New on HLN: When court is done for the day, the conversation is only just beginning. Watch HLN After Dark: The Jodi Arias Trial nightly at 10pm on HLN.
Editor’s Note: Tanya Young Williams is a TV personality, celebrity spokeswoman for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She is the estranged wife of former NBA star Jayson Williams. She is on Twitter.
I was a victim of domestic violence. I am an advocate for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I am a motivational speaker and a proud spokeswoman for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH). I have appeared on scores of television and radio programs and I have written numerous articles discussing the silent epidemic of domestic violence. Ever since my first appearance on CBS in 2010, discussing this issue, I have been the willing poster child for the cause.
Noting my advocacy for the awareness and eradication of domestic violence is necessary in light of my current opinions with respect to the admitted killer and liar, Jodi Arias. I have never taken such a position. Therefore, with great contemplation and some apprehension, I voice my anger in Jodi Arias' attempt to use the Battered Woman Syndrome as the nucleus of her strategic subterfuge.
For 15 days, Jodi has been on the witness stand describing her quasi-girlfriend/boyfriend relationship with Travis Alexander. As it relates to domestic violence, she testified that Travis Alexander was abusive in that he pushed her down, closed her leg in a car door, choked her into unconsciousness, slapped, chastised, belittled and berated her. Still, after listening to seemingly endless hours of her testimony, I do not believe that Jodi Arias was a battered woman. I do not believe she deserves the legal protections afforded women who have acted violently in response to a pattern of domestic abuse. I do not believe that the violent killing of Travis Alexander was justifiable and consequently, I believe Jodi Arias is guilty of manslaughter.
During the opening statement of Jennifer Willmott, Jodi Arias' attorney, she told the jury that Jodi Arias' killing of Travis Alexander was justifiable based on the criminal defense of 'self-defense.' She said, "It was Travis' continual abuse and on June 4 of 2008, it had reached a point of no return. Sadly, Travis left Jodi no other action but to defend herself."
Willmott told the jury that a domestic violence expert would explain why Jodi's state of mind caused her to fear for her life on June 4, 2008. She told the jury that the expert would help them understand why Jodi believed that she had no choice but to brutally kill Travis Alexander. Essentially, the expert was retained to tell the jury that Jodi Arias was a victim of domestic violence and a battered woman.
Domestic violence is about power and control and can rear its ugly head in many forms. The abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and financial. Each and every episode of domestic violence is unique and yet, as I rewind the many stories that I've heard, there tends to be a thread of commonality that weaves together these horrific, life-changing experiences.
Every woman that I've met wanted to cry out for help -- whether she acted on this desire or not. No matter how faint the cry, or the manner in which it is expressed, most victims seek the opportunity to tell someone that they are scared, hurt, angry and confused. Many women tell a friend and swear them to secrecy. Some speak to a respected religious authority. Some anonymously call the hotline and others reach out to their local domestic violence organizations. A victim may even “cry out” by writing down her pain in a very private place, like her journal.
In fact, some victims send me emails from anonymous email addresses. These letters are oftentimes thousands of words outlining years of abuse. These women merely want to tell someone they trust what they are experiencing. They don't want a response from me -- although I always send one. They do not ask me for advice as to whom they can call, or how they can escape their hell or what they can do to better protect themselves. They are merely looking for an outlet to release a portion of their pain. They are taking advantage of a moment of freedom from their life of bondage in domestic violence.
Jodi Arias did not tell anyone of her alleged abuse, nor did she ever contact the police to report the abuse. Jodi is an avid journal keeper, yet on the pages of her journal, she never reduced her alleged abuse to writing. These choices, in and of themselves, are not unusual. However, I find it quite telling that Jodi did not give a credible reason as to why she didn't reach out to anyone. Nor was her explanation regarding the “law of attraction” and thus omitting abuse commentary from her journal, understandable or believable. I patiently waited to hear her testify that she wanted to cry out and tell someone but for a myriad of reasons she kept the abuse a secret. Her silence screamed out “liar” to me.
Further, Jodi's testimony regarding the alleged experiences of physical domestic abuse didn't ring true to me because of the manner in which she told her story of being battered. I have looked into the eyes of hundreds of victims. In listening to a victim's story, there is something entrancing in her eyes while she conveys past experiences of abuse. For a moment -- you can see the victim reliving her experience. I can see when she is “seeing” the abuse. I can see in her eyes when she is “hearing” the threats. Her eyes and her unconscious changes in body language, more than her words, tell me her story of past pain and abuse.
It's been five years since my car window was punched out while I was driving with my children in the backseat. I have moved on in many areas of my life. Yet, when I am telling this story to one person or 500 people, the memories are clear. The details are sharp. There is still profound sadness. When I spoke to Anderson Cooper on his talk show, regarding my “need” to sleep with a knife under my mattress -- some three years after the fact, my heart began to race, my pattern of speech changed and my posture was noticeably tense.
Recounting stories of domestic violence arouses and unearths the raw emotions of the most formidable survivor. But not so with Jodi Arias. Her recitations of alleged abusive experiences were flat and ambiguous. Her testimony was void of emotion and void of passion. Jodi's eyes were dead and her words hollow. She could not fake the anguish that real victims of domestic violence live with for many years after the abuse has stopped.
The immediate, long-term and rippling effects of domestic violence are real. The need for the Battered Woman Syndrome is paramount. Therefore, anytime a defendant like Jodi Arias lies about being a battered woman, the hard work of domestic violence advocates everywhere is undermined. For this reason, I take this stand against a woman who says that she was the victim of domestic violence.