Denise Marie Anderson sent messages to a friend that really were silent screams for help. Her former boyfriend, she said, was stalking her, leaving threatening messages at work, and had assaulted her.
She provided evidence of the assault to the trusted friend: photographs of bruises. She also expressed frustration that the police told her they couldn’t do more to help her.
Less than two weeks later, on Aug. 1, Anderson’s body was found in a north Fargo apartment that had been set on fire. She died, police said, from traumatic injuries.
The apartment belonged to her former boyfriend — a man with a lengthy criminal history that includes convictions for assault, false imprisonment, terrorizing and domestic violence.
The former boyfriend, now in jail, has been charged with murder. If convicted, the 44-year-old likely will spend the rest of his life — or at least most of the rest of his life — in prison.
It will be too late for Denise Anderson, a mother and a grandmother.
Her friends are trying to strengthen a law that failed to protect her. The law in North Dakota Century Code on domestic violence defines “family or household member.”
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The definition covers a “spouse, family member, former spouse, parent, child, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are in a dating relationship, persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they are or have been married or have lived together at any time, and, for the purpose of issuance of a protective order, any other person with a sufficient relationship to the abusing person.”
That’s a mouthful but it leaves one glaring omission that allowed Denise Anderson to fall outside the law’s protection: it does not include estranged boyfriends. That’s a mystifying gap, since jilted boyfriends figure prominently among abusers.
So the tragedy of Denise Anderson’s violent and preventable death has exposed an oversight in the law. The question now is what are we going to do about it?
According to her friends, Fargo police determined that the complaints that she filed for domestic violence didn’t fall within the definition of a family member or household member.
When the North Dakota Legislature convenes in 2021, lawmakers should fix that problem. Doing so might help to protect vulnerable women who find themselves stalked by an abusive, estranged boyfriend.
Denise Anderson’s death was senseless. But it doesn’t have to be meaningless.