WCVAP

Throughout this series, The Marshfield Mail has explored stalking and stalking cases from the eyes of many individuals involved in the process. This blanket, made by a group of church women and donated to the Webster County Victim Assistance Program shelter in 2011, served as a message of hope to one victim’s daughter, who gave it back to the shelter with a thank-you note.

He showed up at her home, at her friends' homes, and in one instance hid in the bathroom at her attorney’s office.

Janice Thompson-Gehrke described her stalker’s behavior in full detail, from harassing anyone she called to pouring water into her gas tank while she was at the mall. Her stalker was her then-husband, Greg Marvin, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison last year for assault.   

"He is the man who shot a man and beat a woman in the Bass Pro Shop parking lot October 2016," said Gehrke. "That incident propelled me to start speaking out about domestic violence and the struggles we face."

With most cases of stalking, it involves someone the victim knows, such as a boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse or relative. In 2003, Marvin attacked Gehrke and shortly after that she was granted an Order of Protection.

So, did it help her?

"No," said Gehrke. "However, that is because I did not understand how it could be an effective tool when it came to legal proceedings regarding custody and visitation of our three children; nor did I understand how I would be viewed and treated for both having it and then later dropping it."

She continued, stating Marvin would call from blocked numbers and tie up her phone lines. He even had the utilities shut off to their home.

"Greg called an employer and claimed that I was being inappropriate in an attempt to get me fired," said Gehrke. "Thankfully, that employer had caller ID and knew that it was Greg. Unfortunately, because of the danger that he presented to everyone at that job, I left that position for another one."

Even though she repeatedly reported his violations of the order, it wasn’t until a year after she filed it that he was arrested and charged. Gehrke said Marvin served with the ex parte order on Sept. 23, 2003, and immediately violated it within five minutes by calling her on the phone.

"He threatened me for getting one," said Gehrke. "It wasn’t until Dec. 12, 2004, that they finally arrested him for those violations. Then they let him out shortly after arresting him. He told me if I would go ahead and drop the order, he would leave me alone because I was calling over and over for help and not getting anything, so I dropped it."

Another survivor of stalking/domestic violence faced similar problems. While she asked to remain anonymous, she painted a chilling picture of her then-husband, Stanley Keithley. In 2012, the survivor was sexually assault by him while incapacitated in a Springfield hospital bed. Prior to the incident, she and her three children had been living in a victim’s shelter. Against the advice of the shelter, she decided to go back to the house where Keithley resided to pick up some possessions.

"I thought I could handle the situation on my own," she said. "With people like us, we're peacemakers. We don’t want to cause conflict. When the courts tell us we need to get along, we tend to go along to get along. Often times, that attitude is something we do and believe. We feel horrible and think it’s our fault that our family is falling apart. We just want to make everyone happy, and we want to make the judge happy. We try to make things right and go back, not because we love the abuser, but to be there for our kids, especially if it looks like the system is going to return them to any unsupervised time with the abuser."

She said went to his house and was going to get some beds for her kids. Then she started feeling chest pains and thought she was having a heart attack. After allowing Keithley to drop her off at a fire department, she was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where she was seen in the emergency room. Keithley stayed in the room while hospital staff ran the tests.

"When you're in limbo and the court has no system in place, custody is based on who has the kids at the time, so you’re at the mercy of playing the middle," she said. "I had the children stay with family, but if I told him I don’t want him in here, he could say, 'Fine. I'll take the kids.' I couldn't risk him getting mad because he would be kicked out of the hospital. The safest place for the abuser to be is with me, so my kids are safe."

Tests needed to be conducted to determine the cause of her discomfort, so she was given a pain medication, which rendered her incapacitated. It was two days later when she started having memories of her time there. She called the hospital and asked the staff to check the surveillance tape since she believed somebody may have gotten into her room while there. A couple hours later, she was contacted by a staff member and told to come to the hospital, noting the police had been called.

"The tape revealed Stanley sexually assaulted me," she said. "He did it while I was in that state, and I was so shocked more than anything. I felt broken, ashamed — I felt like he had broken me."

