The Answer Requires Prevention Instead of Retribution
On this planet, we only get one chance at life; one chance to reach our potential; one chance to make our contributions to society and one chance to enjoy the pleasures of life. This is why our continued tolerance of domestic violence and child abuse is so painful to me and so wrong. Most domestic violence and child abuse does not immediately end a life, but it does interfere with survivors’ one chance to enjoy life and reach their potential.
Bresha Meadows is a 14-year-old-girl who should have a wonderful life in front of her. Her intelligence, character and talent would allow her to have the good life she deserves, but her community’s tolerance for domestic violence placed her in an impossible position with no good choices.
Her father, Jonathan Meadows was a dangerous abuser who repeatedly assaulted Bresha and her mother and her sisters. He had a gun that he often used to threaten to kill the family. Five years ago, her mother, Brandi Meadows, sought a protective order, but as often happens in our broken system, she felt pressured to withdraw it. Bresha ran away to her aunt who is a police officer in Cleveland. This led to meetings with the police in Warren and the child protective agency, but they did nothing to protect her family from the abusive father.
Bresha Meadows shot and killed her father with his own gun while he was sleeping in order to save her mother and sisters. Her mother says that Bresha is a hero. Obviously she is biased, but she also knows more about the circumstances than anyone else. The police who failed to protect Bresha and her family have now charged her with aggravated murder.
What Is a Victim Living with a Dangerous Abuser Supposed to Do?
There is little doubt that Bresha and her family were in grave danger. At first blush it seems like she used an extreme response and one not supported by the criminal laws. But what were the realistic alternatives? We would like to think that when one is in danger they can tell the authorities and they will be protected. Unfortunately, in a system that has not made the prevention of domestic violence a high priority, there is a good chance that they would not be protected. The father would probably have continued access to his victims and our custody courts would likely give him substantial control. It is not just that the attempt to obtain protection would likely fail, but he would know about it and take steps to punish or silence his victims even more.
Bresha probably believed that she and her family would die unless she killed him first, but self-defense is defined by a male standard so that the age, gender and circumstances of the defendant are not considered. Abuse victims must wait until his attack and by that time it is too late to survive.
So what was Bresha supposed to do under the circumstances in this case? She had already reported her father’s abuse to the authorities and they did nothing to protect her family. She tried to run away, but was sent back. So essentially the victims could sit and wait to be killed or as Bresha decided, kill him first.
Bresha poses no risk to the community. If she was released she could hopefully get therapy concerning her father’s abuse and seek to reach her potential. We cannot make it legal for victims to kill their abusers both because we don’t want to encourage vigilante justice and such a law would encourage still more domestic violence homicides. An individual prosecutor can and should refuse to prosecute in the interests of justice. The real problem is that by the time the father’s abuse reached the dangerous point there were no good responses. Society must implement effective prevention practices long before the victims reach the point of desperation.
Bresha Needed The Quincy Solution
Most domestic violence crime and especially murders can be prevented, but we wouldn’t know it from the community’s response to the Meadows family. The Quincy Solution is a group of best practices based on current research and the success of these approaches in communities like Quincy, Nashville and San Diego. In Quincy, a county that averaged 5-6 domestic violence homicides enjoyed several years with no murders.
The Quincy Solution would require cooperation among police, prosecutors, probation, child protective, courts, domestic violence agencies and other community organizations. They would engage in strict enforcement of criminal laws, protective orders and probation rules together with practices that made it easier for victims to leave, a coordinated community response, integration of current research and technology and inclusion of the custody courts so that abusers cannot undermine domestic violence laws and practices by manipulating family courts.
These effective practices would have meant that when Brandi Meadows first sought a protective order and when Bresha ran away and sought protection, their concerns would have been taken far more seriously. The child protective agency would be able to recognize the severe risk Bresha was dealing with. The authorities would have held the father accountable and made it easier for the mother and daughters to leave. Even better, by sending a strong message that abusers can expect serious consequences for domestic violence crimes it is likely the father would never have started his illegal tactics. No doubt the father would have objected to the strict enforcement and perhaps he would have criticized the “political correctness.” Ironically, the practices he would have objected to would have saved his life.
No child should ever be put in the position Bresha found herself. This is not inevitable because we know how to prevent it. Most of the time the failure of authorities to take domestic violence seriously and hold abusers accountable does not lead to a murder, but it does lead to greatly diminished lives.
Bresha was already at risk because of her exposure to domestic violence, child abuse and other adverse childhood experiences. Sending her to a juvenile facility and the possibility of facing adult murder charges can only make her recovery even more difficult. The good news is that there would be a good chance she could recover with the right therapy and medical treatment to respond to her immediate health needs and to reduce the stress she has been living with.
I wonder if there is a conflict of interest as authorities who failed this family and refused to protect Bresha now have to decide how to respond to her decision to protect herself and her mother and her sisters. They placed her in an impossible situation, but to give this the consideration it deserves they would have to accept some responsibility.
I am glad that Brandi and her daughters are alive and still have an opportunity to live a full life and a chance to reach their potential. The abusive father was taking that opportunity from them with his long history of abuse. The authorities made it likely that the father would be able to foreclose their opportunity for a full and successful life. Bresha was called a hero by her mother because she gave her family a second chance for the only life they have.
The response from the community must avoid again taking this precious opportunity from Bresha. Instead they must learn from their mistakes in this case and implement the best practices that can make sure no child loses their one chance for a full and good life because the community has other priorities instead of preventing domestic violence. They owe it to Bresha.