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May-12-2007 20:42TweetFollow @OregonNews
Abuse Under the Watch of Oregon's Justice SystemTim King Salem-News.com
A victim's first scream is for help; a victim's second scream is for justice." - Coral Anika Theill
(SALEM, Ore.) - Just when you thought you knew what was going on in your community, here comes a story that just may shatter the security of your American Dream. This is a story about abuse, survival, false religion and dubious court systems in a state that may be advanced on some levels, but sometimes proves to be a miserable failure in terms of equity and fairness and conventional thinking.
It is the saga of an Oregon woman whose attempt to seek justice for marital rape and physical abuse would not only result in no prosecution, but lead to threats that she would be charged with crimes if her allegations continued.
For me, it is an opportunity to bring to the surface one of the most important subjects I have ever visited in my career; that is domestic violence. I have always held the lowest opinion of men who abuse women, especially those who parade as impeccable members of their communities.
I believe this even more after covering the war in Afghanistan last winter. This is the epitome of a culture that uses religion as an excuse to mistreat females. Life overall is harder for women in Afghanistan in every respect, and their ability to rise up and defend themselves or find answers is greatly diminished by the extensive religion-based abuse.
And the same problem exists in Oregon.
The story of Coral Anika Theill is possibly one of the most flagrant, outrageous examples of small town injustice in America. In her book, she describes herself as a woman who suffered unmentionable abuse at the hands of her churchgoing husband. She is still living in fear to this day, spending the balance of her life in a secret, undisclosed location.
Her ordeal came to light in 1995 when Coral filed for a restraining order against her husband, who she says raped her repeatedly. A hearing for charges of Marital rape and a restraining order hearing was held in January 1996.
The restraining order was overturned by a visiting judge. Coral then lost her children in a 3 day temporary custody hearing in March 1996.
A final divorce hearing was held in October 1996. At that point her money was gone, and she was fighting attorneys with questionable ethics that were paid for with deep pockets. The divorce was final in March 1997. Coral officially lost all of her children to the man she says raped her and abused her.
She filed marital rape charges again in March 1999 both in Polk County and Wasco Counties in Oregon. Charges were dropped by both counties.
She said she was ridiculed about a nervous/mental breakdown she suffered as a result of the abuse. She was told in both counties that prosecutors did not believe a jury would convict a husband of rape. Coral says one D.A. didn't even want to waste the time having my case investigated.
She has written letters to various state officials but says they generally bring little response. Those individuals include District Attorney John Fisher, former Governor Kitzhaber and the office of Attorney General Hardy Meyers.
Just last month, Attorney General Hardy Meyer's office told Coral that any complaint about how things were handled would have to go through the Oregon State Bar, that no one could do anything.
She says she has gone that route before, with the Oregon State Bar, to no avail.
Dark crimes in a small town
It all happened in the town of Independence, Oregon and one of the main people who steered the course of Coral's story is the Polk County District Attorney, John Fisher.
She says that when she initially filed the marital rape charges, she still believed the system was real.
Coral was raised in the same conservative, American traditional sense that has led countless women into unfortunate circumstances. Many of them have suffered similar tragic events throughout their married lives. Marital rape is a seldom discussed subject, but communities that over-program people, particularly women, with the importance of subservient respect can lead them down very long, dark paths. I always think of the Oregon serial killer Jerry Brudos who at least one time, simply "ordered" a young woman to get into his car. She did, and after a horrific kidnapping, torture, and rape she was murdered.
But she was a "good girl" who did what she was told.
I've got news for women, there is no such thing. Any one raised in a household that puts a higher emphasis on mindless obedience than critical thinking, is in a dangerous place, no matter how many Normal Rockwell paintings decorate the walls.
Coral says she was "groomed" to accept abuse and violence from the time she was a young girl, as many life-long victims attest to. In her book, BONSHEA, she reveals how she had no other reference in life. As a young child she saw that abusers were embraced and protected. For Coral, there was no help, nowhere to go and no one to tell.
"I learned at an early age to accept and survive abuse. This was the role I was expected to play. Sadly, as an adult, I have discovered the rules of this game have not changed much. My abusers, still, are embraced and protected. I realize now that I am getting too old and worn out to 'play' this game any longer. Recently, I looked deep inside for the 'tough girl' to help me survive another episode of violence and abuse-but sadly, I could not find her. She was all used up. She was gone. Long-term abuse had left my senses blunted. I felt numb." After experiencing forty years of violence and abuse in her personal life, Coral went to Oregon's courts and asked for protection from her abusive husband.
Speaking out worked against her though, and her inability to endure an abusive marriage any longer was portrayed in a way that damaged her credibility, challenging her mental stability and ability to care for her own children.
"Nothing had prepared me for the horrors that I would experience in what we call Oregon's justice and legal system. On March 10th, 1996, I was forced by an order of the Court, and by my ex-husband, his attorney, his family and religious supporters, to do something that raged against my good conscience, my common sense and against all my motherly instincts."
