Some names have been changed or omitted for security and confidentiality purposes.
Pam never imagined she could become a victim of domestic violence. With a past in social work, she thought she knew the signs.
But in 2004, Pam, a South Bay resident, was hospitalized for six months after a man she’d fallen for held her captive far from her family in Washington state. He beat her with whatever he could, mostly favoring bricks and cement blocks, and eventually strangled her to the brink of death.
By the time she escaped, she had five broken ribs, a broken jaw and facial bones fractured in several places, a detached retina, broken teeth, a collapsed esophagus that required the insertion of a trachea tube, paralyzed vocal chords and one ear partially ripped from her head. As a result of her injuries she had 40 percent of her vocal chords removed and her entire face had to be reconstructed.
Her captor, Darren Woodley, was apprehended by U.S. Marshals, and after three years of litigation pleaded guilty to assault and domestic violence after he was faced with a trial by jury. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison – 10 years beyond the sentence requested by the prosecutors.
Pam came to realize that anybody, no matter their knowledge, wealth or social status, can get sucked into a deadly cycle of domestic violence. She had no help, such as the Domestic Violence Victims Advocate program in Redondo Beach, whose 23 on-call advocates receive about 140 emergency calls a year from women like Pam who find themselves in danger.
Society has evolved a great deal from 100 years ago, when domestic battery was legal and a wife was considered the property of her husband. Laws like the 1994 Violence Against Women Act provided the power to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women and established the Office of Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. It strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders and trained over 500,000 police, prosecutors, and judges a year, ensuring that police respond to crisis calls and understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence.
However, after 18 years, the bill expired this month when the House failed to vote on the Senate’s reauthorization of the law.
In the 1970s, Redondo Beach resident Pat Dreizler and other community members founded the Domestic Violence Victim’s Advocacy Program to help abused men and women throughout the community.
“Back then it was not the thing to do, talk about people’s problems,” Dreizler said at a recent domestic violence vigil outside Redondo City Hall. “But little-by-little we saw that domestic violence was one of the (biggest) problems. Most men thought, ‘No way am I going to have somebody tell me that I can’t do what I want to do in my home.’ And that sort of tuned us into wanting to change that.”
Redondo Beach is the only beach city that has a domestic violence advocacy program and one of the only city-run programs in the state. Fifteen percent of the program’s clients are men and a growing number of clients are teens; the rest are women of all ages.
According to the Bureau of Justice, three women are killed by a current or former partner each day in America. A 2000 National Violence against Women Survey found that 2.3 million people are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year. Of those women, they averaged 6.9 physical assaults per year by the same partner.
The advocacy program works in conjunction with the Redondo Beach Police Department to help guide victims of domestic abuse through the legalities and psychological trauma of abuse. Advocates, multilingual men and women, work around the clock to ensure that if domestic violence victims come to the police department they get the help they need. The volunteers are called at all hours by the police to talk to the victim both at the station and at the scene of the crime.
“We arrive on the scene and see the client in crisis, but by the time we leave they’ve calmed down and are no longer crying incessantly,” said Maureen, a local advocate. “They’re open to following-up on referrals and resources that we provide them and they feel much more comfortable and no longer alone.”
“You’ll find most often it’s not the first time,” said advocate and former police officer John. “Often they’ll feel comfortable talking to the advocate and the officer is an intimidating factor. It’s important to understand that and be sensitive to their needs. When a victim is hurt or even when there aren’t any physical injuries, emotional trauma is very serious. That’s why we have the program.”
The advocates also go to court with the victims to help them navigate the labyrinth of proceedings and paperwork. They provide moral support, helping victims find a road to recovery and safety.
“It’s a great thing, the effect that the advocates have,” said advocate coordinator Ericka Gonzalez. “They’re the light at the end of the tunnel, and I truly believe it because we’ve seen people go from feeling helpless to being out there getting a job and moving on. It’s not an instant thing; it takes awhile, but it’s important.”
Pam believes she was targeted by her abuser. She was just leaving a hospital in Hawaii, where she was taking care of her adoptive mother, when Darren Woodley approached her.
Her father had recently died, leaving Pam with over a million dollars and a hole in her heart that left her vulnerable to a predator. She met Woodley on the street, seemingly by coincidence, while taking a walk. He was sweet and attentive. Pam was flattered he was paying attention to her.
