Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Susan B. Speckert, December 16, 2009

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Interview introduction--Education, early career, and becoming an assistant Commonwealth's Attorney in Lexington, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So can you just tell us a little bit about who you are, and--and how you--what your position is and how you came to this position?

Segment Synopsis: Speckert talks about her education and career background before she became an assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for Fayette County, Kentucky. She says that she has been a prosecutor for about two and a half years and that she moved to Kentucky from New Orleans about four years prior to the interview, just before Hurricane Katrina hit. Speckert says after she finished graduate school, she began working at a battered women's shelter and moved on to become Executive Director of the Women's Center at the University of New Orleans. She talks about how working with the criminal justice system to prevent violence against women made her want to go to law school, which she did. Speckert says that even though the Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney's office is not large, she was still able to specialize in cases of domestic violence, which she feels her background prepared her for.

Keywords: Assistant Commonwealth's Attorneys; Commonwealth's Attorneys; Criminal justice; Domestic violence cases; Fayette County (Ky.); Hurricane Katrina; Law schools; Lexington (Ky.); New Orleans (La.); Sex crimes; Specialized prosecutors; Violence against women prevention; Women's Center at the University of New Orleans

Subjects: University of New Orleans; Women lawyers--United States.; Women's shelters; Women--Education (Graduate); Women--Education (Higher)--United States

00:02:18 - Common misconceptions of stalking

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Partial Transcript: Because you have this sort of bigger, more multidisciplinary kind of, um, perspective, can you talk a little bit about y--you know how you view stalking and how you've seen things change over time and how it impacts what you do today?

Segment Synopsis: T.K. Logan asks Speckert how she views stalking today and she says that there are a lot of common misconceptions about stalking. Speckert says that the popular image is of the creepy stranger who follows someone, as can be the case with stalkers of celebrities, but that that kind of stalker is not universal. She says that the Power and Control Wheel, a tool used by domestic violence researchers, shows how stalking and other intimate partner violence can take several different forms and manifest in different ways. Speckert gives as a hypothetical example that a relationship can be abusive without being physically abusive, and vice versa, that there can be physical violence without the relationship itself necessarily being abusive, though she says that would be much more rare. She emphasizes that stalking is almost always present in abusive relationships.

Keywords: Battered women; Battering relationships; Celebrity stalking; Domestic violence; Los Angeles (Calif.); Power and Control Wheel; Stranger stalking; Strangers

Subjects: Abused women--United States; Control (Psychology); Intimate partner violence.; Stalking; Women lawyers--United States.

00:04:10 - Stalking--Kentucky's laws and the effect on victims

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Partial Transcript: The law here in Kentucky is good because it's so broadly written. It's a course of conduct so it's simply two or more acts, um, that are intended to place a victim in fear of certain elements.

Segment Synopsis: Speckert describes how Kentucky's laws against stalking and domestic violence operate in favor of victims and shares a few examples of the effects that stalking has on people. She says that Kentucky's statutes are good because they are broadly written to include patterns of behavior meant to instill fear. She talks about one woman whose abuser left a rose on her car, indicating not a romantic gesture but that she could expect to be hurt at some point in the future. Speckert says that there are both subjective and objective elements to stalking and domestic violence, and that Kentucky's law can encompass both of them. She reiterates that stalking in some form is almost always present in abusive relationships. It can be terrifying for victims, and to illustrate this, Speckert tells a story about a woman who worked at a convenience store who was watched all day long by her abuser to make sure that she was not "too friendly" with any customers. She says that stalking changes people's lives and she laments that it is not a more serious crime because of this.

Keywords: "Reasonable fear"; Abusers; Battered women; Convenience stores

Subjects: Abused women--United States; Control (Psychology); Dating violence.; Intimate partner violence.; Stalking; Stalking--Law and legislation

00:07:38 - Prosecuting domestic violence--Challenges and strategies

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit about, um, what is different about trying to prosecute a case where you've got a victim that is--is touched that deeply by that kind of behavior versus one where there's h--horrendous domestic violence but maybe there's not that--that piece, that extra element?

