ONE YEAR LATER: THE BRAME SHOOTINGS - Out of tragedy come new laws, policies and help for victims

April 27, 2004 

Local domestic violence advocates believe people in Tacoma and the South Sound have worked hard to make things better in the year since Crystal Brame died at the hands of her police chief husband, ending years of alleged abuse.

New laws and policies dictate what to do when police officers are abusers and how to provide more help to victims. The state budget includes $2 million more for domestic violence victims shelters. City and county officials are working together to plan a groundbreaking new victim services center.

Police, politicians and victims advocates are working together more closely than ever before. Religious leaders are talking to their congregations about domestic violence. Doctors and nurses are learning how to gently ask patients about domestic violence when they think it might be a problem. Business leaders are looking for ways to help employees recognize signs of domestic violence in colleagues and support employees who are victims.

Connie Brown, executive director of the YWCA of Pierce County, calls the Brame tragedy a "teachable moment," a time people are ready to learn.

"More people want to understand domestic violence, they want to prevent it," Brown said.

The only blemish on all that progress, said Ann Eft, director of the Pierce County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is that batterers might have learned how to be emotionally abusive from the publicity surrounding the Brame case. The type of abuse Crystal Brame said David Brame was an expert at - controlling her behavior, her friends, her pocketbook - is flourishing in the South Sound, Eft said.

Calls to the county's domestic violence hot line increased immediately after the shootings, Eft said, but since then have returned to their usual levels. However, she said, the individual calls now take much longer to handle than they used to, because people are calling about complicated emotional abuse problems.

"The problem is, those things aren't illegal," Eft said. "A lot of emotionally abusive stuff isn't illegal, but it's what kills."

Progress

Local domestic violence advocates say it's been years since they have made this many gains in education and funding for their programs.

Among groups that have made progress:

•The Korean Women's Association is building a shelter that will specialize in helping Asian women. Those abuse victims, director Lua Pritchard said, often don't feel comfortable at shelters because they don't speak English and can't stomach the European-style food. Because of those and other cultural differences, they often give up on shelters and return to their abusers.

Pritchard believes the Brame shootings were a key factor that helped her agency win a $639,223 grant from the state to build the 6,800-square-foot shelter.

Before the shooting, she said, the association would get calls from three or four abuse victims each month. In the last year, calls have skyrocketed. The association heard from 17 new victims each month in February and in March.

•Pierce County and Tacoma officials are working to find a building that will house a center where domestic violence victims can talk to police, lawyers, shelter workers and other community advocates who specialize in the needs of domestic violence victims. A "one-stop center" or "family justice center" in other cities has helped victims stay safe and get help they need.

•Doctors and nurses at a local clinic are working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on a program to talk to patients about domestic violence. Staff members learn how to look for signs of abuse and gently ask about it.

•Alisa Velonis, a family violence prevention specialist with the health department, also wants to create a marketing campaign that will help people recognize emotional abuse and condemn it.

Too often, she believes, domestic violence programs are aimed at helping victims instead of ending abuse in the first place.

"How do we teach people how not to be abusive and controlling?" she said. "It needs to be completely unacceptable."

•Executives from Key Bank, Wells Fargo and other businesses have met to talk about boosting domestic violence education in their employees.

•Leaders of local churches and synagogues are working with Velonis on a program for educating parts of their congregation about biblical and theological issues surrounding domestic violence, the effects of domestic violence on children, and how to effect change.

And there are subtle changes, such as the ones noticed by April Gerlock, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with the Veterans Administration who has worked with domestic violence perpetrators and victims for years.

"There's more conversation, more questions," she said about the doctors, nurses and staff she encounters throughout the community. "People are asking more specific things (about domestic violence), rather than just asking politely and changing the subject."

Still, it's hard to tell if the people that really matter - the victims - can see the effects of changes made following the Brame shootings.

One victim at the Family Renewal Shelter, a Tacoma-area shelter in a secret location, said she doesn't see the changes in action. She said she was heartbroken by Crystal Brame's death because her husband kept track of her weight and monitored her, too. But the victim said she hasn't noticed any change in the community's attitude toward domestic violence since the shootings.

Nevertheless, the people who work with victims report increased calls for help, and say victims are more aware that controlling behavior is part of abuse.

A different kind of abuse

Patterns of emotional abuse were unfamiliar to much of the community before the Brame shootings, said Eft, of the Commission Against Domestic Violence. But since the deaths, the coalition's hot line has been getting more calls from women who are reporting psychologically controlling behavior.

Eft believes that's partly because abusers have learned how to be controlling in ways that won't get themselves arrested. But she thinks it's also partly because more people now recognize emotional control as inappropriate behavior.

Crystal Brame's court filings detailed how to control another human being: Monitor her weight. Check her odometer. Go with her to doctor appointments. Criticize her for talking to others. Make her feel uncomfortable with her most beloved friends and family.

Victims of such emotional abusers often don't leave because they fear they'll lose their most precious belongings and custody of their children, and they won't be safe going to work or visiting friends because the abuser will know how to find them, Eft said.