“He said, ‘Good evening, beautiful night for a walk. Would you like some company?’ That was it. I was at my wits’ end… I didn’t do what I normally would do, in terms of vetting this guy. I was in my own grief and overwhelmed and he caught me at my weakest moment… and there will always be somebody to prey on you at your weakest moment. It doesn’t matter how young, old, rich or poor you are.”
Woodley convinced her to move from Hawaii, where she was taking care of her mother, to Washington. He told her he ran adult family homes on the mainland and could take better care of her adopted mother. She thought it was fate.
But he slowly managed to separate her from everyone she knew, even her two daughters, one who was 18 and still a dependent.
“When we got there it wasn’t at all what we agreed,” said Pam. “He was very controlling and over a couple of weeks isolated me from everyone. He was a masterful psychopath. When I had any phone conversations, he was listening, and he would limit what I could say. I had to be quick, and then he started answering my phone and saying I wasn’t available and would pass along the message. Everyday he took it a step further until people stopped trying.”
Pam admits that there were red flags everywhere that she just didn’t see. “When I look back on them, boy, can I see them now.”
Eventually Pam’s new wealth was depleted to nothing.
“I’ll never see it. That was his motive, to take control of that,” Pam said.
Woodley secretly drugged Pam with liquid morphine and other drugs intended for her mother and in her delirious state convinced her to sign over ownership of her finances. “He did that by getting me to a place where he could get me to sign documents giving him the power of attorney. He even forced me to go through the charade of marrying him so he would have a stronger legal standing.”
One daring night after Pam was strangled so badly that Woodley left her for dead, Pam snuck out of the house in her bare feet. Despite her broken body, she managed to buy clothes at a thrift store and drive to the hospital. Her injuries were such that she was on the hospital’s surgical floor for a month. She was physically unable to press charges for weeks, and she was feared what would happen to her mother, who was still under Woodley’s control.
”I didn’t want her to be in danger,” said Pam, who moved back to the South Bay after the ordeal. “It took me about a month when I was in the hospital to get that and I had to play along and say (to Woodley) ‘thank you for your intention to help my mother, she’s really not your responsibility.’”
A social worker visited and attempted to help Pam press charges. Police did not follow up on her case after it was reported.
Pam was in rehabilitation for four months. After she was strong enough to leave the respiratory rehabilitation facility, her biological mother drove her to the police department. Her face was severely deformed, but police realized she was the woman who had asked for help months earlier.
“When I walked in it was like they saw a ghost because they knew I was the person they never bothered to follow up on,” said Pam. “The police were immediately taken off the case and the U.S. Marshal started working towards getting him apprehended. In the meantime he had already victimized a couple of women.”
Pam had to trudge through the legal and emotional process by herself. She had nothing, and even her daughters were confused about what happened to their mother.
“They couldn’t understand,” Pam said. “They saw me as the one that no matter what always kept it together and could figure out the solution to any problem. They still can’t understand how I could allow someone else to take control of my life. They still don’t get it to this day.”
Tobi Quintiliani, the senior director of community response and relations for the 1736 Family Crisis Center in Torrance, met Pam at the center.
“If only you guys could have had counseling she would be clear on all that,” Quintiliani said to Pam about her relationship with her daughters. “It’s sad to hear. I can just see the glaring absences of the services that we have.”
The program has four shelters located confidentially throughout the L.A area with 150 beds that are almost always filled. Annually, the program’s crisis centers respond to 5,000 direct calls for help and reach 20,000 people through outreach and education.
Quintiliani said education is the most important part of her job.
“We really try as hard as we can to educate the public so that people know what to do,” she said. “A lot of times we hear about friends who don’t know what to do, and sometimes they get tired of trying to reach their friend so they turn away from the person and therefore they play into the hands of the batterer, who is just trying to isolate them.”
Sixteen years ago Julie turned to 1736 for help. She had $20 in her pocket, a truck stolen from her husband, and her two young children. She was welcomed into a confidential safe house with her son and daughter and over a period of seven months, was able to isolate herself from her husband and start a new life.
“Many people, especially women [who are] higher socially and economically and live around here are afraid of the word shelter,” said Quintiliani. “But the numbers of domestic violence are no less in higher socioeconomic areas. They are afraid shelters are dirty or somehow beneath them or they can’t leave their life. But really, our shelters are beautiful and the services you get and what you come out of it with is so worthwhile no matter where you are.”
