By:  Samantha L. Phipps, executive director

Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County, Inc.

In last week’s editorial/article I made reference to explaining in more detail this week about men who fit a similar personality profile to John “Woody” Woodring, Bonnie Woodring’s husband, who is on the run from law enforcement for murdering Bonnie in the Jackson County, N.C. DV shelter September 18, 2006.  Before I start I want to preface all of what I am writing today by noting that abusive spouses murdering their victims in DV shelters is an EXTREMELY rare occurrence.  I have been involved (to some capacity) in the field of DV since 1985, and have never been involved with a DV shelter who suffered such a tragedy.

The Jackson County shelter took the same necessary precautions the rest of our shelters have and had been doing and had not had any murders in their shelter for 28 years.  What was different in this case was one key player – John “Woody” Woodring.  I cannot diagnose him, as I am not a therapist and do not know him.  Having read what has been in the newspapers and having been involved in a discussion about him with other shelter directors, I DO know is that he is ATYPICAL for the men most of us in the DV sheltering business will ever deal with in our careers.  And that is a good thing.  There is a spectrum/continuum associated with DV just as with any other behavior (i.e. severity of something running from not so bad on the left hand to VERY bad on the far right hand side of the continuum). As far as DV abusers/perpetrators rate on that line – John “Woody” Woodring was on the FAR RIGHT.  That is why when interviewed in Jackson County, law enforcement explained to the media that short of locking both victim and perpetrator behind bars, once a situation has become as volatile with a person such as John Woodring, there is not much anyone can do to protect the victim.  Someone like John Woodring will carry out his plan to kill his intended victim.

With all of the above in mind, I want to offer that if we as DV shelter providers have enough information ahead of time, we can work on plans to move the intended victim to another location and KEEP moving her if need be in order to keep her abuser from stalking her to the point of killing her.  But, without certain knowledge about the perpetrator we can and will be caught off guard and a tragedy will occur.  Prevention and education go hand in hand.  Not all of us are mental health experts who can legitimately “diagnose” someone as having a certain mental health condition.  But, for those us working in the field of DV, especially the longer we do what we do, we recognize red flags.  We recognize who is more dangerous that the other and act accordingly.  We need to get that information – that knowledge – out to women (and men, as there are women who perpetrate DV and stalk, etc.) so people can recognize the danger signs BEFORE they become too intimately involved with a partner who could turn on them as in the Woodring case.  To the best of our abilities most responsible parents warn our children about the dangers of child molesters.  We warn them about how to avoid being bitten by snakes, etc.  But, we still have a long way to go in teaching our children as they mature into young adults about how to avoid becoming ensnarled in a death roll relationship with a potential mate.  There will always be “bolts out of the blue,” where we cannot predict a given situation from happening.  But, sometimes I think we can do better.

Due to space limitations, I might just get started in describing “stalking,” but will continue in next week’s paper.  I have talked about people who “stalk,” and offer the following definition: “Stalking is a legal term for repeated harassment or other forms of invasion of a person’s privacy in a manner that causes fear to its target.” (Wikipedia). Each state has varying statutes, but may include such acts as: repeatedly following the victim; contacting them without the victim wanting them to do so (via telephone or letter); observing the victim’s actions/daily routines for a long period of time; contacting friend, family members, or business associates of the victim inappropriately in an attempt to be closer somehow to the victim; and, now in the computer age, “cyber-stalking.”  Stalking has been documented for hundreds of years of history, but was not defined as a crime , first declared as illegal in the United States by a 1990 California statute, then later by laws in every other state and the District of Columbia. Refer back to the continuum of severity of behaviors – stalking can be mild where the victim never knows he or she is being stalked, to the extreme – the stalker physically hurts or kills his/her victim.  After years of studying stalkers, the experts in the field of profiling them have determined that some are psychotic and some are not.  Most are NON-psychotic, but do suffer from other mental health disorders such as major depression, adjustment disorder, or substance abuse.  Some have what is known within the mental health field as Axis II personality disorders such as anti-social, avoidant, borderline, dependent, narcissistic, or paranoid disorder. Studies of stalkers indicate that the most common personality disorder noted amongst stalkers is the narcissistic personality disorder. Men and women stalk, but most stalkers are male. Next time we will learn more about narcissism and move into a real stalking story that ended tragically.

If you, or someone you know, think that he or she is being stalked, contact the FVC and/or local law enforcement for guidance and help.  For any Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault Emergency, contact the FVC’s Crisis Line: 682-0056. For education/discussion contact my office at 678-3436.