The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, January 11, 2013

Death by Domestic Abuse

When I got to my office, I was shocked to see this in the New York Law Journal:
Grief-stricken colleagues of Theresa Gorski, a 47-year-old Legal Aid Society attorney who devoted the last decade of her career to advocating for children, met with counselors yesterday in the aftermath of what was described as a domestic violence-related death.
Gorski died Jan. 9 when she was removed from life support at Phelps Memorial Hospital, a short distance from her home in Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County. According to law enforcement, she allegedly was choked early on the morning of Jan. 5 by her husband, Christopher Howson, in the home they shared with their 5- and 8-year-old daughters.

Howson, 49, was charged with second-degree attempted murder and first-degree strangulation. Additional charges are pending now that Gorski has died.
The article identifies her as the Theresa Gorski who "was admitted in 1991 after graduating from Columbia Law School."

My classmate. The minute I saw the name, I was hoping it wasn't, but that's our year and law school. The more it's sat with me today, the more horror-struck I am by it.

Theresa and I weren't close friends, but we were friendly; she was kind in a pretty tightly wound environment, and, although she worked hard and long, she was funny, and interested in her classmates. Columbia was a little lighter and brighter for her presence. What I remember of her in classes is borne out by how she's described as an advocate by one of her adversaries: "extraordinarily well prepared, and [her] low-key, soft-spoken nature was left at the doorstep when she went to court." We didn't keep up, as is so often the case. There are only a handful of friends from those days that I've stayed in touch with. Columbia Law School was not, for me, a place where deep friendships were forged--although at least one college friendship really bloomed when a fellow Fordham alum and I met up again there. (The friend in question is a conservative, but we disagree agreeably, and I'm grateful for that beyond words.)

I grieve for Theresa, who in the nearly 23 years since we graduated, did great things in the law; the same adversary quoted above called her "a champion for children." Not a bad epitaph. But, to die so young, and in such a horrible way, at the hands of the one person she should most have been able to trust! I think of the young woman I casually knew, and shared the pressure cooker environment of CLS with, and remember her bright promise, her potential, and it's like I'm there again, in the uncomfortable, pretty ugly law school building we called the Toaster (they've improved on it since then), and I feel vertigo at the thought of Theresa going into the dark in so terrible, unfair a way. And God alone knows what other revelations will surface about her life outside of the office, or what will never be known. She deserved better, far better. And so did her children, deprived of their champion at so young an age.

The kind of abuse that led to the death Theresa suffered is horribly common--the NYLJ says that
One of the crimes initially charged against Howson, first-degree strangulation, has been on the books for only two years. It was created to fill a gap in the Penal Law after authorities and advocates complained that domestic violence victims were often choked to the brink of death and, absent a visible physical injury, district attorneys could charge nothing more serious than harassment, a mere violation. Until November 2010, strangulation was not a crime in New York State.

Johanna Sullivan, counsel to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said that law enforcement began charging under the new statute from the day it took effect. Now, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), about 1,000 strangulation arrests are made every month.

Sullivan said strangulation is a common way for abusers to exert power over their victims, bringing the victim to the very edge of death.

"Someone can strangle someone almost to the point of dying, and will use that over and over again as a way of gaining power and control," said Sullivan. "They threaten the victim by almost killing them."

Sullivan said studies show that victims who have been strangled in the past are almost 10 times more likely to be killed through domestic violence.
I'm a lawyer. For three years, I did criminal appeals for Legal Aid. How did I not know these facts? Because they didn't directly touch anyone I knew?

I'm not sure why I'm writing this; maybe it's because I want everyone to learn from this hideous tragedy that domestic violence can enter the lives of the competent, engaged professional women who protect its victims in their professional lives. Maybe it's just because I want to pay tribute to my classmate Theresa, who did good, and deserved so much better. Maybe it's because I don't want to let her slip into the dark without a salute and a shabash from me. We're middle aged, now. The number of those who remember that rough and tumble, and what we were all like then--it ain't going up.

Plotinus said that nothing that really is can ever die. I believe that, truly I do. And I believe that all that Theresa was is, in a very real way, not lost. But let's not fool ourselves. This is a cruel loss for every life she touched, and an indictment of us as a society. There are those who claim that we live in a culture of death, often are dubious grounds. These statistics, and the shattered lives they represent aren't dubious.

God be with her, and her family.


Catherine said...

May she finally rest in peace and rise in glory.

Anglocat said...

Amen, Catherine. Amen.

Anonymous said...

John, so terribly sickened and saddened to have read this--for her, for her poor children, and for you. God grant her peace and God make speed to save this world that appears to have gone completely mad. Thank you for posting this, nonetheless, and shedding light on this horrible trend.

God's peace,

Bryan Hunter

Anglocat said...

Thank you, Bryan, and God's peace to you and yours. I'm glad you found your way over here.

Anonymous said...

Anglocat, I've been trying to find a photo of Theresa so I can remember who she is. I was CLS '91and a reasonably social person at the time, so I probably met her while we overlapped, but can't picture her and could not find a photo on the web when Googling her name. Do you know a website that has one? Sorry for a rather banal request to your heartfelt post.

Anglocat said...

Anon, I don'y have one. There's a gallery on google images, which has one among a gallery of others with the same one, but the link isn't taking here.

No problem with the request, I just am too poor a computer tech person.

I wonder if we knew each other? I'm John Wirenius, '90, when I'm not here.

Dorothy Handelman said...

Your post was beautifully written about someone from my community whose death has beenunfathomable loss. I wanted to let you know there is a fundraiser tomorrow night, March 21st, in Tarrytown at Watercooler- attached find a link to the information as well as info about the fund that has been established for the children.

thank you-
Dorothy Handelman

Anglocat said...

Thank you, Dorothy. I'll front page this event when I get home, and will donate to the fund. Thanks for reaching out to me.