The women who live in the homes come from all backgrounds. “We have people that have never been to school and some with PhD’s,” Quintilaiani explained. “We have people with money and people without a cent. The variety is just as wide as you can imagine it could possibly be. One hard thing is getting someone who is used to having money and thinks they have other places to go to go into shelter. But those are the people that end up murdered.”
For Julie, going to the shelter was an invaluable experience that she believes saved her life. “Going there helped me learn and grow and become whole again. You come with nothing. They clothe you, they feed you, it’s nothing like a homeless shelter – it feels like home. Don’t be afraid to go to those places at all.”
Julie was sent to 1736 with her two young children from another program in an attempt to get away from her abusive husband, who followed and found her wherever she ran.
“They did everything for me,” Julie said. “Through that organization I started believing in people again – that there are real people with real hearts and real love for one another. It changed my way of thinking about people.”
Her husband was sent to jail for stabbing a neighbor during the time she first went into protection. He has served 15 years and is up for parole in April.
Because of her experience she is keeping close tabs on the status of his release.
“I know if he’s getting out I’m going to find out when that date comes and where he is,” said Julie. “If he is, I’m going to be looking at people in cars as they drive by. I’m going to be looking a people in my rearview mirror and looking ahead and around the corner… you develop traits like being cautious and are very on top of things, always looking ahead… I’m not that scared little girl that I was before, but I’m very cautious still.”
Once the victim leaves her batterer she is at a greater risk for fatal violence once she leaves or files for divorce. According to Quintiliani, batterers at their psychological core often have low self-esteem and have suffered abuse. If the victim of domestic violence leaves her home, she is often at greater risk because the abuser feels as if he has lost his power and can be dangerous. “That is when they are at risk of being murdered. No batterer wants somebody to leave them,” said Quintiliani.
In the South Bay, domestic violence-related murders have increased dramatically with three deaths last year alone.
In February, a local mother of two, Peggy Duffy, 45, was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds in her own home. Russell Goldberg, her ex-husband, was the main suspect in the case and was located on the run in Utah later that day. The pursuit ended in a barricade and he was found dead in the car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The pair was in the middle of what friends explained as an “ugly” divorce.
Soon after Goldberg killed his ex-wife and himself, 19-year-old Courtney Bergman and her mother Vicki Bergman were found brutally murdered in their Redondo Beach home. The mother and daughter bled to death after their throats were slashed with a knife. Courtney’s on-again off-again boyfriend Jonathan Chacon, 23, was arrested and extradited later that night from Rosarito Beach, Mexico, after using a credit card to check into a hotel. Friends of the couple described their relationship as volatile and many were not surprised with Chacon’s alleged actions. He appeared in court in early March and pled not guilty to charges of capital murder. The trial is expected to unfold in 2013.
“These murderers you see every single day – they just aren’t reporting it as domestic violence,” Quintiliani said. “It kind of unnerves me a little bit. It’s domestic violence that ends in murder, but on TV they call it murder or a crime of passion – they call it everything else but domestic violence. The victims of domestic violence aren’t getting the message that this is what could happen in the future if you don’t do something.”
A new life
Shelters were Julie’s only protection from escalated violence. When she arrived, she sat down with a case manager and created a safety plan.
“Where do you work? Can’t go there. Where do you go to the doctor? You can’t go there,” said Quintiliani. “It’s creating a life. That’s a lot of work. It’s a slow process… and unless they have discovered what was emotionally going on with them then you’re going to have people go back to the batterer because really, what else are they going to do?”
“They even had a company that got all my bad debt and gave us free loans where I could pay them back without interest,” said Julie. “They found me job opportunities, helped me find an apartment and gave me the deposit for it. Even after I got out I had people adopting my family for Christmas. That’s why I adopt families now I know what it’s like.”
In some cases, police accompany victims home so they can pick-up some possessions. Pets can also be placed in foster homes for the length of the victim’s stay in the safe house.
”To start over was exciting,” said Julie. “It was exciting-scary knowing that I had nothing, but still overjoyed with the fact that I had the opportunity to live again. I would rather start over with nothing than be where I was with everything.”
Women stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons.