Segment Synopsis: Speckert talks about the difficulties of prosecuting domestic violence and what strategies she uses in her prosecutions to overcome those obstacles. She says that she wants people to feel empowered, but that the process of prosecution is not conducive to that. She understands that it is hard for survivors, whom she says are usually women, to cooperate because of the danger they are in, so Speckert says that she prioritizes the woman's safety over a conviction. She says even though it has taken a lot of work to get the domestic violence laws we have now, it is still sometimes better for a woman to move out of state than to go forward with a dangerous prosecution. She talks about the importance of safety planning, evidence, and use of the Coordinated Community Response (CCR) model to successful prosecutions. Speckert compares New Orleans to Fayette County, saying the two are very different, before crediting Lexington police with doing a good job of investigating and gathering evidence of domestic violence. Pivoting to discuss pretrial work, she says that she prefers to discuss that evidence when meeting with defendants and opposing counsels. T.K. Logan asks about the effectiveness of "stalking logs" or records made by victims of abusive treatment. Speckert says that they are very useful and that she will ask survivors to go back and attempt to put them together retroactively because of how much credibility they lend a prosecution. Logan asks about the biggest challenges to prosecution of domestic violence and Speckert answers that the common misconceptions of who stalkers are and what constitutes stalking are major obstacles. She tells a story about one abuser who plead guilty to second degree assault but not stalking, even though it is a lesser felony, because he did not understand that his actions were, in fact, stalking. Education is needed on this point, she says, and that women need not be flattered by what they perceive as jealousy because it could actually be quite toxic behavior. Speckert also says that boys need to be educated on healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships. Returning to challenges to prosecution, she says that many survivors do not want to have to testify on deeply personal matters and she says that the entire process is, in many ways, unfair to victims. The necessary constitutional protections for defendants, Speckert says, begin prosecutions from a place of mistrust and disbelief of survivors, so she is not surprised when some survivors do not want to go forward with prosecution. Other victims, she says, may have problems of their own with the law that a trial would raise. Speckert talks about where she draws a line in the sand, saying that if she knows she has enough evidence for a felony conviction, she will not settle for a misdemeanor plea. With sexual assault cases, she says she will not drop sex offender registration in order to reach a plea agreement. Speckert talks about being transparent with survivors about their prosecution and that sometimes they are not the answer to domestic violence because of the danger posed to women. Survivors need to be empowered and responsible for their own safety, possibly including moving states or changing their names, which she says is not fair to them but can keep them safe. Domestic violence charges ought to have worse penalties, Speckert argues, and she reemphasizes the importance of safety planning in her prior work in women's shelters and in her career as a prosecutor. She talks about building relationships with women in New Orleans, saying that they did outreach to churches, hairdressers, and anywhere they anticipated women going for help in their communities. Speckert says she wishes that education on domestic violence and abusive behaviors was mandatory in schools because of just how pervasive intimate partner violence is in America.

Keywords: "Criminal justice system"; "Stalking logs"; Assault in the second degree; Attorneys; Churches; Constitutional protections for defendants; Coordinated Community Response (CCR); Coordinated Community Response model; Defendants; Domestic violence; Empowerment; Evidence-based prosecutions; Felonies; Felony cases; Flattery; Hairdressers; Jealousy; Lexington (Ky.); Medical records; Misdemeanors; New Orleans (La.); Outside corroboration; Plea agreements; Pleas; Police; Prison; Race issues; Safety planning; Second-degree assault; Sex offender registration; Sex offenders; Survivors; Victim testimony

Subjects: Abused women--United States; Intimate partner violence.; Prosecution--United States--Decision making; Prosecution--United States.; Stalking; Women lawyers--United States.; Women's shelters

00:24:58 - Inaccuracies of the popular image of a stalker / Learning about intimate partner violence

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Partial Transcript: Can I ask a question real quick? I mean, you've referred several times, and I think that--(inaudible)--that sort of perspective that people, lay people have--generally have about a stalker. So, what is a stalker in that sort of orthodox picture, you know?