At the time, she did not file an order of protection against Keithley. It took time for her to catch her breath and confront herself and her feelings. After a couple weeks passed, she agreed to cooperate with prosecution and obtained an order of protection against him soon afterwards, which only covered her, not her children, since he didn't commit the act on them. A divorce filing followed in February 2012, along with charges that were filed in March 2012, including the sexual assault at the hospital and other incidents involving him. Keithley entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor first-degree sexual misconduct and was given a suspended one-year jail sentence and two years probation. He also had to register as a sex offender. It didn’t stop there, though. Keithley violated the protection order several times, whether it was driving by her house or down the street and showing up at her workplace.

"In March 2012, he was charged with violation of the protection order," she said. "He was also charged with aggravated assault/stalking. He had charges in Webster County and Greene County.  That’s the thing about abusers. They want control and will stop at nothing to keep that control."

Like most victims, the challenge, according to Gehrke, is sticking to the protection order and getting someone to hold stalkers accountable. To put it in perspective, she described one incident where an officer responded to her 911 call for help, shortly after Marvin showed up at her house.

"Greg quickly left because he sees my lights come on," said Gehrke. "He calls my cell phone. The officer decided to answer the call and confirmed that it was in fact Greg that he was speaking to (this was a clear violation of the order). The officer told him to leave me alone and not call again. When I asked if he was going to go arrest Greg, the officer said no. He was just going to turn in the report. I was shaking so much I could hardly move. I remember saying to the officer that my order states that if he violated the order that he was going to be arrested. The officer said to me, 'But he isn't here, so we aren’t going to arrest him tonight.'"

It was the same cycle over and over — something Gehrke said Marvin paid close attention to and learned that as long as he was gone before police arrived, nothing happened.

"This taught him how to skirt the system and continue to torture his victims for years without paying any consequence," said Gehrke.

Ex parte protection

As stated by judges, circuit clerks and even the victims themselves in this series, the ex parte is just a piece of paper. So, why would anyone file for protection orders or ex parte? With ex parte orders, Gehrke said a protection order is better described as a small but important part of many layers of protection versus protection. In some cases, it can help victims identify those abusers who score higher on danger assessments.

"To be clear, all abusers can turn lethal, there is no one thing that determines that outcome so when I say that it can help us identify a lethal abuser, that doesn’t mean that someone who follows the protection order guidelines is 'safe,'" said Gehrke. "However, if I have a situation where one person is charged with abuse and a victim reports, let’s say something such as the offender threw something at the victim and said something threatening. Order of protection is given and the offender doesn't contact the victim again then I don't have the same alarms going off for that victim’s safety as much as I do the victim who reports and has that offender immediately violate that order. That immediate violation tells me that the offender has no boundaries that they will respect when it comes to the victim. So, while I always talk to every victim about safety, I am really going to look at numerous aspects of that victim's situation when the offender is showing certain hallmarks of lethal or red flag behavior, like strangulation, suicide threats or firearm access."

According to Gehrke, the benefits of a protection order is the beginning of a legally documented pattern that can be followed by the system, and although slow, can result in potential protection later on. The downside, she noted, is that the order can ramp up an already dangerous situation. That’s why a safety plan needs to be in place.

"In conjunction with the protection order, you should have a safety plan in place, where all aspects of your situation can be assessed," said Gehrke. "That way, a plan of action is in place just in case the person who has harmed you decides to violate that order. I will also say that there is no guarantee that the abuser won't amp up without the order; the fact that they have lost possession or control of a victim is often all that is needed to increase the level of danger."

The other survivor agreed, stating a safety plan is essential. As a victim, she said you already learn when tension is growing.

"You learn when would be the best time to go, transportation and things like that," she said. "Even coordinating with people at work is vital, just so you have other people aware. It is valuable to have an advocate on your side. They will help you develop a safety plan and create one with you."

In order to move forward, it’s a process, and for some it takes many years to get there. For Gehrke, she said she had to lose her shame in being a victim.

