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Woman had options before death : LAPD officers had offered Flor Medrano protection from a suspected abuser. She was killed that night.

November 16, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa and Nicole Santa Cruz

As Los Angeles Police Department investigators probed the death of a woman who was attacked by her abuser as officers searched for the man outside her Mid-City apartment, domestic violence experts said the case underlines some of the challenges they face in getting abused women the help they need.

Flor Medrano, 30, told officers at the LAPD's Wilshire Station on Wednesday that the man, with whom she had an off-and-on relationship, had raped her and had been abusing her physically, according to police officials.

Officers trained in domestic violence took her report, and, as part of standard LAPD procedure, offered a range of options to ensure her protection, including staying in a shelter for battered women. She was also counseled on legal options, such as seeking restraining orders against abusers.

But Medrano refused, police said, and even though officers were not required to take her home, they did.

Then, as officers watched for the man from an unmarked patrol car, they heard screaming and when they failed to reach Medrano by cellphone, they rushed to her apartment. Inside, they saw a man stabbing her. One of the officers fired and fatally wounded the man.

Sandra Park, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project, said the case is illustrative. Some women who are being abused, she said, worry that the violence could escalate if they get a protection order or if their abuser is arrested, and that is often a deterrent to their reporting abuse.

"A woman in that situation is looking at her personal circumstances and seeing whether further government intervention will be helpful to her," Park said. "How comfortable you feel that those measures will make you safe is a big barrier."

Pasadena Police Lt. Chris Russ said police try to make sure a victim is as safe as possible. A report is filed, and investigators follow up with the incident. Police also help victims in finding a shelter, where they will be out of harm's way, he said.

Though Russ couldn't comment on the specifics of Medrano's case, he said that if a victim refuses shelter, the only thing police can do is make resources available, and possibly provide extra patrol checks.

Police try to make sure the victim knows domestic violence is a cycle, Russ said. But, he added, "You can't force a person to be safe."

Nadia Islam, director of programs for Laura's House, an agency that treats victims of domestic violence and their children, said women who are in abusive relationships often resist going to shelters -- in part because they fear that a shelter for battered women could be a cold, uninviting place, similar to a large homeless shelter with no privacy.

That fear is mostly unfounded, Islam said. "We hear a lot of 'I can't take my kids into a shelter' because that's what they have in their minds," Islam said. The reality, she said, is that shelters are usually converted houses, with bunks or single beds. "It is communal living, but it's not dorm living."

Sharon Wie, director of programs at Interval House in Long Beach, said many women don't realize there may be a shelter in their neighborhood. L.A. County, for instance, has more than 20 shelters. "Of course, L.A. is highly densely populated. The fact that there's 20 and some people don't even realize there's one, I think that's a pretty bold statement," Wie said. "There are rural communities that might not even have one shelter."

In Medrano's case, it's impossible to say why she refused help from police, said several experts interviewed.

Katie Ray-Jones, operations director of the National Domestic Violence hotline, said it's common for an abuser to try to make amends with his victim, apologizing and promising not to be violent again, and the victims, in turn, resist leaving or obtaining legal protection. "At that point, the relationship doesn't look so bad," she said. "He is being nice with her and talking with her."

Alternately, said Ray-Jones, an abuser might continue to harass and threaten a woman after she goes to police. In Medrano's case, police said the man was sending her text messages as she was being interviewed by police, leading officers to believe that he was in the area.

Domestic violence counselors said it's critical to treat threats seriously.

Wie urges friends and relatives not to give up trying to help, because batterers tend to isolate victims from others. Neighbors who have repeatedly called police with concerns of abuse might resist continuing to report their suspicions of abuse, she said. But, she said, "even if it's been 30 years of abuse in a marriage, it may be the 31st year that they may be killed by their partners."

The power struggles involved in an abusive relationship also make it a volatile one, Ray-Jones said. And, she added, "if a woman tells her partner she is going to leave, he feels he is losing all power and will possibly go to extreme measures to prevent that from happening."

Several experts said they worried that the publicity surrounding Medrano's death could prevent other women from coming forward. The women may worry that the police cannot help them, or women might minimize their situations.

"Instead of thinking, 'That could be me,' women might think, 'Oh my gosh, other women have it so much worse than I do,' " Islam said.

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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