Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Myra Spearman's Web site exposes perpetrators of domestic abuse

Times Correspondent | Monday, March 23, 2009 |

Myra Spearman, 43, and the mother of four, spent years in a painful relationship that sapped her energy, her money and her spirit. Her perseverance in spite of it is an inspiration to the hundreds of women who send e-mails via the Web site she created to help other women.

Her site, theweakervessel.org, is a database of persons, male and female, from three states convicted of domestic abuse and violence. Spearman created the site as a resource for people, especially women, to take an extra step to help themselves.

One of the first women to contact Spearman was Cherry Simpson, the Will County, Ill., mother of domestic-abuse victim Regan Martin, whose story recently was told on the Chicago Tribune's front page.

"Myra is doing what the government should be doing," Simpson said.

"We're working on a federal bill now that would do the same for domestic abusers that citizens got for sex offenders. Women shouldn't be in the dark about who these people are."

Simpson's daughter has spent years trying to flee domestic abuse. Though her spouse was convicted multiple times of crimes including abuse, stalking and ignoring orders of protection, the fact that Regan and her ex-husband have children entails perennial contact and visitation that exposes Regan's whereabouts.

"You can't get lost, even if you try," Simpson said.

"At least with Web sites like Myra's, other women can get some help in avoiding known abusers right from the start."

Spearman's Web site, which allows people to access records by state and by name, currently tracks information from public court records in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Not all convicted abusers are listed, but the database grows as Spearman receives replies and records from the courts she contacts daily. She now is at work getting full records of domestic-abuse convictions in Cook County, Ill.

The Web site includes a blog where women share their stories and give aid and comfort, as well as information.

Most heartbreaking are the e-mails Spearman receives from women throughout the country living in abusive relationships. They write to cheer Spearman on, and leave messages like this one: "Thank you for your Web site. I wish I could send money to help, but I am broke from trying to divorce my abusive husband."

And this one: "What if we know an abuser, and his name is not on the list?" And this long e-mail from an Illinois woman:

"I saw your newscast this morning. Please, I want to help. I am a domestic-abuse survivor. I was recently treated for PTSD from abuse that had happened 13 years ago. I was treated those years as if I was the perp, not the victim.

"I was humiliated while laying in the hospital with a concussion and bruises. I, as you, lived in fear, with no help from that piece of paper called a restraining order. His crimes against me were called a misdemeanor. He might as well have blown off a stop light. Please, again, I really would like to help you spread the word. The legal system may not be strong enough to help these people but if we all band together, I know we can make a difference. I want to be part of that chain, not only for my recovery and my children but for others out there who are on the battle lines alone and scared."

A spate of stories in the news, including Regan's, recently has put a fine focus on domestic violence. There's a lawsuit involving the dating site match.com (a woman claims injury because the site does not screen for known abusers), as well as the January deaths of Nova Henry (former girlfriend of ex-Bulls player Eddy Curry) and her infant daughter at the hands of a boyfriend against whom Henry had what turned out to be a worthless restraining order.

"There are thousands of homicides every year and even more reports of injuries and abuse," Spearman said.

"If I can save even one woman from experiencing what I did, all the effort will have been worthwhile."

Abuse by the numbers

* One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

* An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year; 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women.

* The costs of intimate-partner violence exceed $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.

* Victims of intimate-partner violence lose almost 8 million days of paid work because of the violence perpetrated against them by current or former boyfriends, husbands or dates; the loss is equivalent to more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity.

* There are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million in medically treated injuries due to intimate-partner violence annually.

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, ncadv.org.

Teen abuse

Because abuse of women often starts at an early age when young people are dating, women like Jennifer Gescheidler Kandalec of Dyer, profiled in The Times on Feb. 21, 2009, are trying to educate women still in their teens.

Kandalec is the Indiana leader for Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse, or, MADE. The Lake Central High School graduate is working to see that Indiana schools include education on dating-violence prevention in middle and high school health classes. For more information, loveisnotabuse.com/MADE.

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