Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Once a victim herself, Gary woman creates domestic violence database

GARY -- As Myra Spearman lay unconscious on the floor of her Chicago home, her abuser called Spearman's mother and said, "I think I killed her."

Spearman, who suffered permanent nerve damage from the beating, survived, but the violence was the last straw in a 14-year relationship of physical, verbal and emotional torture, she said.

Only later did Spearman find out that her abuser had a history of violence.

"Had I known, I never would have dated him to begin with," said Spearman, who now lives in Gary.

It was that frustration that led Spearman to create an online database -- at theweaker

vessel.org -- that lists the names of Lake County residents who have been convicted of domestic violence or who have had protection orders or restraining orders filed against them in court.

Patterned after Internet sites that identify sex offenders, The Weaker Vessel identifies domestic abuse offenders and lists the person's name, city and county of alleged offense, case number and description of offense -- all public information gleaned from court records provided by the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

While imperfect -- not all entries include full names and birth dates, for example -- it provides enough information for interested parties to find out more.

That alone may save a life, Spearman said.

"I just want to let you know that they have hurt people in the past and if you're dating them you should ask questions," Spearman said.

Sheriff's Department Administrative Deputy Chief Patti Van Til, who coordinates the department's Domestic Violence Task Force, said programs like Spearman's can help stem the cycle of abuse in Northwest Indiana.

"I support whatever method we have to protect potential victims," Van Til said. "It give an individual a heads-up to assess a relationship."

"That's one of the focuses of having a database available," Van Til said. "If it can save one person's life, we've done good work, and she's done good work."

Working with a Gary-based data systems and design firm, Data Mine, Spearman already has input the names of 400 Lake County offenders and now is indexing names of offenders in Marion County and parts of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Lake County domestic violence advocates believe theweakervessel.org is the nation's first online database of domestic violence offenders.

Earlier this year, a California assemblywoman introduced a bill allowing people to access criminal background information on a potential partner or spouse. A portion of that bill proposed creating the nation's first domestic violence database.

"Obviously, knowledge is power," Assemblywoman Fiona Ma said at the time. "If you encounter someone who you think is a little bit creepy, you would have the ability to check."

The portion of the bill creating the online database, however, was dropped because of opposition from victim advocacy groups concerned over privacy issues.

Spearman says the Web site is intended to empower women, not embarrass offenders.

A domestic violence advocate who helped create the California bill -- Alexis Moore of California-based Survivors in Action -- applauds Spearman's action in northwest Indiana.

"Myra and I have to be vigilant," Moore said. "The public records are there, but most victims don't know how to research those county by county and state by state."

Spearman said she hopes to get a grant to create a national database that will "contribute to the prevention of domestic violence and sexual abuse of women and children worldwide."