Should Ebony Wilkerson Be Convicted Of Attempted Murder?

March 11, 2014  |  

Last week’s near-tragic story of a pregnant mother, who attempted to drown herself and her children by driving the minivan into the ocean, is a perfect reminder of how little regard we give to the impact domestic violence has on women, particular ones, who might be mentally ill.

According to published reports, a $1.2 million bond has been set for 32 year old Ebony Wilkerson, who is facing three counts of attempted murder, as well as other other charges, for the near-fatal incident, which resulted in bystanders rescuing her children, ages 3, 9 and 10, from their minivan as it was almost submerged off the coast of Dayton Beach, Florida. Wilkerson, who was 27 and 1/2 weeks pregnant at the time, was also able to escape without injury.

The Washington Post writes that just mere hours before driving herself and her children into the ocean, Wilkerson’s sister had called the police and reported that her sister had been, “talking about Jesus and how there are demons in my house and how I’m trying to control her but I’m trying to keep them safe.” The story goes on to say that when police stopped her Honda Odyssey, she told them that she feared that her husband would find them in Florida and harm them.

Wilkerson’s own children also told authorities of a history of violence between their mother and father and that they had only come to Florida to escape him three days before she tried to drive them into the ocean. Furthermore, the kids told authorities that their mother had been “acting crazy and speaking to Jesus” since moving to Daytona Beach.

The Post also writes:

“The children said that while driving south on the beach, their mother pointed at the ocean, locked the doors, rolled up the electric windows and then jerked the steering wheel, sending the minivan into the waves.One of the children asked her what she was doing, and she said: “’I am keeping us all safe,” according to the affidavit.”

Obviously Wilkerson is mentally unstable here. And thankfully they all survived. But I have a hard time reconciling the idea that locking this woman up in prison is the best outcome in this situation. Like, wouldn’t mental health treatment as well as domestic violence assistance, be more beneficial – and I’m talking about for both Wilkerson as well as her children?

As recent research shows, particularly this study from the King’s College London and the University of Bristol that reviewed data from 41 studies worldwide, both men and women with mental health problems are at an increased risk of domestic violence. However as it relates to women, the study shows that women with depressive disorders were 2 and a half times more likely to experience domestic violence – even worse for women with post-traumatic stress, who were seven times more likely be in domestic violence situations. In fact, one of the lead researchers is quoted in saying, “The evidence suggests that there are two things happening: domestic violence can often lead to victims developing mental health problems, and people with mental health problems are more likely to experience domestic violence.”

An article in The Grio highlights a Johns Hopkins study, which shows that one out of every three women abused during pregnancy went on to develop depression in the first 12 months of the child’s life. And according to this study, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Postpartum Depression Care Among Low-Income Women, a disproportionate number of black and Latina women who suffer from postpartum depression do not receive needed services including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.

I point to those studies to remind us that the effects intimate partner violence has on an individual isn’t just limited to physical acts of violence and scarring. Intimate partner violence also has the potential to impair someone’s mental capacities or even accelerate already existing mental health issues. Coupled or even multiplied with other hardships in life (like economic instability) and we have a vitriol situation ready to pop-off, say like driving your kids into the ocean. I know that there are the hardline amongst us, who live strictly by the motto of: if you do the crime, then you must do the time. But if your “crime” was also the result of your victimization, where exactly is the justice in that?

And according to statistics by the Correction Association of New York’s Women in Prison Project, (a group, which is trying to get legislation passed that would consider domestic violence history in sentencing decisions) in New York alone, seventy five percent of woman incarcerated have endured severe intimate partner violence during their adulthood. Moreover, 93 percent of women incarcerated for killing an intimate partner were abused by an intimate partner in the past. It certainly seems that we victimize survivors of domestic abuse twice, when we not only fail to protect them from abusers but then punish them harshly and indiscriminately when they attempt (no matter how extreme) to break free.

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