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Children & Domestic Violence

Children & Domestic Violence

In November 2008, Clifton Bernard Curtis, 33, was arrested for attempting to murder his wife of three years, Erin, also 33, in her Calvert County, Maryland home. He stabbed and sliced her with a kitchen knife 27 times, and the only reason she lived is that her terrified nine-year-old son had the courage and presence of mind to call 911.

Curtis was convicted and has been in prison ever since. But this coming November, he will be up for parole, having served half of his 12-year sentence. And that’s where this part of the story begins.

This crime of domestic violence is an all too common tragedy in modern America. But what makes this particular incident even more horrendous is that the attempted murder was perpetrated right in front of Erin’s two sons: a two-year-old toddler who was Curtis’s biological child, and the nine-year-old, who had a different father.

The 911 operator told the older child to run and lock himself in a bedroom. He unlocked the door twice after that; the first time for his little brother, whose pajamas were stained with his mother’s blood, and the second time for the police, who had trouble convincing him that he and his brother were now safe and could open the door.

Now, the Maryland legislature is considering a bill that would increase the penalty for conviction of a violent crime committed in the presence of children, or make that factor a separate crime, such as some states do for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Some opponents argue that this might open up the victim parent to charges of allowing a child to witness violence. Others claim that it makes the same degree of violence and intent subject to unequal punishment, depending on the circumstances.

We firmly support this legislation.

Mainly, we support it because we do believe that subjecting a child to viewing violence is a separate crime in the same way that killing two people constitutes two crimes even though the same gun may have been used in both murders. And the reason we say this is because there is a separate victim, whose childhood development and maturation can be severely affected by what he or she sees. That was certainly the case with Erin’s two boys, though with her love and nurturing and some effective therapy they are growing up into fine young men.

So yes, men like Clifton Curtis should get extended sentences when their depraved horror is perpetrated in front of a child, because it is like subjecting that child to combat. And we all know what combat can do to experienced and highly trained soldiers. Imagine what it can do to a child.

Then there’s the issue of the original sentence itself. Trying to kill your wife by torturing her to death with a kitchen knife ought to be worth more than 12 years, we would think. And as far as letting him out on parole after half of that time, all we can say is that if a Parole Board makes the decision to release him, they’d better be damn sure they have enough information to assure that he is no longer dangerous.

And frankly, that is a bet whose odds we would never trust.

8 Responses to In the Eyes of a Child

  1. Mindhunter says:

    Just to add or clarify what i was saying, there are three ways to handle what we fear greatly: become what we fear, learn to manipulate/abide to it (appease), or overcome it. He took action and saved his mother.
    The challenges in life he’ll have is to co-exist in a world where people won’t stand up and do the right thing, whether for self-interest, fear or apathy.


  2. Mindhunter says:

    Many victims of domestic abuse or children that is exposed to it, do not turn into violent people. The root of all craziness actually stems from the need to control. There are a lot of sociopaths that come from well adjusted homes. That’s why when one truly finds GOD they give up control, and change.
    I’m glad that Mr. Olshaker has pointed out that the Board must have an enormous amount of information for cases like these.
    If it helps, the boys act of courage and action will keep him on the right track. It’s that moment when one stands up against a bully and exhibits courage and is successful that a good “life lesson”, if you will, has been ingrained.
    Definitely longer sentences, but deals will be made for expediency and to make sure the perpetrators are locked in. Prolongation of cases and all sorts of generated “mitigating” circumstances will affect the outcome.
    I hope, Mr. Olshaker, that you got my e-mail. I know that the case I mentioned is close to John Douglas’ heart. With this situation, it is a contrast to “In the eyes of a child” as those who witnessed the crime, actually have the opposite effect. They try to relive it.

  3. mdricex says:

    It is no secret that violent offenders are not created in a vacuum. Those who offend, most often, have been victims themselves. We know this as a society. And yet…we give laughable sentences to those who systematically destroy our children and turn them into these monsters. The problem will not be fixed until we address the source, which is not giving proper salience to the effects of even indirect exposure to violence for children. You really hit this right on the head, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Olshaker, when you spoke about the correlation of exposure to these violent events and combat. One of the clinical diagnostic criteria for PTSD entails that the person be exposed to a trauma in which they perceive a threat to their life (or someone close to them)–with the key word being PERCEIVE–to which they are helpless to do anything about. Just seeing something like what was described here is enough to cause permanent psychological damage and if that does not make that child a victim and worthy of representation for justice, I honestly do not know what would.

  4. Cornerstone says:

    I just think domestic violence should have longer sentences. I don’t see why a child has to be involved, though I understand the impact on them, to motivate people to punish domestic violence. I live in a town that is loathe to do anything at all about it until someone gets killed. I like to think the woman’s life and what it does to her is just as important as the impact on the children and that we should simply punish domestic violence much more often and much more severely.

    • I agree completely, Cornerstone. I just think that when a child is witness, that creates another victim and that crime should be punished as well.

    • Tom Mininger says:

      I agree with you Cornerstone.

      • Cornerstone says:

        Thank you both for your replies. Yes, domestic abuse has a profound impact on children. Some handle it without continuing the cycle and many cannot. The reason I think it’s important to make it just as egregious when the violence is between two adults is because if it isn’t stopped early, it only further assures that children will be born into the abusive household. If it was severely punished early, then maybe that couple wouldn’t have children or wouldn’t marry or wouldn’t have more children because the man would be in jail. Of course, optimally, the victim would then also get counseling so she doesn’t continue to let bad men into her life.

    • Tom Mininger says:

      I think this article and all the commenters give excellent insight into the effects of witnessing violence on children. I believe that if a defendant is allowed to bring up extenuating circumstances during the sentencing phase of a trial, then the loved ones of the victims should be allowed to bring up their pain and suffering, including someone speaking out for the children involved. But I think this belongs in the sentencing phase.

      I don’t agree with extra charges based on who witnesses the crime. With the domestic violence issue that this case highlights I agree with harsher sentences enforced more often.

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