After the temporary custody hearing, a Court Order signed by Judge Albin Norblad forcibly removed Coral's access to her nursing baby and young children.
"I obeyed the Court Order and gave my baby and children over to my ex-husband. I drove to the hospital, rented a breast-pump and later collapsed in shock. I could not understand what had happened or why. I have not yet recovered from the shock, perhaps I never will."
The rights of abuse victims have evolved in recent decades in most places. The state of Oregon has severe laws against a number of sex crimes. But by this example, in Polk County, enforcing the law by prosecuting marital rape cases is apparently not seen as a worthy pursuit.
Coral says the church is an instrument that her husband used against her. As another Mother's Day passes, she has no contact with her eight children. She says her husband, described by several people involved in her case as a dishonest, overbearing religious zealot, has programmed their children to be resentful toward her, continually casting her as something that she is not.
In Coral's view, her husband's actions are anything but Christian. According to Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D. who is an internationally recognized scholar, "A culture that requires harm to one's soul in order to follow the culture's proscriptions is a very sick culture indeed."
Coral says that was in fact the case for her. "By obeying the Orders of the Court, I betrayed my soul, my children and myself. I was forced to make a choice that no mother should ever be forced to make. The price for my own safety and freedom was an imposed, unnatural and unwanted separation from my eight children."
She says the injustice committed against her is not only the physical separation from her children, but the willful desecration of the mother-child relationship and bond, "A sacred spiritual and emotional entity."
Taking children from their mother is abuse in itself, she says, giving the advantage once again to the abuser.
"Forcibly taking a mother's children, and then controlling her emotionally by withholding contact must be publicly recognized as one of the greatest forms of "mis-use" of the American justice system and one of the greatest hidden vehicles for wide-spread socially approved physical and emotional abuse and control."
In the book "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" Dr. Sam Vaknin talks about abusers who use their charm and connections to gain favorable attention in a courtroom, "Even the victim's relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills." Vaknin says the abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. Nobody except the abuser and the victim know what actually happens behind closed doors. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown: harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive, and hysterical. In short, they don't make a very good impression. "Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties – it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser... The prey's acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her rights are interpreted as aggression, lability, or a mental health problem."
For an abuser, manipulating that dynamic for the benefit of a judge's favor can give incredible advantages in a court situation. This was used against Coral, she says, and it is used against many other women as well.
A growing list of experts support Coral Theill
Professionals around the country are increasingly tuning in to Coral Theill's story. Advocates for eradicating domestic violence applaud her work to empower change.
Anna Goldreyer of N.O.W., who has known Coral for four years, watched the story unfold. She commented on the many obstacles Coral's husband, his lawyers and church allies created, which included one simple factor; more money.
"Another game is initiating years of ongoing litigation that can bankrupt the target or drive her to homelessness or disability. In the family court system, when you run out of money, you lose. For Coral and many others, continuing to receive court papers and have extremely frivolous repeated actions initiated by their abuser from which they cannot protect themselves, can really become a form of legal stalking." Goldreyer pulls few punches when talking about the effects of domestic abuse, "Even when judges or court personnel are required to educate themselves in domestic violence issues, which is rare enough, we find that the education is simply not correct or sufficient. Actions like giving Coral's story and similar stories a platform will help people begin to understand that this is real, it is happening to people in every state, and awareness and education is what is needed to change this."
Many people say that everything happens for a reason. It appears that Coral's reason, however unfair it may be, is to go forth and bring about change. It is difficult to speak up after a life of abuse, but her courage to do so is an inspiration to women also living in unfortunate conditions. Coral she has mastered her ability to speak out, particularly in the written sense.
"I wish to become an advocate for change in the judicial system. Gandhi says, 'We must be the change we wish to see in the world.' I believe each one of us is responsible for the entire world. The ongoing trauma I have experienced in Oregon's judicial system has encouraged me to ask difficult questions. I have asked myself, ‘What does the human spirit need in order to heal and move on?’ They need a place to share their pain and be acknowledged, they need compassion, they need to know that they (and others) will be protected from their perpetrator, they need accountability–someone to hold the perpetrator accountable, they need restitution or material compensation for the losses incurred by the victim, and they need vindication (not revenge)–to be set free. Scars remain, but healing is sufficient so as not to continue to be held in bondage to the trauma. When there is no justice, there is truly no healing."
Coral analogizes her position to a passage in the "Lord of the Rings" when the warrioress says, "I fear no pain or death."
"The warrior asks her, 'What do you fear?' She answers, 'I fear the cage.'
"I have asked myself, 'What is the cage in my life?' The cage is living in a society that allows the violence I have experienced to continue. The cage in my life is ongoing court trauma and legal harassment from my ex-husband."
She says marital abuse evolved into legal abuse, a form of legal stalking. In America, money often buys justice. "Although I have been legally divorced for ten years, I hope and pray that someday I will truly be emancipated from my abuser."
