Fight or flight?
|A friend (left) of silent witness and domestic violence victim Danielle Robinson Donoho (far left) is comforted by another friend (right) after a Silent Witness Unveiling Ceremony. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
It's a gut level choice for someone in deadly danger, and a choice that landed Brenda Clubine in prison for 26 years.
Clubine, keynote speaker for the Northwest Ohio Silent Witness Project Unveiling ceremony held Monday night in Bowling Green, looked around the sanctuary of Dayspring Church, host for the 2012 event. A somber collection of 61 black cloth-shrouded figures represented the 61 women in this area who have died at the hands of husbands, ex-husbands, partners or stalkers in just the last 10 years.
"I am so profoundly honored and grateful to be part of the unveiling of these Silent Witnesses, because when I really think about it, it could have been me," said Clubine, a Californian who was convicted of second-degree murder of her husband in 1984. "It almost was me that night."
Dr. Mary Krueger, director of the Women's Center at Bowling Green State University, prefaced her introduction of Clubine by noting that Americans love the idea of freedom, "the notion that we are a free people with rights and choices.
"These are the choices faced by a battered woman:"
• Remain in the abusive relationship, and risk being judged as stupid, weak, lazy or "asking for it."
• Leave the relationship and know that your risk of being murdered will increase tenfold.
• Fight back and risk going to prison.
"So which of these is the 'right' choice?"
The sizable audience was reminded that 46 of the 61 Silent Witnesses - who ranged in age from 14 to 79 - had already left their abusive partners at the time of their deaths.
Many had police protective orders against the men.
|Brenda Clubine speaks during the Silent Witness unveiling ceremony.
|La'Nea Barnes portrays silent witness Jazmon Hoskins as the silent witness is unveiled.
|Reader Deidra Bennett (left) potrays silent witness April Vann as reader Cynthia Mahaffey portraying silent witness Shirley Walker (right), checks over her statement.
|Silent witnesses as seen unveiled before attendees durign the annual Silent Witness Unveiling Ceremony.
"I was a very, very young girl when I met my abuser," said Clubine, now 51. "I thought he was my knight in shining armor."
She came to learn otherwise. More horrifying, as the beatings, verbal abuse and control continued, she realized she was in this nightmare alone.
"It became very clear the police were unable to help me," said Clubine.
Those members of her family from whom her abuser had not already separated her "would take off running, living in fear he would slash their tires" or worse.
"I left," Clubine emphasized. "I left 11 times."
But it wasn't that simple.
"I had a baby I was responsible for and every time I left, my husband would threaten to kidnap my son from day care and kill him, or kill my family member, and I always returned."
The last time she left her husband she ended up with "a severe skull fracture" and was left for dead. Hospitalized, doctors waited for her brain swelling to go down.
"I finally got up the nerve to call a divorce attorney and had him serve the papers before I got out of the hospital."
Clubine says a "weird silence" of several weeks followed, with no word from her estranged husband. "Then I got a call from him" in which her spouse said something she'd never heard from him before, the words "I get it."
He said he finally understood why she had left him and he accepted it. Clubine met him for dinner at his request, hoping to persuade him to move quickly on the divorce.
"He was eerily nice. I should have known."
After dinner he asked her to come with him "for just a minute" and she found herself in a hotel room. As soon as she stepped inside he bolted the door shut and slammed her into a table, breaking several of her teeth.
"He said he wanted my wedding rings and I said 'Why?'
His answer: "Because by tomorrow they won't be able to identify what's left of your body."
Clubine ended up hitting her husband with a wine bottle "he'd been drinking from as he ranted and shoved me around."
When she ran out of the room - "and I ran five miles straight home - he was still standing, ranting at me."
But it turned out he bled to death over the next few hours.
Despite the fact that she had more hospital records of abuse than most people could even imagine, Clubine says she ended up "stuck in a justice system that didn't want to give me justice. They just wanted a successful prosecution."
Still, Clubine says, "I would not be the person I am today without those 26 years."
During her imprisonment she founded Convicted Women Against Abuse, the first inmate-initiated support group for women in prison for killing their abusers.
Krueger, of BGSU, says she first learned about Clubine by viewing a documentary called "Sin by Silence."
"Through the experiences of several such women in the California State Prison, the film reveals the travesty of sentencing practices in the American criminal justice system: sentencing practices which - outrageous and unbelievable as it seems - see women who kill their abusive male partners in self-defense receive longer average sentences than men who murder their female partners in acts of premeditated aggression," Krueger said.
Indeed, the audience was struck by the sentences given many of the murderers of Northwest Ohio's Silent Witnesses, read aloud in brief biographies as the shroud was removed from each wooden figure in turn.
One murderer was eligible for parole after 18 years. Another was sentenced to only 10 years.
In the case of Rhonda Anaya, a Sylvania mother of four, "in the months leading up to my death police were called to my home numerous times. I had a protection order and was seeking a divorce." She was murdered by her husband in their home as three of their four children hid upstairs. The 15-year-old daughter called 911. The husband got 15 years to life.
Melanie Golden, 36, an Owens Community College graduate who worked at University of Toledo Medical College and collected Mickey Mouse memorabilia, was found on her sofa with a gunshot wound to the head. Her boyfriend, Travis, called police to report her "suicide."
Next, Travis claimed he "accidentally" shot Golden as he was trying to get the gun away from her. Police said that story was inconsistent with the crime scene evidence. Travis pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to just 10 years in prison.
The film "Sin by Silence" will be shown to the public free of charge at 3:30 p.m. today in BGSU's Gish Theater.