Monday, March 29, 1999

Don't let a friend get loved to death

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Chris loved Jill. Jill loved Chris. They worked together at a McDonald's in Fairfield. Chris carved Jill's name in his chest. So she would always be with him.

        But Jill didn't want to limit her life to Chris.

        Now Jill is dead. And Chris stands charged with murder.

        Chris Hubbard is 19. Jill Sexton was 18.

        Her body was found last week in the back of her car in Decatur, Tenn. Police say Chris drove the car from Hamilton to the Tennessee town.

        Jill's friends warned her about Chris. But she would not hear or heed their warnings. He didn't want her to spend time with her friends. And Chris would not leave her alone.

Save a friend
        Jessica Gill was Jill's best friend. She told Jill that Chris was too possessive. Jessica overheard Chris threatening to kill Jill.

        But, Jessica told me, Chris said he loved Jill.

        “That,” Jessica said, “is not how you're supposed to show your love.”

        After talking with Jessica, after hearing the sorrow in the voice of someone who had tried to help a friend, I wanted to know how to tell someone they're in a relationship that could turn deadly. How do you save a friend or your own child before something terrible happens?

        “Start by saying "I love you,'” suggested Billie Dziech. She's a professor at the University of Cincinnati and the author of The Lecherous Professor, Sexual Harassment in Higher Education and an upcoming book, Dangerous Relations.

        “You have to set up a positive atmosphere,” she told me. “Don't begin by saying: "You're crazy to get involved with this person. I don't like him. Get out of it.'

        “That will just make your friend or loved one dig in her heels and not listen to what you have to say.”

        Ann MacDonald is the executive director of Women Helping Women. She recommended the heart-to-heart talk take place “where you won't be interrupted. It can be with a group of friends, like an intervention, or just one-on-one.”

        After saying how much you care for the person in trouble, she emphasized “being specific” with your fears and observations.

        “Describe exactly what you have seen. Do not be judgmental. Get the person to pay attention to the safety concerns. Let her know you think the situation is really lethal.”

Deadly list
        If you're not sure a relationship is dangerous, Ann MacDonald has a list called “Predictors of Lethality.” Her women's assistance agency compiled the list so victims, family and friends could spot the 10 warning signs of a potentially deadly relationship.

        Ann read the list to me. Some items sounded as if they came from the courtship of Jill and Chris.

        The warning signs include: Death threats. Fantasies of murder or suicide. Access to weapons. Feelings of ownership — “She's mine, and if I can't have her nobody can.” Placing women on a pedestal and knocking them off.

        “The victim is thinking about leaving the relationship. The abuser engages in dangerous behavior without regard to legal or social consequences. Episodes of hostage-taking. The abuser is depressed. Repeated calls must be made to the police.”

        Once the danger signs are recognized, Ann MacDonald and Billie Dziech agreed, the next step is securing the woman's safety.

        “This includes everything from changing locks and giving the man's picture to all of your friends, to taking a leave of absence from work,” Ann said. For help taking these steps, she recommended calling 872-9259, the PROJECT Hotline, a joint effort of Women Helping Women and the YWCA.

        Speaking to parents, Billie Dziech said: “If your child is being threatened by some psychotic person, you may have to sell your house and move. That's drastic. But you stop at nothing to protect your child.”

        Both women said the worst thing a friend or parent can do is hesitate and let a bad situation go. When it comes to saving a life, you can never start too soon.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.