If a woman who has successfully filed a protective order against her abusive estranged husband, and then he abducts and murders her, have we failed yet another victim of intimate partner violence?
Separated from her husband, Philip Gilberti, who had a history of abusing her, Heather Lynn McGuire has filed a series of protective orders against her husband, fearing for her safety. He harassed her twice this passed weekend, prompting her to call police who arrested him both times. Both times he was released on bail, free to harass her again. On Tuesday morning, he abducted her in his minivan, shot her in the head, and pushed her body out of the car into the intersection of Connecticut and Knowles Avenues in Kensington, Maryland.
Despite Gilberti’s record of abusing and harassing McGuire, and his long criminal record (including battery, attempted murder, stalking, etc.), he was set free on bail twice this passed weekend. Preliminary investigation of the investigation yielded that the second judge, Hon. Barry Hamilton, released him on bond (which he did not have to pay right away), because the court computers were down, disallowing the judge to see his extensive record. Later on Tuesday, after Gilberti murdered McGuire, police found him dead — he committed suicide.
Do Protective Orders Really Protect?
Simply defined, protective orders, also known as restraining orders, are legal injunctions designed to prevent a particular behavior, namely contact between a person who is likely harassing someone else and the person being harassed. An important note about these orders is that they are reactive, rather than preventative; that is, a person is punished upon violating the protective order, but little is done to prevent the violation in the first place. For Gilberti, his punishment was being released on bond, thus he was set to pay a fine. Somehow stalking, harassing, and threatening McGuire even after being arrested once this weekend was seen as appropriately punished with another verdict of release on bond. Sadly, this free pass left open the door for Gilberti to murder McGuire.
There are too many sad stories that leave many advocates to wonder whether protective orders are enough. The Wikipedia entry about restraining orders suggests the following about the effectiveness of these legal strategies to protect oneself from further harassment:
Experts disagree on whether restraining orders are effective in preventing further harassment. A 2010 analysis published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law reviewed 15 U.S. studies of restraining order effectiveness, and concluded that restraining orders “can serve a useful role in threat management.” However, a 2002 analysis of 32 U.S. studies found that restraining orders are violated an average of 40 percent of the time and are perceived as being “followed by worse events” almost 21 per cent of the time, and concluded that “evidence of [restraining orders'] relative efficacy is lacking,” and that they may pose some degree of risk. A large America-wide telephone survey conducted in 1998 found that, of stalking victims who obtained a restraining order, more than 68 per cent reported it being violated by their stalker. Samuel Goldberg, a Boston attorney specializing in partner abuse cases, remarks that restraining orders are awarded so casually that “they are not taken as seriously as they should be.”
A Good Victim
Law enforcement, concerned that this tragic incident sends the message that protective orders are meaningless and, as a result, victims of continued intimate partner violence are own their own to protect themselves, has implied the following:
Authorities say the last message they want battered women to take from this is that they cannot protect them. The sheriff says the data very clearly show that women who go for help are far safer that those who try to tough it out alone.
Women who seek help are likely safer than those who don’t on average. That means that there is probably a greater percentage of women who have sought legal and advocacy assistance who remain safe when fleeing violence than those who don’t seek such help. But, those numbers did not translate into safety for McGuire:
McGuire and her children came to the Family Justice Center several times for help. She’d taken out numerous protective orders and used the social services and counseling available. She was in shelters several times because the situation got very violent.
Some local television news coverage of the murder seemed to paint McGuire as a good victim. That is, she did all that she should have as a victim of intimate partner violence. She did everything right — but, why is she dead today? Besides sending the scary message that there is little to offer to individuals who are fleeing violence, there also seems to be the unspoken criticism that victims who never report the victimization they face and seek assistance are somehow bad victims. Such a criticism misses the many barriers that victims face in reporting and seeking help: fear of violence; fear of being cut off financially; fear of violence against one’s children or other relatives; worry that one’s story will not be believed by police, friends, and family; being forced to out oneself in the case of same-sex relationships; among other barriers.
Where Do We Go From Here?
- You can donate money in person or online to support Heather Lynn McGuire’s children.
- We need to take seriously reports from friends and family about their exposure to violence or fear of such violence.
- We are overdue to assess what more we can do to protect victims of intimate partner violence from further violence.
- We need to better support existing shelters and other services for victims of violence, and support the creation of new services.
- We need to stop looking to explain individual cases of violence, for it keeps us stuck on assessing motives, blame, and individual mental health status. Rather, we need to better understand how communities, organizations, and society as a whole are failing to prevent violence and protect and support victims of violence.