“They stay because of fear, economic dependence, confusion, loss of self-confidence; not recognizing that what’s happening is abusive and even the belief that the abuser needs their help or will change,” said Gonzalez, the advocate coordinator in Redondo’s program.
Many feel they don’t have any other options and are worried about financial security or losing their children.
“We blame ourselves,” said Pam. “We think that something that we did triggered this behavior on the part of the batterer. Everyone’s responsible for their own actions. Nothing we can say or not say or do will trigger someone else to be physically abusive to us. We have to own that, and not be codependent in that way. They have to be responsible for themselves… If the peas are a little bit mushy that doesn’t mean I need to get hit in the face with a brick.”
The cycle of violence that traps a person in a relationship is volatile.
“A big piece is understanding the psychological concepts that get people hooked into that,” said Quintiliani. “I think with more empathy and knowledge out there the problem could decrease just by being there for the victim. The number one problem that happens is that every victim finds themselves isolated with the batterer and nobody else is there to help them.”
Often times, abuse isn’t just physical.
Ann thought she found the love of her life. She was recently divorced and was a single parent living in Redondo Beach. In 2009, she was at a park with her son when a man caught her attention. Their kids were playing together and getting along well, so she made her way over to the boy’s dad and introduced herself. His name was Jon, he was single, and he quickly invited her to dinner in Manhattan Beach. He was handsome and their sons were getting along, so she immediately accepted.
They got married three weeks later.
“He said all the right things,” said Ann. “All I ever wanted was to have a family and have another child and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want that too.’ Jon said everything perfectly, and our boys were best friends. It just seemed so right. I just went for it… He was perfect on paper, the perfect guy, husband and future father.”
When they moved in together a month after the marriage, he started showing signs of anger and possessiveness. “I was like, who is this guy?” Ann said.
They would go to parties with Ann’s friends and later he would make fun of them or tell Ann they were jealous of her. He told her that they didn’t have her best interests in mind or that they weren’t good for her. Bit by bit he fed her little tidbits about why she shouldn’t trust her friends. She began to believe him.
“He would have bouts of anger where he would just fly off the handle and overreact to small things. He was jealous and possessive, and had very irrational reactions to everyday things,” Ann said.
One day while at the gym, Ann gave her ID to a man at the counter. He said, “Hi Ann,” and smiled. She said hi back.
“I got grief for an hour about how I was flirting with the guy and how I was inappropriate and a bad wife and shouldn’t interact with other men,” said Ann. “I got lectured over simple things like saying hello, so eventually I started walking around with my head down. I didn’t look at anybody, I didn’t talk to anybody.”
Ann always saw herself as an open and loving person, but soon she was isolated from both her friends and family, and even afraid to interact with strangers. Every time Jon gave her grief about her actions, or even inactions, all she wanted to do was calm him down. She realized that the more she defended herself, the more he tried to prove he was right.
“Eventually, I stopped fighting it and eventually I just internalized it was easier just to keep the peace,” Ann said. “It went into my hard drive, like other little things he did. I knew it wasn’t right, but I just couldn’t win.”
The formerly bubbly Ann started walking on eggshells.
“I just didn’t want to rile him up, because when I saw that anger come out it was just scary,” she explained. “He would lose control and act irrationally and it was just my natural reaction to say, “Okay, okay, just don’t get mad.’”
In public he was the loving father and husband she initially fell in love with. Behind closed doors she could never tell what would make him angry and fly out of control.
“It was instant, like oh my God – all of the sudden he’s arguing with me and I’m just standing here,” Ann said.
After he angered and Ann pushed away, he would pull her back in by being the man she initially fell in love with, loving, affectionate and attentive. When she confronted him about his anger, he’d apologize profusely. He would sugarcoat everything and say he was sorry. She forgave him, again and again.
One day Ann reached her breaking point. They were at a coffee shop and got into a loud yelling fight.
“I didn’t fight, I’m not a fighter,” said Ann. “I ran out and said, ‘I don’t want to be around you, you’re yelling at me!’ He chased me into the parking lot and backed me up against a door on a wall. I was never, ever put in that kind of situation. It was total fear and panic and anxiety that I’ve never ever experienced. It was the first moment where I was actually afraid. This was panic and fear that he was going to hurt me– and he’s much bigger than me. It was horrible.”
She was literally and figuratively up against a wall.
