The tragic details of the killing of Amie Harwick

Posted Saturday, 29 February 2020 ‐ CNN

Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is at work on a book about how women are conditioned to compete with one another. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion on CNN. (CNN)On Thursday friends and family laid to rest the well-known Los Angeles sex therapist and author Amie Harwick, who was found dead earlier this month in her Hollywood Hills home. Police had responded to neighbor reports of a "woman screaming." A former boyfriend, Gareth Pursehouse, was charged with one count of murder in her death and one count of first-degree residential burglary. Harwick was 38. The tragic details have been slowly coming out—Harwick appears to have been strangled before she was thrown from a third-floor balcony at her Hollywood Hills apartment, the latter injury killing her, according to the LA medical examiner. But one important fact emerged early on: Harwick had twice sought restraining orders against Pursehouse, in 2011 and 2012, copies of which CNN has obtained. The 2012 order barred him from contact with her and, though a judge granted an extension, expired in 2015. Police said that Harwick saw Pursehouse at an event last month, after which she "expressed fear of him." We can't know what precisely happened in this case, or how Pursehouse may respond to the charges against him—his arraignment is scheduled for next week. It remains unclear whether he has legal representation. What we do know is that the claims in the restraining orders Harwick filed against her former boyfriend bear all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. In the 2011 request for a restraining order, Harwick alleges physical abuse at the hands of Pursehouse that include choking, suffocation, pushing, kicking and punching. She also describes an incident in which she was pushed out of a car by Pursehouse on a freeway off-ramp.The 2012 request claims Pursehouse broke into Harwick's apartment complex multiple times, once smashing picture frames, another time taping dozens of flowers to her door. She also details threatening text messages and emails. If the charges against Pursehouse are proven, they may point up a chilling reality: A restraining order can only do so much.In any instance of a threatening ex-partner, one might assume, or hope, that being the object of such legal intervention would bring that person up short--that exposure of his (or her) inappropriate behavior to the legal system would enforce a cooling down period, maybe create space for acceptance that a relationship has ended.But this is too often not what happens. It's but one of many shortcomings that advocates for victims of domestic abuse describe when talking about the effective protections available to those in such relationships. To be sure, domestic abuse has long been a huge problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic abuse, though the numbers may even be higher. Abuse is chronically underreported, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, which operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline: Only about a quarter of all physical assaults and one half of stalkings are reported to the police. That's often because cases can be difficult to prosecute.Often a "he said, she said" mentality prevails, and most cases require the testimony of the victim, which many are unwilling to provide—because they're scared, because they're worried of what their abuser might do if they don't win, or simply because the nature of abusive relationships means victims often blame themselves: If I didn't act this way, say this thing, forget to do that, he wouldn't behave as he does. I can make it stop.Except she can't. And neither, in many cases, can the legal system. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail than other criminals. According to RAINN, of 230 incidents of assault reported to police, just five cases will lead to a felony conviction. While restraining orders can be effective, they are often difficult to uphold. According to a report in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law that surveyed a broad array of research studies and legal, sociological and mental health literature, reported rates of restraining-order violation across the country vary from as low as 7.1% to as high as 81.3%. A 2008 study of restraining orders among victims of intimate partner homicide, meanwhile, found that about 11% of women killed by male intimate partners had been issued a restraining order; one-fifth of those victims were killed within two days of the order being issued, and about one-third were killed within a month.Traditional restraining orders—the kind that, in general, prohibit an abuser from coming near the person who sought the order—meanwhile, expire. They require victims to file them and report violations, and only work against those who fear law enforcement. And, well, in the end, they're just a piece of paper. They aren't ankle monitors, there's no GPS capability attached. A victim can call the police if the person against whom she's been granted a restraining or no contact order shows up at her office—but he's already shown up at her office. With nothing, physically, to stop him.A 2018 piece in The Atlantic looking at the evolution of restraining orders to prohibit abusive digital communication, meanwhile, noted how difficult they are to enforce—given the wide-reaching nature of social media—and, therefore, how often they fail. Again, the details of Harwick's murder are still emerging, and we don't know if her ex-boyfriend had a hand in her death. In the meantime, friends of Harwick have started an online petition that seeks stronger recourse and support for domestic violence victims, including making restraining orders valid for longer than five years without need for a renewal, and eliminating the need for victims to appear in court to testify against their abusers, according to the LA Times. They also seek to mandate counseling for alleged abusers. All three measures would be huge improvements to the current system—so much so that it's a wonder they aren't already in place. "We want to push for laws to be changed in her honor so this doesn't happen to anyone else," Harwick's friend Diana Arias said. Health agencies, law enforcement and lawmakers need to get involved here—there's simply no downside and plenty of up. The rest of us need to get angry and push them until they do.

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