And emotional abusers often tell friends and co-workers that the victim is crazy, hysterical and abusive herself, Eft said.

Eft believes shelters, police and victim advocates must work harder to evaluate the danger faced by emotional abusers.

"Maybe now they'll think the most dangerous guy is the tightly controlled guy," she said.

The next step for lawmakers, she said, is to find ways to penalize people for controlling behavior, the way harassment and stalking have become illegal.

"We've gone beyond the black eye," she said. "We're going to deeper and deeper layers of controlling behavior."

Turning around tragedy

The Brame shootings were a blow to Tacoma, but things were even worse in 1992, when a rash of killings prompted the South Sound's last tough look at domestic violence.

At least 20 women and children were killed by abusive husbands, ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends in the first fourth months of the year. Many of the victims had repeatedly asked for help from police and the courts.

The deaths exposed Pierce County's dismal lack of domestic violence programs. In the next few years the county created the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence and hired Ann Eft.

County officials also created a one-stop center where domestic violence victims could talk to deputies and lawyers - one of the first such centers in the country. The county hired domestic violence advocates. The state and the county increased funding for domestic violence programs.

The Brame killings, while tragic, can lead to similar sweeping changes, domestic violence experts believe.

"It was a horrible event," said Brown, the YWCA's executive director. "Yet it's important to take the energy from that and turn it into something useful."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658
lisa.kremer@mail.tribnet.com

SIDEBAR: How other states fight abuse

Lisa Kremer; The News Tribune

People talk to their hairstylists about anything - their children, their jobs, maybe even a violent relationship at home. In at least two states, Connecticut and Florida, hairstylists are trained to recognize signs of abuse, talk sensitively about it and offer phone numbers and other resources.

Here are some other innovative ideas: Most are from "50 Strategies to Prevent Violent Domestic Crimes," a book published by the National Crime Prevention Council, ww.ncpc.org.

Dental domestic violence screening, Minnesota: A university provides training to dentists on detecting signs of abuse - including neck and face trauma - in patients, and speaking to the patient about it. Some Washington dentists have been trained as well. Dentists also provide free cosmetic dental services to victims in "Give Back a Smile," www.givebackasmile.com.

The "ADT Aware" program: ADT Security Services works with local agencies to provide "panic button" necklaces to victims who have a protection order against a batterer. If the batterer approaches, the victim can press the button to summon police. Offers responding are alerted that the victim is at risk of domestic violence homicide. The program is credited with saving at least 35 lives in 160 cities. According to ADT, Seattle and Olympia participate, but not Tacoma; www.adt.com/divisions/residential/in_your_community/aware.cfm.

LINK-UP to Animal Abuse, Massachusetts: Abusers often start by abusing animals, and mistreated children might abuse their pets, according to the Humane Society, battered women's shelters and others. In Boston, when animal control officers find severe cases of animal abuse and neglect, they notify police. Officers visit the home to check for signs of other kinds of abuse and give the family literature on domestic violence resources.

Battered Men's Helpline, Maine: A 24-hour helpline is staffed by trained volunteers, and gets calls from all over the country; www.noexcuse4abuse.org.

Helping Abused Spouses To Escape, New York: Abused, indigent women get free divorces by working with Junior League volunteers who have been trained to fill out divorce paperwork. Divorces ultimately are overseen by an attorney.

Intimate Partner Disclosure, Oregon: While on probation, domestic violence offenders are required to tell anyone they date of their past domestic violence convictions and restraining orders. They are required to tell their probation officers who they're dating, and the officer checks that the date has been notified.

Stop Abuse for Everyone, Oregon: An agency helps nontraditional victims - men and people in lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender relationships - find help, plus offers local groups training in helping those victims.

Watch, Minnesota: Volunteers monitor domestic violence in county court every day of the year, taking notes and identifying patterns that lead to problems.

Employers Against Violence, Arizona: An institute provides training to businesses on signs of abuse, how to help, company liability and sample policies; www.aidv-usa.com.

Toolkits for Physicians, Michigan: A medical insurance plan provides free kits to doctors and hospitals throughout the state with posters, cards for patients, tip cards for doctors and a gauge for measuring bruises and wounds; www.bcbsm.com.

Child Abuse Listening and Meditation, California: Specialized counseling program for children who witnessed domestic violence in the home, who are statistically more likely to become involved in unhealthy relationships themselves; www.calm4kids.org.

Domestic Violence-Free Zone, Massachusetts: A 1994 law designated Cambridge a "domestic violence-free zone," with 65 signs posted around the city and new training mandated for employees of the city, school district and local hospitals; www.ci.cambridge.ma.us/~women/dvfzintro.html.

THE SERIES

SUNDAY: Many who knew of David Brame's troubles so far escape punishment.

MONDAY: Police department rediscovers pride.

TODAY: Shootings prompt awareness and reform to fight domestic violence.

WEDNESDAY: Gig Harbor moves on from the tragedy. And Crystal's loved ones carry her memory and a desire for reform.

ON THE NET: www.tribnet.com

Inside

Domestic violence: How it affects children. A9

Debra Hannula: This lawyer gets things done. A9

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