Coral says she cares about individuals who have also fallen through the judicial cracks of America, like juveniles, homeless, the mentally ill, veterans, prisoners, and victims of domestic violence. "I have learned that if you really want to know about our justice system in America, you do not question the judges, police, attorneys and lawmakers, you go to the victims, the unprotected, the vulnerable; those who need the laws protection the most and listen to their stories. A victim's first scream is for help; a victim's second scream is for justice."
Dr. Barbara May Ph.D, Professor of Nursing, regards Coral's story as one of the most obscene and violent domestic violence cases she has seen in her 25 years of psychiatric practice. BONSHEA has been used as a college text at Linfield College in Oregon, for nursing students studying domestic violence, recovery from trauma and legal stalking. "I recommend this book for health care providers, those in the criminal justice system, and volunteers or helpers of any kind to get insights and clarity about the complex dynamics of domestic violence and its toxic effects to individuals and society - and what needs to be done to eradicate this pandemic problem."
This survivor says one solution to stepping out of the cage is to seek empowerment through education, and the subsequential use of one's education to help raise awareness of violence and injustice in our society. Coral Theill says that if violence cannot be talked about, it cannot be stopped.
"From the injustice I have experienced, I wish to make a difference in this journey we call life. A single pebble affects an entire ocean."
"Indifference encourages, 'silent violence' -the type of violence I experienced in my home, in the community, religious circles and judicial system. Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel states, 'The indifference to suffering makes the human inhumane.'"
John Haroldson, District Attorney, Benton County, Oregon District Attorney, said this in his review of Coral's book, "In BONSHEA, Coral Theill has clearly chosen to take a courageous stand. It is a stand that comes with a cost, but whose dividends are measured in the strength of the soul." The staff of Salem-News.com is proud to use Coral Theill's work as a cornerstone of our quest to help reduce and even eradicate domestic violence in Oregon.
The news media has more than put its guard down when it comes to domestic abuse and the people who dedicate their lives to fighting and exposing it are nothing less than unsung heroes. Perhaps the day will come when the nation declares a "War on Domestic Violence" in place of the millions spent on programs such as the failed drug war.
What needs to happen to change this?
Transparency is what police need to strive toward. Anyone paying attention to national trends is seeing the increased scrutiny of police, courts and prosecutors in national media. This trend will continue as the pendulum swings back from the far right.
Rape is a crime, violence is a crime, and in the near future victims are going to again become the focus of our efforts as a country that in spite of its appearance, still largely knows the difference between wrong and right.
Coral's list of advocates is growing and we hope this story allows this loose-knit but well directed group to eventually achieve its goals on behalf of Coral Theill.
First, they say, the state of Oregon should step in and see that her Child Support requirement is revoked.
Second, she asks that her ex-husband pay restitution for Child Support she paid that should not have been required. That amount at this point comes out to about $42,000, which would seriously aid in the promotion of her book, already in use all over the world as a domestic violence education tool.
The group believes that by leveling the right amount of awareness, that they could see Judge Albin W. Norblad removed from the judge's bench permanently.
They seek to raise public awareness of what they call Polk County District Attorney John Fisher's inadequacy in failing to prosecute a man who committed rape.
They also want to see public awareness of Judge Paula Brownhill's record by exposing 2003, 2004 and 2006 court hearings when she denied Coral a phone hearing, fully knowing that Coral could not be present because the attorneys and court proceedings leading up to the hearing had stripped her of all financial resources.
She also wants to see justice served in the case of an Oregon doctor who she says breeched client confidentiality in 1998-1999 by giving personal client information and phone number to a predator/con artist/batterer.
Coral says she was stalked, threatened, abused, financially robbed of $150,000 in legal costs, and then beaten and strangled, during an attempted murder incident in August 2000.
More of Coral's story will be revealed over time and victims are encouraged to use our comment section to seek answers for their own problems. All comments on Salem-News.com are approved by our staff and nobody has to leave their name. I can't guarantee that Coral Theill will be able to answer every question, but collectively we will do our best to refer people to the right resources to help them out of a bad environment if that is what they need.
Another Internet site Coral recommends is: thelizlibrary.org/
BONSHEA is purchased online at: iUniverse.com http://amazon.com and barnesnandnoble.com and has received 12 five star reviews, and a writer's award from iUniverse Publishing. The National Domestic Violence Resource Center in Pennyslvania previewed BONSHEA and is recommending it as a survivor story.
You can also find BONSHEA: Making Light of the Dark by Coral Anika Theill at the Salem, Corvallis, Albany, Independence, Monmouth and Linn Benton and Chemeketa Community Colleges. Copies are also available at Borders Bookstore in Corvallis, Oregon.
Written by Tim King
Edited by Bonnie King
Also see these follow up articles:
Articles for May 11, 2007 | Articles for May 12, 2007 | Articles for May 13, 2007
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