Op-Ed: Powerful Secrets in Abusive Relationships

Crystal Judson Brame with her children Haley and David

Today is sadly the 20th anniversary of the day Crystal Judson Brame was fatally shot in a Gig Harbor, WA parking lot by her estranged husband, Tacoma’s Chief of Police David Brame, before he shot and killed himself. He used their two precious, little kids as bait, and they witnessed the carnage from the backseat of David’s car.

The night before he shot Crystal, I saw a news report about the allegations of domestic violence featuring Chief Brame. I knew he was going to kill her, but I didn’t have a way to contact her or protect her. My feelings of impotence in that moment are why I ultimately started this blog which today has an international audience of nearly one million. We aren’t alone.

The Dance by Henri Matisse

One year later, the Seattle Post-Intellligencer published my op-ed:

“I can kill you and get away with it,” are words I never expected to hear when we danced until dawn on the night we met.

He is a judge. I was a lawyer. Judges don’t do things like that. Not to lawyers. I believed this fairy tale until 1992.

The first time he aimed a gun at my head I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

Crystal Brame had the same experience. Her estranged husband, top cop David Brame, carried out his threat on April 26, 2003, in front of their children in a Gig Harbor parking lot.

Crystal needed one person — just one person — to protect her. Those paid to protect her rallied around David — the man with the badge, the gun and the power.

The Legislature in Olympia responded to her murder with a raft of legislation. Not one of those bills would have protected Crystal. The wife of a beat cop can go to the top cop. But where does the wife of the top cop go for protection? The wife of a military officer? A judge? A CEO? A star athlete? A doctor? A lawyer? Like Crystal, we’re on our own.

Crystal’s story isn’t an isolated case. She wasn’t the only woman in Washington living in fear of a powerful man who abused the woman he pledged to love as well as the power of his position. I’ve met her sisters living in fear. How many more must die?

Domestic violence kills more women each year than breast cancer. We don’t need research or money to end domestic violence. We need a moratorium on callous indifference and apathy. We need courage, integrity and leadership.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton started the women’s movement to end domestic violence. Unfortunately, it never became a priority for her followers. Women have the right to vote, but we aren’t equal. Domestic violence robs too many of us of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our path to freedom from abuse resides within the First Amendment and relies on an unwavering commitment to journalistic integrity as demonstrated by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when it broke Crystal’s story. The press is our most viable lifeline. The power of the press gives us a voice and equalizes the power equation.

The judge I mentioned lives in a one-newspaper town. He was elected to his state’s supreme court on the platform that he had “extensive experience with family and child abuse.”

The press knew it was “hands-on” experience but never told the voters. Now he sits on the court of last resort for women seeking freedom and safety from abusive relationships.

This is why I passionately believe Seattle must remain a two-newspaper town. We need a watchdog.

Washington State created the fabulous Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). We have two women senators. Our attorney general is running for governor.

There’s no excuse for someone like Crystal to have no place to turn to for help, guidance and protection. Local shelters don’t know what to do. Often they have a misguided belief than an alliance with abusive top cops and judges will protect their other clients.

Crystal’s family has called for federal legislation that will cut off federal funds to agencies that enable employees who engage in domestic violence. It’s been a year. Where is it?

April 25, 2004


See also:

Honoring Crystal Judson Brame: 10 Years of Triumphs and Tears, April 26, 2013

Remembering Crystal: Life’s Lessons on Escaping the Abuse of a Powerful Man, April 26, 2009


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