Opinion: With domestic violence, don’t forget about the bad guys
Free Press Opinion Columnist
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Grand Junction women’s rights advocates thought we’d heard the last of disgraced, former city councilor Rick Brainard when he left the state after pleading guilty to charges of domestic violence nearly two years ago. Then, just last week, he riled local feminists again with his response to court proceedings involving a former Michael Blagg juror.
Brainard commented on Twitter a week ago, “XOXO. That darn Karma is a son of a gun.”
The juror to whom he was referring, Marilyn Charlesworth, did find herself in a mess when she became one of Brainard’s most outspoken adversaries following his 2013 domestic violence conviction. Her public statement about surviving domestic violence escalated into a series of court battles and arguments about definitions and experiences of domestic violence. It culminated in a new trial for a convicted murderer and a contempt of court conviction for Charlesworth.
Figuring out what domestic violence really means and how much of it we’re willing to tolerate has been at the heart of it all.
According to his arrest report two years before, Brainard yanked his partner around by her hair, repeatedly shoved her into furniture, and smacked her enough to leave her face black and blue, all in the presence of her child. He insisted that his actions were justified because she needed to “shut her mouth.” Although Brainard couldn’t remember what it was, his partner had said something so offensive that he “had to slap her.”
In my opinion, Brainard doesn’t believe he engaged in domestic violence. His recent Tweet about Charlesworth suggests that to this day, he perceives himself as a victim of two women: one whom he treated as a punching bag and one who held him accountable. His definition of domestic violence must be very disturbing, at best.
When Brainard refused to resign after his conviction, women’s rights advocates turned to the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce for help. The Chamber responded by hiring security guards to keep advocates from Chamber property and blocking anyone from their Facebook page who requested that they oppose domestic violence.
Neither the Mesa County Republican Party nor the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce ever provided further clarification about their position on domestic violence. The Chamber’s President and CEO Diane Schwenke did, however, sit with the crowd from the DA’s office when she inexplicably showed up at Charlesworth’s hearing last week.
Regarding Charlesworth’s definition of the crime, the things Brainard did to his partner were exactly what she grew up understanding domestic violence to be. She divorced two men for being “drunken idiots,” but since she wasn’t physically harmed by their violent behaviors and the violence only occurred when the men were impaired, she didn’t consider that domestic violence.
Judge David Bottger provided the deciding definition of domestic violence in his 2014 decision to grant Blagg a new trial. Rather than using the legal definition of the term, Bottger created his own version by using the separate dictionary definitions for “domestic” and “violence.”
Testifying as a witness against Charlesworth at her hearing last week, Bottger admitted that he had held Charlesworth to a standard for domestic violence which included a “broader class of conduct” than the legal definition. He explained that since most of us aren’t lawyers, he created a definition he thought regular people would better understand.
In a system where apparently no two people have the same perception of domestic violence and where men like Brainard are backed by those in power and judges like Bottger get to decide what we’re supposed to think, Charlesworth’s experiences as a survivor of domestic violence could not possibly be accepted as truth.
Charlesworth never set out to deceive or hurt anyone. With Brainard, she stepped up to defend our community from the influence of a violent criminal when most people looked the other way. With Blagg, she, along with eleven other jurors, sacrificed months of her life to incarcerate a man who physically, psychologically and sexually abused his wife before murdering her.
Let us remember that all of this is really about two dangerous men who find nothing wrong with harming women and children and the culture that condones their behavior.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.