"Being a victim isn't a weakness," said Gehrke. "We don’t look at any other crime victim as weak. Why do we do that to victims of sexual assault or abuse? It's a misbelief and something that we collectively as a society must work to dismantle. So generally the answer to that ability to come forward was that I began to dismantle the lies that we are taught about victims and also began working really hard to study and learn as much as I could about abuse and all of its dynamics. My final straw was the shooting. I watched as people blamed my ex-husband’s victim more than the man who actually shot someone. I got mad. My children were seeing this, her children were seeing this and he was going to use all of these people who were essentially defending him by blaming her. I contacted a local reporter and decided that I would come forward and share my story. If they were going to blame her, then they were going to have to blame me, too."

Gehrke said she dropped her protection order, too, and tried to get along with him. She agreed to meet with him to talk. While people assume victims can just leave, Gehrke said that isn’t the case at all, especially when children are involved.

"Even if someone is convicted of abuse towards you, the courts will not give you sole legal custody of your children," said Gehrke. "That is not how any of this works."

From her own experience, the other survivor said in stalking/domestic violence situations it isn't as simple as walking away. She recalled what she said to her Webster County Victim’s Assistance Program advocate on the day of her divorce hearing in 2012.

"I remember turning to my advocate and my attorney and letting them know that if we lost and the judge was going to grant our abuser unsupervised visits, I would be going back to him, asking him to forgive me for leaving, and begging him to take me back," she said. "I wasn’t doing this because I liked to be hit. I wasn’t doing this because I loved him. I was doing this so that I could protect my children. Sometimes, victims are misunderstood for being weak because we run back. That’s simply not true. We go back in order to protect our children."

Resources available

Victims of stalking/domestic violence have resources available to help them, including the Victim Center and Harmony House. Gehrke's Facebook page, Surviving Domestic Violence in Missouri, gives people a place to stay connected to resources. Domestic shelters.org is another resource that offers resources all over the United States, along with the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

"The best advice that I can give to any victim starting out is to do a few things," said Gehrke. "If you must communicate with the abuser for children, move all communication to text or email. I see a lot of people give the advice of “Block them." I get that initial thought and you may eventually have to do that. However, I remember this — being blocked may increase their aggression. Abusers desire control; you have left and now blocked them. As hard as it is, you should not respond unless specifically about children, but if you can tolerate it, don’t block them from your phone or email. This gives them some illusion of control and hopefully that will buy some time, but it also will be solid evidence of any violations if you have that protection order in place. Documentation is very helpful for all involved in these cases — prosecutors, family attorney, judges and police."

The other survivor advised to start a journal and make notes of the abuse, which establishes a timeline. She also stated that it’s important to speak up. In November 2012, she spoke to a Missouri Senate Criminal Code Committee regarding her experience, in hopes of bringing attention to the loopholes in Missouri's sexual assault laws. The committee agreed that a change was needed and made a recommendation to former Gov. Jay Nixon, with regards to "incapacitation and inability to consent" to be included in the revised statute. Revisions to the state’s rape laws were made in August 2013.

"Based on the language at that time, it didn't allow a felony charge to be filed on sexual assault," she said. "But because of my story and the stories of others, they realized there was a problem and a revision was needed in statute."

She added she has seen support from many people through her situation. She said a group of church women donated a blanket to the WCVAP shelter in 2011, and this was given to her daughter when she was four years old.

"At that time, I never knew the comfort this little blanket would bring my daughter," she said. "Seven years after the gift of the blanket, she ran across it in her room."

Her daughter asked if she could donate the blanket back to the shelter, so they could help another child with it. She gave her daughter a blank thank-you card, where the girl penned the following:

"Thank you for making the beautiful and comfy blanket. But we are safe and no longer need it. Please bless another family with this blanket and tell them that: Hope is coming."

In June 2018, the survivor's new husband, Daniel, adopted her daughter and treats her well. She added, “I’m happy to see that healing, not only for myself, but for my daughter and my two sons as well.”

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