Heather Thompson was interviewed this morning by Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Heather’s case came into the national spotlight after Linda Lowen wrote about her on her Women’s Issues blog on Friday, March 13, 2009. In terms of full disclosure, Linda was writing about my popular post “Rihanna: Should You Stay? Should You Leave?”
Heather and I agree that there’s safety in the spotlight. Her friends have posted billboards letting her ex-husband know she’s surrounded by a circle of protection. She is engaging in the Outrageous Act of going on a media blitz because:
Like Barbara Bentley, whose husband served only 10 months of a five year sentence for attempted murder, Heather’s ex-husband Thomas Howard Price, Jr. was released after serving only 14 years of his 24 year sentence. This is especially shocking since Price was convicted on the federal crime of sending death threats to Heather from his prison cell. He is clearly a pit bull abuser.
Heather and her guardian angel retired state trooper Bryan Gregory have been on a media blitz for her cause. They lobbied hard and were able to get a GPS monitoring device on Price for six months. Helives with his mother in South Carolina only one and a half hours from Heather and her family. But, federal authorities won’t give Heather and her family a current photo of Price because it would be a violation of his rights. How is she supposed to know he’s on her doorstep? How are her neighbors and family going to recognize him and protect themselves? It’s outrageous.
A lot of domestic violence experts advise women like Heather to relocate and join an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). I was one of them. However, I fully appreciate Heather’s decision to stay put. Although I live under the protection of Washington State’s ACP, I have no illusions that this has prevented the man who has been stalking me since 1992 from knowing exactly where I am.
I’ve relocated twice across country in a futile attempt to evade his stalking and interference with my professional career. It’s expensive. ACPs don’t have the resources of the federal Witness Protection Program to provide housing, employment, and a new identity.
Even if they did, this all leaves the abusive person in full control of our lives. Why should Heather jettison valued connections to family and friends? Why should her family fund the cost of relocation? Why should her new husband be compelled to start over in his career? Could he even get a job without references?
And, why should this be Heather’s problem? Why was Tommy Price, Jr. released from prison before serving his full sentence? Why didn’t the State of South Carolina put safeguards for Heather and her family in place before releasing him from prison? I hope somebody doesn’t have to end up dead before laws and prison policies change to protect victims rather than felons.
In the process of attempting to craft a safety plan for Heather, I collaborated with Rita Anita Linger, who was the highly esteemed executive director of North Carolina’s domestic violence coalition. Heather had a champion in Rita Anita that most people experiencing domestic violence ~ myself included ~ only dream about. I developed great respect for Rita Anita as I observed her burn the midnight oil to ferret out every possible avenue to try to protect Heather and her children. And, I was angry about the phenomenal challenges domestic violence advocates face within a highly dysfunctional criminal justice system.
Rita Anita brought in the Family Violence Prevention Fund which offered all their resources to Heather and her family. Matt Lauer, who interviewed Heather on the Today Showthis morning, is a Founding Father which is behind the RESPECT campaign. If you don’t have your bracelet, you can buy one at Macy’s for $5.
Note: Rita Anita Linger was also the advocate for Vernetta Cockerham, whose story was in the August, 2009 issue of O Magazine. Ms. Linger wrote a guest column on protection orders which you can read by clicking here.