Fame doesn’t shield people from domestic abuse.
Nor does it protect a perpetrator from the legal consequences of abuse.
That’s one of the messages that advocates for domestic violence victims are sharing after the arrest of singer-songwriter Don McLean on a charge of assaulting his wife of 30 years at their home in Camden.
“There are lots of cases where the veneer of fame or the sort of public frame of authority doesn’t necessarily line up with what a person believes internally,” said Francine Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
While declining to comment specifically on the McLean case, Stark said that, rich or poor, domestic abuse happens when one person feels they have the right to control their partner.
The high-profile arrest is a reminder that domestic violence occurs in famous relationships as well as with people who are not well-known, said Julie Colpitts, deputy director of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence. “Chris Brown, Paul Simon, there have been any number of famous people involved in domestic violence. It isn’t something that just happens to people who are poor.”
Camden police arrested Don McLean about 2 a.m. Monday after his wife, Patrisha McLean, called 911. He was charged with domestic violence assault, a misdemeanor, and released on $10,000 bail.
Patrisha McLean then sought a protection-from-abuse order against her husband, citing what she described as years of abuse, as well as violence and threats the night he was arrested. In her handwritten explanation for why she was seeking a restraining order, Patrisha McLean said that for the first 10 years of their relationship, Don McLean was prone to rage and would squeeze her legs so hard that he would leave bruises.
His temper subsided as they raised a family, but it resurfaced late Sunday night, she said.
ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR EBBS AND FLOWS
It is not unusual for a victim to stay in an abusive relationship for years and for the extent of abuse to vary over time, advocates say.
“What keeps victims in relationships sometimes is the sense there is an ebb and flow,” said Colpitts. “You love somebody and think they’ve resolved their issues and you believe them. For a time they’re able to back off intensive physical abuse and then it resurfaces and the terror returns and you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it.
“When it returns, it brings everything back,” she said. “That’s how trauma works. It’s cyclical. It’s not like it goes away. It goes underground, and when another episode of abuse occurs it comes back.”
Many women do leave abusive relationships, but it can be hard, especially if there are children and shared property
“Life would be so lovely if an abusive person would always seem like an abusive person, but they don’t,” Stark said. “We’re all complex people. … Women don’t fall in love with men because they’re abusive. They fall in love with what’s lovable about them.”
An abuser’s controlling behavior often creeps up over time, and can subside for periods.
“One of the things we know is these are choices people are making about how they behave,” Stark said. “When they realize what they’re doing is costing them something they don’t want to lose – their reputation or friendships or children or money or freedom – they choose not to do those things that have those results,” Stark said.
Don McLean’s lawyer, Walter McKee, issued a statement Thursday saying it was disturbing that Patrisha McLean took what he called the “extraordinary” step of filing for a protection-from-abuse order when there already were bail conditions in place that precluded her husband from having contact with her. Violating bail conditions can lead to criminal prosecution.
DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF EVENTS
Bail conditions do represent some protection, but they are a generic tool employed for many crimes. A protection-from-abuse order is crafted to deal specifically with potentially abusive behavior, Stark said. Bail conditions lapse when the charge is either adjudicated or dismissed, while a protection order can last up to two years.
The alleged victim is the plaintiff in the civil process of seeking a protection order and can list specifics about his or her safety plan, which might involve work, children or pets, she said.
McKee said that his client’s arrest was based only on his wife’s version of events – events that his client denies.
Stark said that in her experience, police don’t arrest someone without a good reason.
“One of the things I value about the role of law enforcement is that their job is to step into any household, regardless of who lives there, whether they’re famous because it’s a small town or they’re famous on a global stage, and do an investigation to determine whether there should be charges,” she said.
Police need to demonstrate they have probable cause to believe a crime has occurred before they can arrest someone, she said, adding, “The rule of law matters and applies to us all.”