By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
On the afternoon of October 4th, cell phones across the United States buzzed or beeped simultaneously, testing the national emergency alert system. Some news organizations, preparing the public for the alert, offered a warning: if you are a victim of domestic violence, and have a hidden phone at home that your abuser is unaware of, silence it before the alert. It was chilling to hear the warning, to think how a simple test of emergency preparedness could actually deepen a real, ongoing emergency for some.
Violence against women is a global blight; it transcends race, class, nationality, religious and political affiliation. The term “intimate partner violence,” is synonymous but acknowledges that there are male and non-binary victims as well. Importantly, intimate partner violence is preventable. October is Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in the United States, a moment to educate and engage in collective action to eliminate this all-too-often hidden pandemic.
Tracy McCarter’s story painfully captures the devastating impact of domestic violence. She courageously recounted her ordeal in an award-winning essay on Truthout. In it, she describes the cascade of catastrophes that followed her victimization at the hands of her violent, estranged husband.
“In March of 2020, I was living apart from my spouse,” Tracy recounted on the Democracy Now! news hour. “He had relapsed on alcohol and he would be violent, and when he was drinking, his violence would lead to attacks that included choking. As a nurse, I knew exactly how dangerous strangulation is to anyone…it is considered the most dangerous form of domestic violence.”
Tracy’s estranged husband repeatedly came to her door drunk, harassing her and her neighbors to the point where she risked eviction. “I felt desperate that if I was going to find a way to escape him for good, I needed to help him.”
So on March 2, 2020, Tracy let her husband in, despite his intoxication. Not long after, he was dead.
“He started saying, ‘Give me money. Give me money.’ I was not going to give him money to help him keep drinking,” she continued. “He then proceeds to attack me, which included a choking episode…I grabbed a knife — because I thought I would scare him out of my apartment…as he was coming toward me, he stumbled…He impaled himself on the knife that I was holding for my protection, because I had a right to defend myself. That wound proved to be very grievous.”
Tracy called 911, and did what nurses are trained to do, applying pressure to the wound.
“The police came into my apartment, and then EMS,” she said. “I was forced away from helping to save his life, put in handcuffs, and I watched the police try to perform CPR on my husband, not putting pressure on the wound, and was forced to watch them pump the blood out of his body even faster than it was already going. They wouldn’t listen to me when I was trying to tell them how to save his life.”
Tracy McCarter was charged with 2nd degree murder and sent to New York City’s notorious Rikers Island. Denied bail, she languished there for seven months, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the jail. McCarter was eventually released with an ankle monitor. She had been pursuing a masters degree at Columbia University. Columbia suspended her, for, of all things, “gender-based misconduct.” She lost her job, and couldn’t find work as she had to check the box on applications that she had a pending felony case.
Spearheaded by the grassroots group Survived and Punished, a solidarity movement grew, using the hashtag “I Stand with Tracy.” It was retweeted by several Manhattan District Attorney candidates, including Alvin Bragg, who won. Though it would take him a year in office, he finally dropped the charges against Tracy McCarter.
In May, Tracy graduated from Columbia University with a masters degree in nursing. She walked across the stage draped in a banner that read, “Columbia U failed to support this criminalized DV survivor. I graduated anyway!” She has resumed work as a nurse at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Tracy McCarter’s is just one story; there are millions more. According to the CDC, almost half of women in the U.S. – about 60 million women – reported “sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking victimization by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.” The figure for male victims is around 7%.
Seeking help when in an abusive relationship can be risky, but skilled people are available at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at thehotline.org, by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or texting START to 88788.
Millions of people suffer violence at home; too many don’t survive it. It’s past time to end the scourge of intimate partner violence. This is not a test.