“I saw a door and my voice inside said, ‘Go, run,’“ she recalled. “I unlocked the door even though I was scared. I ran down the beach and called my friend.” Jon chased her down the beach and said he was sorry and that he loved her.
“That’s when I spotted it,” said Ann. “I thought, wait a minute. If you really loved me you wouldn’t have chased me and put me up against the wall.”
Jon pulled her back in and soon she was pregnant. After another irrational fight she knew that she had to save both her life and her baby’s. She went into a room and locked the door. She didn’t know who to turn to, so she typed in “violence,” “help,” and “what do I do?” into the computer.”
The next morning she had a plan. She woke up and pretended as if it were just any other day. She drove her son to school as usual, and on the way back she stopped at the Redondo Beach police station. She didn’t have any bruises or broken bones, so she couldn’t file a report, but the officer told her to stay in the lobby and he would get her help. The officer gave her a flier about the Domestic Violence Victim’s Advocacy Program and when she opened the pamphlet and saw a diagram of the cycle of abuse, she started bawling.
“I knew that was what was happening to me,” said Ann. “I didn’t know what the cycle was or that I was in the middle of it until I went to the police department.”
She was introduced to Gonzalez and that same day went to the courthouse and filed for a restraining order. She sent her son to stay with his father, Ann’s first husband, and she filed a police report that forced him to move out of the house they shared in South Redondo. She called her mother to ask her for help and told her what happened. Her mother told Ann she couldn’t assist and suggested asking a friend.
“She didn’t think she was strong enough to handle it,” said Ann. “She was scared. I was like, this isn’t about you! I had nobody but Ericka and my friend Rhonda that he wasn’t able to isolate me from. For some reason, he wasn’t able to get rid of her. She was my only friend.”
Ann and Jon were together for three months total. Looking back she can identify all the red flags, but when she was with him she couldn’t see straight. In a very short amount of time he took her from a strong, happy woman to not being able to trust herself or her friends.
“That’s what they (batterers) instill in you – self doubt,” Ann said. “If you can’t follow your gut feeling, you are lost; you are driving without a compass. His whole purpose was that he wanted to replace my intuition so I wouldn’t know if something was okay unless he told me it was okay. Trust your gut and don’t question that voice you hear inside your head. Your gut is a viable source of information, just pay attention to it.”
Even with legal protection and community resources like the advocates and crisis center, Quintiliani thinks there is still need for progress, society-wide.
“There’s still not that understanding,” she said. “People still think a woman in that situation has a choice and ‘Why doesn’t she just leave him?’ is still a pertinent thing that you hear. It’s just not understood enough.”
This is where education comes in. Gonzalez and Quintiliani stress that a victim’s family and friends are often the people that are able to objectively identify the signs of domestic violence and have the strength and power to help. But like Ann’s mom, many don’t understand the cycle and do not have any tools or the emotional capability to assist.
“Who knows the percentage of abuse that is in your community,” said Redondo Beach domestic violence advocate John. “But I can tell you it’s large. We get a very, very small percentage that calls the police. But there are people today, this minute, that are being victimized physically mentally and psychologically and we probably won’t hear about it until it gets to the point of a serious injury. Through this program at least we’re able to do something in our community.”
Ann, Pam and Julie all encourage victims to seek help immediately if they are in an unhealthy situation.
“People deserve to be with someone who appreciates who they really are and if you ever sense that somebody is trying to change who you are, be aware – that’s a red flag,” said Ann.
Family members and friends can take action into their own hands if they sense a friend is in a danger by continuing to listen and not allowing their friends to become isolated.
For Ann, the advocacy program helped her regain her sanity. The volunteers believed her story even though she wasn’t physically bruised, and helped her get to a place where she could think rationally.
“They helped me remember I was a normal person, that I wasn’t crazy,” said Ann. “And it was after that that I was able to rebuild my life.”
To report abuse in the South Bay and contact the Domestic Violence Victim’s Advocates visit the Redondo Beach Police Department at 415 Diamond Street or call their confidential phone line 24/7 at 310-379-2477 ext. 1-2336.
To contact the 1736 Crisis Center from anywhere in L.A County call any of their five 24-hour hotlines: 213-745-6434, 213-222-1237, 310-370-5902, 310-379-3620or 562-388-7652; collect calls accepted.
Other resources include the YWCA’s 24-hour sexual assault crisis hotline at 1-877-943-5778 or the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.