Opinion

Amie Harwick death: another disappointing example of how America’s legal system views domestic violence

The treatment of the Hollywood therapist’s alleged murderer despite his track record of violence is a damning indictment of America’s judicial system, writes Alicia Lutes.

Warning: the following article includes details regarding domestic abuse. If this is upsetting to you, please take care.

Dr. Amie Harwick was an author and licensed marriage and family therapist. She was an expert in psychotherapy and sex therapy, and had a roster of clients who relied upon her. She was kind, she was compassionate, she lived her life to help people. But nobody helped her avoid the tragedy that befell her on Saturday 15 February, when she fell to her death from her third floor balcony. Her alleged murderer Gareth Pursehouse, a former boyfriend, walked out of jail a free man on a $2 million bail three days after his arrest, despite having two restraining orders taken out against him by Harwick that detailed allegations of horrific physical abuse. Her most recent restraining order expired just two weeks before she died. After he was released, it took a full day before the District Attorney re-arrested and charged him with her murder. That he was able to walk free at all is proof American society and its judicial systems are still entrenched in the sort of sexism that prioritizes cisgendered male lives over everyone else’s.

domestic violence

Amie Harwick had taken out two restraining orders against her alleged murdered

And yet, these facts and the evidence of what happened to her – her roommate states they witnessed him beating her right before she fell – wasn’t enough for the US legal system to keep him in jail once arrested. He was able, miraculously, to pay a $2 million bail and walk free. He was able to go home and post about going to the gym and US Attorney General Bill Barr on Twitter. He could go hang out with friends, see a movie, eat some food, make jokes. It’s a disgrace to Harwick’s legacy and gutting for survivors of domestic abuse to see, time and time again, that men can almost always walk free. And it also makes you ask the question: would any of this had been possible if Pursehouse were anything less than a cisgendered white man?

3 women are killed by a partner in the US every day

Anger is the dominant emotion that results from every aspect surrounding stories like these because there are Just. So. Many. Of. Them. Every single day in America, at least three women are murdered by an intimate partner. Every nine seconds, a woman is abused by a domestic partner in the US. And yet domestic violence is still not taken seriously enough on almost any level: it is embedded in our collective psyche – and even in the laws we abide by – to question the validity of a woman’s claims; to look for any rationale in which she was at fault, to show grace, compassion, and kindness to the men who “messed up” way more often than their female victims. We can show bruises, broken bones, cuts and scratches, tell our horror-iest of stories, and still there will be someone on the other end skeptical and judging, wondering what it was we did to deserve that sort of reaction. And then we project that disbelief we’ve internalized onto other victims. I know because I’ve done it myself, as a fellow domestic abuse survivor (though mine was not an intimate partner).

domestic violence

3 women are killed by a partner in the US every day

This is injustice and internalized misogyny in action: even when women take the “right” steps, like Harwick, do the things they are told they should to protect themselves – call the cops, file a restraining order – they are still told through words and actions that it isn’t enough, that we are actually the problem in the situation, not the men abusing us. You can do everything right and still end up suffering from the unmitigated rage and unresolved issues of others. Our job, as women, is to coddle and handle the emotions and whims of the men around us, lest we be seen as asking for retaliation, which is only reinforced by the ways in which our judicial system preferentialize the lives of these abusive men over the wellbeing of their victims. Domestic violence is still subconsciously considered part and parcel to interpersonal relationships to some degree. And that’s absolutely unacceptable.

That domestic violence and abuse is this pervasive and poorly handled should be enraging. The fact of the matter is that the USA as a country is okay with abusers; we respect and fear their power and will, and we sit, judging the “weak” women and others who become their victims. Because “we” would never allow ourselves to be in those situations, because “we” know better – thank you, Donna Rotunno. Because maybe the men just made a mistake, and if we gave them some second or third chances, they’d show us that they’ve learned. If that were the case, wouldn’t the statistics about domestic violence be far, far lower?

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It’s a heavy price we ask victims to pay. We put the onus on the victim to such a degree that the perpetrators have more free will and consideration of their autonomy than anyone else. But are you really that surprised? The fault does not lie with “all men,” per se, but it does lie in the socialized ideals — transferred into our laws, overwhelmingly made by white men – that prioritize the lives of cisgendered dudes over everyone else’s. Report after report comes and goes without so much as a blink most days – even if the woman coming forward is famous. Men’s freedom and “potential” is valued over the full, actual lives of women. What about Harwick’s potential? What about her life? It can’t be saved now. People know abusers can and do get away with it, and that “getting away with it” only emboldens them more. Where was the concern that Pursehouse might do something to another former girlfriend while he was out on bail? Consequences for men so often don’t exist. But they do for women. 

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