Segment Synopsis: Speckert talks about what the "orthodox" picture of a stalker is and she talks about how she learned about the reality of domestic violence. She says people typically imagine a stranger in the bushes or an obsessed, perverse person. In reality, Speckert says that there is no stereotype of a stalker and that "regular guys" can be stalkers and abusers. She goes on to talk about how she came to study domestic violence. Speckert discusses her interest in non-violence when she was growing up and says that she attended a small liberal arts college that encouraged community work. While there, she took women's studies classes and volunteered at the Rape Crisis Center in New Orleans. After that, she says she took a folklore class while pursuing her master's degree and did an oral history project with women who had been incarcerated after murdering their abusers. Speckert talks about how that project was a "tipping point" in her life and career trajectory.

Keywords: "Anti-violence"; "Guy in the bushes"; Abusive spouses; Batterers; Folklore; Folklore classes; Liberal arts colleges; Literature degrees; Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (St. Gabriel, La.); Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Master's degrees; New Orleans (La.); Non-violence; Oral history projects; Rape Crisis Center (New Orleans, La.); Strangers; Women's studies

Subjects: Abusive men; Intimate partner violence.; Stalking; University of New Orleans; Women's shelters; Women--Education (Higher)--United States

00:28:51 - Successful prosecutions and survivors' safety

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Partial Transcript: How do you think some of those prior experiences influence what you do today, which is the prosecution part?

Segment Synopsis: Speckert talks about successful prosecutions, how those cases are built over time, and how survivors need to be protected in case of an unsuccessful prosecution. She says that her office's policy is to pursue a conviction and that she wants to see abusers go to prison, but that sometimes a case has to be built over time. Speckert tells a story about one man who had multiple misdemeanor assault convictions and how those several cases eventually led to a felony conviction. She talks about how evidence was gathered in that case even though the victim was uncooperative, and how that evidence helped secure a felony plea deal from the abuser. Those success stories show how evidence and the Coordinated Community Response (CCR) model can be effective, she says. Speckert goes on to talk about the CCR model has to be paired with safety planning and she tells a story about one abuser who was frustratingly not convicted and later stabbed the woman who brought charges against him. She discusses how juries react to survivors and Speckert argues that juries do not need to like a survivor in order to convict an abuser. She talks about strategies for women taking responsibility for their safety, though she emphasizes that this does not mean buying guns or trying to create their own evidence by videotaping their abusers or stalkers.

Keywords: "Create their own evidence"; "Grassy Knoll"; "Second shooter"; "Stalking logs"; Assault in the 4th degree; Burdens of proof; Class D felonies; Convictions; Coordinated Community Response (CCR); Coordinated Community Response model; Dogs; Domestic violence; Empowerment; Evidence; Eyewitnesses; Felony assault; Felony convictions; Guns; Injury photographs; Juries; Jurors; Medical records; Misdemeanor convictions; Motions; Offender accountability; Persistent felons; Plea agreements; Pleas; Police; Safety planning; Shootings; Stabbings; Subpoenas; Unlawful imprisonment; Victim statements; Victim testimonies

Subjects: Abused women--United States; Abusive men; Dating violence.; Intimate partner violence.; Prosecution--United States--Decision making; Prosecution--United States.; Stalking; Stalking victims; Women lawyers--United States.

00:38:47 - Closing thoughts--Stopping abuse and repeat offenders

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Partial Transcript: I understand, I hear what you're saying about the victims, but if it's not the criminal justice system then what--what is the answer and what--what do you think about that?

Segment Synopsis: Speckert talks about how to get women away from abusers and how to deal with re-offending abusers. She says that safety planning is hugely important and that giving women even a small amount of time to escape their abusers can work. Making it impossible for judges to probate abusers is part of her strategy, Speckert says, though she cannot do that for every case. She talks about court ordered batterer treatment, the need for men to be the ones to end domestic violence, and the rarity of women abusers before turning to discuss re-offending abusers. Men re-offending is much more common, she argues, than abused women getting in a relationship with another abuser. T.K. Logan the ends the interview.

Keywords: "Criminal justice system"; Abusers; Batterer treatment; Convictions; Defendants; Domestic violence; Judges; New Orleans (La.); Probation; Re-offending abusers; Safety planning; Sentencing statements; Women abusers

Subjects: Abused women--United States; Abusive men; Control (Psychology); Intimate partner violence.; Prosecution--United States.; Women lawyers--United States.