Lenten Luncheon I: Justice for victims of domestic abuse

No one falls in love with an abuser, said Mary Travers Murphy. People who become victims of domestic violence “are swept off their feet by a funny, loving angel.”

From left: Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center, Father Paul Nogaro of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church, and Connie Foster, domestic violence advocate with the Family Justice Center. Mary Travers Murphy was the guest speaker at yesterday’s Lenten Luncheon. She was invited by Father Paul to give a talk on “Justice for the victims of domestic violence.”

Domestic abusers are manipulative people who brainwash their victims into believing that they are those romantic folks who conducted a whirlwind courtship. Once it is obvious that they are violent abusers, they brainwash their victims into believing that they are responsible for their own abuse. Oftentimes, Mary said, “they can’t pinpoint the moment of the first kick or hit. They are traumatized and their brains have been rewired.”

Because victims of domestic abuse blame themselves for the abusive behavior of their partners, they also may not recognize that they are crime victims. They might think that they are well educated and, therefore, are less likely to be the victims of domestic abuse. They might think that, because they live in a wealthy neighborhood, they couldn’t possibly be the victim of domestic abuse.

“Abusive relationships occur in every zip code. They occur in areas with swanky country clubs. They occur in poor communities. They occur, regardless of age, race, economic circumstance. They occur in rural areas and in urban areas,” Mary said. She knows. She lost two close friends to domestic violence. In 2009, Assiya Hassan was murdered by her husband weeks after filing for divorce. “She was my dear friend. She owned a 7-11 in Orchard Park. She brought her babies to work with her two days after giving birth.” Her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, is serving a 25 year to life sentence in the New York State prison system.

Another friend was a nurse, named Angie Moss, who was found dead in Orchard Park in August 2009, the victim of an execution-style shooting.

“She hid in shadows,” Mary said. She said that Angie’s fiance forced her to sign over her life insurance policy to him. 

“People knew for a year that there was a problem. She had bruising or a busted lip. She was late to work. Her stories never lined up with reality. We lacked the courage to tell her that she was a domestic violence victim. I was the town supervisor of Orchard Park, and I had been a reporter for 25 years. These murders haunted me daily.”

It took six years for the killer to be arrested. Ronald Epps was convicted of a variety of charges, including drug charges, being a felon in possession of a weapon, and fraud. He tried to collect proceeds from Angela Moss’s life insurance policy in 2009. He never collected anything. He is now serving a 60-year sentence in federal prison, after being sentenced in December 2016 by U.S. District Judge Ronald Arcara. 

Victims fear retribution from their abusers. They fear being murdered. The perpetrators instill the fear with such threats as: 

  • You call the authorities and you’re dead.
  • If you call, I will kill myself.
In Erie County, only one in seven cases of domestic violence is reported. Here are some demographic statistics:
  • One of three girls in their early teens to about age 24 is likely to be the victim of domestic violence.
  • One in four adult women is likely to be the victim of domestic violence.
  • One in four males, both youth and adults, is likely to become the victim of domestic violence.
Annually, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department receives 14,340 domestic violence calls. The Erie County Sheriff’s Department covers all areas of the county that do not have their own full-time police force. Thus, this number is not the total number of domestic violence reports for Erie County, as it excludes the City of Buffalo, Tonawanda (town and city), and Lackawanna. Of the communities covered by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, the two communities with the highest domestic violence rates are Grand Island and Clarence.

Last summer, people on Grand Island, including Father Earle King of Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church, Karen Panzarella (a survivor of domestic violence who speaks about her experiences), and Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, approached Mary Travers Murphy about setting up a satellite office in Grand Island. Currently, the Family Justice Center has a main office in downtown Buffalo, a satellite office in Orchard Park, and another satellite office in Williamsville.

Since the summer, two potential places have been found, where a structure could be built. One is on the grounds of Island Presbyterian Church and the other is near Saint Stephen Roman Catholic Church’s cemetery. There is already a person available to serve as a staff advocate. Her name is Connie Foster. She can start before the structure is built. “I am very excited to get somewhere. I need an office with a desk and a phone.”

The speaker at next week’s Lenten luncheon will be the Rev. Sung Ho Lee of Trinity United Methodist Church. He will speak about “Justice among people with various cultures.”

4 thoughts on “Lenten Luncheon I: Justice for victims of domestic abuse”

  1. This is a real problem. In my religion, we also include those folks who deliberately withold a religious decree of divorce as abuse- since it subjects the partner to a lifetime inability to remarry.I am not saying that mental contraints are as traumatic as physical, but they are equally debilitating.

  2. Those are heartbreaking stories! I think that point is so important, that no one knows they are falling in love with an abuser. And then it must take quite some time to realize that the person they thought they knew isn't real.

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