National Post Barbara Kay: Willing victims of intimate partner violence

National Post - Monday May 27th, 2013

Donna Jones with her brother Derek.

Who’d want Christie Blatchford’s journalism beat?

Blatchford reports on court cases springing from the most pitiful and depraved corners of the human animal in extremis. Blatchford chronicles heartbreaking sagas of victims, often children, caught in the crosshairs of relatives’ or strangers’ unfathomable pathology.

Sometimes, more horrifying in its way, the victims are caught in their own pathology. In such cases we are often stunned by the extraordinary compassion of those who try to help, as in the long and tortured history of Ashley Smith, in which no amount of concern was enough to prevent the teenager’s eventual death from self-strangulation.

Hard on the heels of Ashley’s unique story comes another bizarre and melancholy tale to tax our imaginations. Almost daily in the past few weeks we read jaw-dropping trial details of Ottawa’s Donna Jones, who died from burn wounds 11 days after her husband, Mark Hutt, charged with criminal negligence causing death – in his lawyer’s assertion by mistake – allegedly poured boiling water over her.

Donna didn’t have to die. If she had been treated immediately for the third and fourth degree burns that covered much of her body, according to the medical director of the burn unit of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, her chances of survival were “virtually 100%.”

And yet, astoundingly, Donna voluntarily suffered the most horrific pain for 11 days as the burns cooked her skin, fat, nerve and muscles, without asking for help – on the contrary, frequently reassuring her mother by telephone that her absence from their lives was due to a flu, and that Mark was devotedly tending to her. Such stoicism, such a determined refusal to seek medical treatment was, in the burn doctor’s opinion “unheard-of.”

Almost equally unheard of in the annals of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) was the trial’s back story. If ever a woman could be said to have stepped eagerly forward to embrace her doom, it was “bubbly” Donna Jones.

Donna’s relationship with Mark spanned four years, her marriage two years. During the relationship, it became abundantly clear to friends and co-workers that the cheerful, confident and competent woman they thought was normal was enmeshed in an unhealthy, increasingly masochistic relationship with a man who evidenced all the characteristics of a control freak and a sadist. There was evidence of physical abuse – bruises, scratches, black eyes, a broken nose, swollen cheeks, fractures – that Donna continued to “explain” with decreasing credibility. Her friends were so alarmed they staged an intervention. Nothing worked. She married him anyway. The lure of “my Mark” overcame whatever rational instincts she had previously deployed in other areas of life.

Even though neighbours often heard him screaming, they never called the police. Would they if he had been a woman? We’ll never know

A very strange case. And lest anyone think such a situation could only arise between a woman and a man, let’s remember the nearly as strange case of Dustin Paxton (receiving much less attention), who was found guilty early last year on two charges of assaulting his 28-year old business partner and male roommate (whose identity is protected by a court-ordered ban), arising from incidents in 2008 and 2009 in Calgary and Regina.

Paxton’s victim is lucky to be alive, although he remains somewhat cognitively impaired and in other ways diminished by the months of assault and sexual torment he endured. At least he didn’t resist medical aid when it was finally offered, for he was surely close to death when he got it. Upon his arrival at a Regina hospital in April, 2010, he weighed 87 pounds and showed signs of massive abuse. Most of his bottom lip and part of his tongue were missing, and an eye socket had been fractured.

Like Donna Jones, this victim could have left his situation at any time, but was psychologically bound to his sadistic “lover.” (Interestingly, even though neighbours often heard him screaming, they never called the police. Would they if he had been a woman? We’ll never know).

An expert in domestic violence at the Hutt trial has testified that domestic violence cuts across all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. But domestic violence also cuts across gender lines. It wasn’t “patriarchy” that turned Mark Hutt into an alleged monster and Dustin Paxton into a convicted one. Nor were Donna Jones and Dustin Paxton’s victim helpless victims. No psychiatrist can say with certainty why these two men — one still allegedly — needed to act out such savage impulses on their intimate partners.

Or why these victims chose to immolate themselves on the altar of love. But how were their tormenters able to pick them out of the crowd? How did they know?

National Post