The hidden cost of surviving gun violence

We bring you this guest post from Courtney Weaver, a local domestic violence survivor.

Photo by SevenSeven Photography
Photo by SevenSeven Photography

On January 15th, 2010 I was shot by my boyfriend point blank with a hollow-point .45. He was sentenced to 10.6 years in a federal prison in California. I have had 13 reconstructive surgeries on my face and right arm, hundreds of doctor appointments, and debt totaling at $440,605 as of May 2013. My ex, as is common with many perpetrators, has chosen not to work nor receive money while incarcerated to avoid paying restitution. This in turn has left me financially crippled and unable to rebuild my life.

One of the most insulting realities survivors like myself grapple with that most people are unaware of is how little victim compensation programs actually pay for. For instance, I was shocked and dismayed when I was left to clean up my own crime scene. Not much is more degrading than having to scrub my own dried blood off my kitchen floor 3 weeks after the shooting. Also, my landlord informed me I would have to pay for the damages caused by the bullet holes in my apartment or I would not get my security deposit back. Unfortunately that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the injustices I have faced as a survivor of such a horrific act of violence.

There is a very large discrepancy between how much compensation is allotted to a victim of a violent crime versus how much the perpetrator of that crime receives annually in state tax dollars. The numbers are very surprising and also telling of how society and the system supports the abuser while re-victimizing the victim. For example, my compensation was limited to $70,422 by the state program. The perpetrator on the other hand is given approximately $47,000 a year of tax payer dollars, $12,442 of that being in healthcare alone including mental health care. To date the taxpayers have spent over $141,000 on the man who shot me. By the time he is released in 2019 tax payers will have spent $498,000 rehabilitating this violent offender. Is his life more valuable than mine as a victim? What if victims received the same amount of financial support as the assailant?

Don’t ask, just tell

Lately, I have been learning about reproductive coercion—all the ways someone could interfere with your birth control, or pressure you to get pregnant or end a pregnancy. I read this surprisingly personal post by a doctor sharing her experience with a female patient where she missed identifying that her boyfriend was preventing her from using birth control.

reproductive-coersion-flyerI asked my friend who is a doctor if she’s had similar experiences. She said she routinely underestimates the lack of control women have around their reproductive choices. “I talk to my patients as if they have control and they may not.” She told me doctors need scripted, short questions, like “Are your decisions around birth control and pregnancy respected? Do you want information on birth control that can’t be interfered with?”

When I was pregnant, health care staff didn’t wait for me to ask about things that could happen, like preeclampsia, they just routinely gave me the info I needed to be safe and healthy.

Reproductive coercion is far more common than preeclampsia. Healthcare providers are missing an opportunity. They don’t have to ask patients to disclose abuse. They should just routinely tell every woman of reproductive age about birth control that can’t be seen, felt, or interfered with, and places they can get support if they, or a friend, might need it.

My doctor friend and I both have teen daughters. Our girls roll their eyes when we try to talk to them about birth control. So we need someone else to do it. It would be a relief to know that their doctors will tell them about undetectable forms of birth control and emergency contraception—not wait for them to ask. 

Emergency Contraception is the breakfast rush conversation

Eggs, toast, and a side of emergency contraception. Not exactly like that but pretty close. My girls and I were listening to a morning radio story about a pharmacist who refused to sell EC to a man whose condom broke while having sex with his girlfriend (who happened to be a law student). The pharmacist said “I can’t sell it to men. Who knows what they could be doing with it?” The law student girlfriend told the pharmacist that her boyfriend waspharmacist allowed to purchase EC under the law—actually, any male or female 17 or older can purchase it without a prescription.

My girls were confused. “Isn’t that the pill you take right after sex if you don’t want to get pregnant?” (How do they know about this??) My exterior demeanor was calm but my insides were sweaty. Try giving clear and simple information in 5 minutes while flipping eggs over easy. The girls asked why the pharmacist would not give the boyfriend medicine that was legal? I explained that some people think that taking emergency contraception was like having an abortion.

The truth is that the  EC pill slows down ovulation and prevents the egg and sperm from fertilizing. If you wait too long to take it and fertilization happens, it can’t undo the pregnancy and it won’t hurt the person taking it.

After my mini-medical lecture, it turned out what the girls really wanted to know was, why was I so upset about the pharmacist’s response? I tell them (with just a little passion) that I want them to have control over their bodies and be able to make their own decisions without any additional barriers—like a pharmacist who won’t follow the law. I say that I want them to have accurate information (which I hope they will share with their friends).

“Yeah,” they say, “I bet that boyfriend felt weird.” Okay, don’t forget your lunch bag, give me a kiss. Hustle, you’re gonna be late to school.