Domestic Abuse in Raleigh: A Quiet Reality
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a three-part series examining domestic abuse in Raleigh and Wake County. To protect the privacy and the safety of our sources who were victims of domestic violence, we are only using first names and identifying information is intentionally vague.
On a sunny September morning, Kathleen Ann Bertrand was murdered by her husband Christopher Bertrand in front of Pier 1 Imports in Cameron Village. Christopher killed himself shortly after.
At the time this story was posted, the Bertrand murder was only one of five homicides in Raleigh this year with a family-violence connection. That’s four more than last year, an increase of 400 percent.
The elite West Raleigh shopping center was the last place Raleigh residents would expect the brutal end of a long history of domestic violence.
Law enforcement officials and victim advocates alike say domestic violence spans all races, religions and socioeconomic classes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by a partner. It is likely that every resident in Raleigh knows a victim of domestic violence, whether they know it or not.
Capt. Norman Grodi, who oversees the Raleigh Police Department Family Violence Intervention Unit, said that as of press time, there were 16 homicides total in Raleigh this year. Of the five domestic-violence-related killings, three were between partners or ex-partners, and two were adults causing the death of a child.
Relationship to alleged offender: Son
Nancy Pedraza, 23
Relationship to alleged offender: Girlfriend
Agata Filipsha-Vellotti, 43
Relationship to alleged offender: Estranged Spouse
Kathleen Bertrand, 41
Relationship to alleged offender: Estranged Spouse
Joshua Callahan, 2
Relationship to alleged offender: Son
There was only one domestic violence-related murder in 2011.
Grodi explained that domestic violence isn’t just the stereotypical husband-beats-wife scenario. Domestic violence could happen between boyfriends and girlfriends, ex-partners, ex-spouses, same-sex partners, common law marriages, parents and children and even grandparents and children.
In North Carolina there aren’t specific criminal offenses for domestic violence. For example, if a husband assaults his wife, he could be charged with assault on a female. If that same man assaulted a female stranger, he could be charged with the same thing. According to Wake County Assistant District Attorney Amily McCool, the cases would be handled differently and would be sent to different courtrooms.
The court checks “yes” if a crime has a domestic violence component.
According to data provided to the Record by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts and the Wake County Clerk of Court, there were about 2,400 cases in Wake County that had a domestic violence indicator of “yes” during fiscal year 2011-12. During the same time, there were about 42,600 cases statewide.
In Wake County, these numbers are up 2 percent from fiscal year 2010-11.
Despite these sorts of numbers, there continues to be a societal push to keep these problems behind closed doors in the privacy of the abused and abuser’s home. While many say things are getting better, advocates continue to have an uphill battle.
This series will examine domestic abuse — physical and emotional — from the eyes of the police, the courts, the support organizations and of the victims themselves.
We’ve interviewed two victims of domestic abuse and we will share their stories in the series. To ensure their privacy, will only be using first names and identifying characteristics are intentionally vague.
Ann-Marie is eager to share her story.
She’s eloquent, but blunt. She doesn’t coat her story with sugar. It’s real and it’s ugly.
Despite the dark time in her life, she speaks with confidence, proud of her survival and everything she has accomplished since her abuse 40 years ago.
A daughter of strict parents, Ann-Marie lived a sheltered life while growing up in Nassau County, NY. She lashed out in college.
“That’s when I began to sow my wild oats,” she said. “I had never been as free as I was before.”
She met her future husband in a nightclub. He was tall, dark, handsome and charming.
He had a criminal past and spent some time behind bars, but Ann-Marie didn’t care. She was smitten.
Her mother hated him and begged her to end the relationship. But, the young woman defied her mother’s wishes.
They dated for about a year. Ann-Marie became pregnant just before her college graduation and they eloped. Within a month, she said she knew she made a mistake.
While he was the perfect boyfriend, he proved to be a less-than-perfect husband.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but the emotional abuse had started,” she said.
Her husband began to isolate her from her friends and family. Now living in New Jersey, she didn’t have any relationship with her sisters. He was suspicious of every man Ann-Marie met, spoke to or even made eye contact with.
He often accused her of cheating.
While Ann-Marie never wanted to be sexually intimate with her husband, he forced her to be.
