her other thigh so only the injury was visible. She said she received that injury fully clothed. He had grabbed her so hard by the crotch of her jeans that he had caused that injury. He did this when he lifted her above his head and threw her against the wall. As we got back in the truck I felt drained and it was only 7:30 pm. I still had five hours to go. Listening to the description of the attack she sustained had taken most of the energy from my body.

When we got back to the PD one of the other techs was just getting in for her shift. As I described the injuries and we downloaded the photographs, this other tech looked over our shoulders. When she saw the woman’s face she sighed. “She’s gonna press charges this time right?” I looked up and nodded with a sense of justice being done. She knocked that feeling right out of me. “No she’s not” she responded, “She never does.” As if on cue, the officer from that assault walked in and slumped into one of the chairs. “She ain’t gonna press charges again!” He threw his arms in the air in obvious frustration. “Well at least we got him for two days. Maybe I can change her mind on my follow-up tomorrow.” Both techs said almost as one “Doubt it.” The other tech sat down next to the officer. “She didn’t last time. And the time before that and the time before that.” She patted him on the shoulder. “You have to try though man. You have to try. I’m just afraid that I may be pulling her body from a ditch some day.” She got up and moved back toward her computer. “Here let me give you a file from all her other assaults at this man’s hands and maybe they will help sway her to press charges this time.” She got to work on that file right away.

As the night wound down with no other calls besides the occasional drunk driver, I reviewed all the pictures from the various domestic assaults in their log book. I reviewed a series of photographs that detailed the ongoing domestic assault of one woman over a year. The one picture that sticks most out in my mind is of the body of the woman lying face up. Beaten and stabbed by her husband. A picture of them smiling on their wedding day sat above her on the shelf.

I never had the chance to go to any domestic assault scenes where a man was the victim but I did see plenty of photographs. A few were of children too. I stood up and went outside for some fresh air. It was around midnight, there was no moon and the stars sparkled. I asked the stars “Why do these people feel the need to beat the shit out of their loved ones?” I waited. The wind brought me the sound of laughter from a nearby house but the stars gave me no answers. With a sigh I went back inside to wait for the next call.

5 replies
  1. SZ
    SZ says:

    This just brings tears to my eyes. I am a day late, but if you read this, my biggest frustration is why does the start or feds not press charges?

    Historically, the woman does not. She is not of right mind so doesnt this make us an enabler ? Isnt it that a suicide threat can cause a 3 day evaluation ? It sounds like, state to state, the abuser gets evaluated. Shouldnt they lock up and evaluate the abused equally ?

    I just feel when something this extreme happens, the lock up of the abuser is not long enough. I am sure the legal loop holes are emmence, however some kind of manditory evaluation of the abused should be there maybe. And become gradually longer with each incident maybe.

    Thank you for writing Lisa. I am sure that was indeed hard to relive. But we need to be reminded that it is there.

  2. Lisa P
    Lisa P says:

    No it wasn’t easy to relive it. I was surprised at myself at who quickly it all came rushing back. I think about that last woman a lot. I always wonder how she is.

  3. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    Sadly I think many people stay in situations like this because they feel trapped. And men who do these things are masters at apologizing the next day and swearing up and down it won’t happen again. As someone who spent too many years in an abusive relationship (though he only actually physically beat me up twice — I left the first time and made the mistake of believing his apologies) but on top of the physical abuse these people are also good at belittling their victims and making you believe you asked for it, and no one else would ever love you like they do. It’s hard to fight the kind of low self-esteem these bullies inflict. Getting a constant barrage of ‘you’re a worthless slug’ can be hard to fight, especially if you have little or no outside support. It’s a vicious syndrome and not something that’s easy to fix. I’m at least glad that now the police have to respond — when it was happening to me the police wouldn’t do anything until AFTER he beat me up and I called. Calling a week later go me nowhere.

  4. Carla F
    Carla F says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lisa. That couldn’t have been easy to relive it.

    I think I can answer that question for you, to an extent. Family members and loved ones are soft targets. Easy targets. We’re taught to be our partner’s “soft place to land”, and sometimes that’s misconstrued as “punching bag”, depending on the partner. Some women don’t fight back because they believe it’s their fault; they believe they must have done something to deserve this treatment. Oftentimes it’s an endless loop, based on misconceptions that started in childhood. I divorced my first husband because I didn’t want my sons growing up thinking the way he treated me was the way they should treat the women in their lives. I wanted a better example for them than that. But I was lucky; he never laid a hand on me.

  5. Elena
    Elena says:

    Endless sorrow written beautifully, Lisa. Thank you for sharing your observations and feelings.

    For several years I was a volunteer driver for a ‘safe house’ battered women and children’s center. You brought back a lot of memories, and a lot of tears.

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