Penn State

Advocates urge attention, education at domestic violence awareness forum

The stories sound eerily similar.

Almost 12 years ago, a State College woman was shot and killed by her husband when she arrived home after dinner with her parents to get her belongings. Earlier that day, Nov. 8, 2001, the woman, Amy McGee, told her husband, Vincent, she was leaving him.

Just a few months ago, in March, another local woman was shot and killed by her estranged husband days after he got divorce papers in the mail. Traci Miscavish was working in the floral department of a Decatur Township supermarket when her husband, Mark, took her life and then his.

As it turns out, both women had histories of being assaulted by their husbands, and both husbands had previous run-ins with law enforcement.

Both were victims of separation violence.

The parallel plights of Amy McGee and Traci Miscavish and broader perils and challenges of domestic violence were front and center Wednesday, as local advocates used the latest tragedy as the context to urge more attention and education of an epidemic they said affects one in three women.

“We’re not doing enough, and — I’m sorry, as long as anybody is getting killed, in my opinion — we’re not doing enough,” said victim rights lawyer Justine Andronici. “The truth is there are systematic ways in which we can improve our response in the community.”

The event comes during domestic violence awareness month, and it was sponsored by Penn State’s Family Law Clinic, the Center for Women Students and the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs. The program included a clip of the document about McGee called “Telling Amy’s Story” and a panel discussion.

The crowd of about 50 in an auditorium in the Lewis Katz Building on Penn State’s campus mainly consisted of university law students, some of whom were the divorce attorneys for Miscavish, who was a client at the school’s Family Law Clinic.

Miscavish’s mother, Joann Raymond, and her brother, Glenn Raymond, attended the program, which was held in Traci’s honor.

“When this happened to Traci, I just felt it had to stop,” Joann Raymond said after the program.

Glenn Raymond said the family didn’t know how bad things were for his sister.

“It opened my eyes,” he said. “Even though it was in our family for a while, it wasn’t something we were aware of.

“She didn’t want us to get hurt along with her.”

Andronici said the likelihood a woman will be killed “skyrockets” when a gun is involved in the domestic violence between a couple.

In Miscavish’s case, she had told authorities that her husband previously threatened her with a gun. McGee’s husband was charged in 1999 with reckless endangerment after his gun went off during an argument with his wife while she was driving.

In addition, Andronici called for more attention and education that serious criminal allegations may not be revealed until a civil proceeding, such as a custody case. She said the revelation may appear to some as a way to gain the upper hand, but it should be taken seriously.

“We need to do more to make sure the eyes don’t roll and people don’t necessarily doubt the victims who are coming forward in family law cases who are making allegations of domestic violence,” said Andronici, who had worked at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center as a victims lawyer and has represented several victims in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case.

She also said improvements need to be made so a custody agreement or the provisions of a divorce do not increase a woman’s chance of being assaulted by the husband.

Advocates at the program said Centre County has extensive resources to help victims who come forward.

Mary Faulkner, from the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, said strong, personal connections exist between the people who work at the agencies that respond to domestic violence reports. The hope is that the connections will help standardize the way the victim’s report is handled and minimize the intimidation the victims would face when having to talk with police.

“The idea is to do our best to create a standard response,” she said. “It can help them make the choice that calling law enforcement is right for them.”

Stephanie Brooks, a Penn State police lieutenant who handles crimes against women, said law enforcement countywide has a protocol to follow to ensure that each victim gets the same resources.

Penn State law professor Jill Engle, an organizer of the program, said it’s important for a victim who’s disclosing the abuse to have someone listening who’s “emotionally present” for the conversation. She also said the victim needs respect for his or her decision and support after coming forward.

She said every little bit helps — whether the law students in the crowd take a pro bono case once, whether they devote their career to victims’ rights or whether they have a sit-down discussion and listen to someone going through the worst thing in her life.

“Everything you can do, I think, matters,” she said.