“I didn’t realize at the time that it was rape,” she said. He raped her all the time.
It wasn’t until 1993 that North Carolina made it illegal for a husband to sexually assault his wife. North Carolina was the last state to enact this law.
“My life was a living hell,” she said.
The Raleigh Police Department and Domestic Abuse
Many times, Grodi said, police are dispatched on a domestic abuse call because someone called 911. A uniformed police officer is sent to the location of the call and assesses the situation. Sometimes, he said, a couple will be engaged in a heated argument. Other times, there is evidence of physical abuse. In that case, an immediate arrest is made.
Regardless, the officer is required to file a report, which is forwarded to the Family Violence Intervention Unit (FVIU).
Founded in October 1997 through a federal grant, the FVIU includes 12 employees: Four uniformed officers, four detectives, two crisis counselors, one victim advocate and one sergeant. The unit has been funded by the Raleigh Police Department since 2001 when the federal funding ran out.
The FVIU is located on Oberlin Road in the InterAct Family Safety and Empowerment Center. The center houses eight organizations that focus on victim services.
Each domestic abuse case is assigned to the appropriate person within the FVIU. This person is required to make contact with the victim to make sure things are OK and that no one feels threatened or unsafe.
Depending on the situation, an investigation is started and an arrest is made.
The FVIU works with InterAct and its partners to provide counseling, safe housing and emergency restraining orders for victims.
Grodi said the goal is to make sure the altercation, no matter the severity, doesn’t happen again, especially if children are involved.
According to numbers supplied by the Raleigh Police Department, there were about 2,080 crimes related to domestic abuse in the city. These crimes include simple assaults, aggravated assaults, burglary, rape and murder.
The number of cases is down from about 3,470 in 2011.
Grodi wouldn’t comment on the exact cause of the domestic violence homicides this year, but said that in a few cases, personal economic conditions did play a roll.
The FVIU is trying to be more proactive instead of reactive by intervening earlier in the process and following up with families before things escalate, like in the case of the Bertrands.
“Unfortunately, when there’s someone that’s determined and they’ve made the decision to commit that kind of act, it’s very difficult to stop no matter how much protection is in place,” Grodi said.
Without the legal ability to track an abuser’s movements, Grodi said it’s sometimes difficult to defend victims.
“We wish you could stop it, but sometimes you just can’t,” he said.
Grodi said neighbors, friends or family members often witness domestic abuse, but don’t say or do anything. For example, he said, sometimes neighbors might hear a couple yelling and hear something break, but don’t call the police. He encourages people to make those phone calls so that the police can mediate a situation before it gets out of control.
The same goes for victims.
“If someone makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to call the police,” Grodi said.
Ann-Marie Finds Forgiveness
After three years of emotional abuse and isolation, Ann-Marie’s husband finally became violent, while they were driving across New York’s George Washington Bridge.
During a heated argument, she snapped, she said, and screamed, “I hate you!” repeatedly.
He hit her in the face as many times as she expressed her loathing. Their young son watched from the back seat of the car.
Ann-Marie feared that her husband would eventually be abusive toward his son and it was then that she planned her escape.
“My son has gone through enough,” she recalled. “He will not be abused. He will not.”
Ann-Marie packed their bags and jumped on a bus for Boston.
Her husband tried to find her and threatened to kill her parents if they didn’t give up her location.
She was stalked for about 10 years before her nightmare finally ended. Her husband died of a heart attack at 39 years old.
Despite her years of abuse, Ann-Marie attended his funeral with her son, now 13.
At the funeral, they found that her husband had changed his life around and became active in his church as a youth minister and basketball coach.
The event changed her son’s life.
“When he came back, he was a different child,” she mused.
Once plagued by behavioral issues, he was now back on track at school and active in his church community. While her son was never abused, Ann-Marie said that he was impacted by the abuse he witnessed.
Ann-Marie continued her career as a teacher and eventually earned her doctoral degree. She now works as an educator for a local college and works with InterAct speaking to other victims of domestic abuse. She has remarried.
It was during her training as an InterAct volunteer that she really understood the impact the abuse had on her.
She focuses her energy on bringing the issue to the forefront of church communities.
“I feel that the faith community hides this issue,” she said. “I call them closet abusers and closet victims. They’re leaders in church and monsters at home.”