When there’s a celebrity involved, domestic violence suddenly becomes a hot bed issue. But women are abused every day and they are rarely seen as front-page news. In fact, one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these women survive their abusive relationships, but some do not. Joanna Paul lost her daughter Monica, a 31-year-old mother of two from Montclair, New Jersey, after she was fatally shot while watching her son swim at the Montclair YMCA Family Center last year. The alleged assailant was her ex-boyfriend and the father of her children, Anton Kenneth Duckett. Paul had her concerns about Duckett from day one. Now, she is raising 12-year-old Essence and 7-year-old Noah who have lost both parents in this tragedy. Paul shares her story with ESSENCE.com about her efforts to get a law passed in her daughter’s name, why she takes her grandchildren to therapy and how this experience has changed her life forever.
My world came tumbling down on June 26, 2008. I was numb and shocked to hear that my daughter Monica had been shot and killed. I didn’t want to live anymore. Monica was gone forever and her children Essence and Noah are the only physical parts of her that remain.
Growing up, Monica and I bumped heads like any other normal mother-daughter relationship. We were just starting to get close again when she was killed. The thing I admired most about my daughter was that she was a great mother. Ten years ago, when I first met Anton Kenneth Duckett, I voiced my concerns to Monica. I told her four words that still haunt me today.
“Monica, he’s bad news.”
“You’d feel that way about anybody,” she said.
I didn’t know the depth of my words until now. That was the first time I met him and the only time I said something outright to her about their relationship. It wasn’t until October 2007 that she responded back, telling me about the trouble she was in. One night, she called me upset saying that Anton had threatened to kill her. She got a second restraining order against him and wrote letters to her kids that very day as if she knew what might occur.
“If you’re reading this, then something must have happened to me. I love you…know that I am in a better place,” she wrote in her letter to Noah.
It has been unbelievably hard and even more difficult to swallow that there are laws in place that should have prevented Monica’s death. I never expected to be putting flowers on her grave. That’s why I want to pass “Monica’s Law.”If such a law was in place at the time, it would have allowed for stricter, more protective legislation against abusive fathers who use their visitation rights to stay close to their victims. Anton had constant contact with Monica because of the kids. Under this type of law, Monica could have withheld visitation until Anton completed a risk-assessment class in domestic violence or face three to five years of jail time for violating the restraining order.
On the one-year anniversary of her death this summer, my family and I, with the help of local supporters, held a candlelight vigil against domestic violence. We chose to have part of the vigil at the Montclair YMCA Family Center. I wanted to see where she took her last breath, thinking at the time that it would help me to reach a sense of closure. That was a mistake. It only troubled me even more.
I stay strong for my grandchildren. They’re both in counseling now because I don’t want this to manifest itself later in their lives and perpetuate into the next generation. Essence doesn’t talk about her father at all. Noah, on the other hand, does talk about him, but sensed that I was uncomfortable by it. One day, he said something that made me realize my purpose despite my loss.
“Grandma, you don’t want me to say my dad so I’ll say ‘the bad guy’ instead,” said my six-year-old grandson.
I realized I had to put my feelings to the side. I explained to Noah that even though his father did a very bad thing, he is still his father.
There will always be a void in our lives because Monica will never be physically here with us again, but if I can tell my story to other young women, perhaps even one life can be saved. Then I’ll know that my Monica’s life was not in vain.
If you are in a similar situation and need help, call the 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information on how to help pass Monica’s Law, visit monicapaul.org.