She was trapped.
Like so many other victims of domestic violence, Wanda Rosa was powerless to separate herself from the abuser who murdered her last week as their 4-year-old lay beside her, begging his father to stop strangling her.
From the outside, it looks like Rosa had choices during her years of misery. And it looks like she made the wrong ones. Several times, when police and courts intervened to hold Emilio Delarosa responsible for the heinous things he’d done to her, he coerced Rosa into doing things that benefited him. She modified restraining orders to allow him contact, for example, after he pleaded for a relationship with his son.
Even after Delarosa held a gun to her head, choked her, and threatened to kill her and her family in 2012, Delarosa persuaded Rosa not to testify against him, according to transcripts of telephone calls between them. As a result, Delarosa served only four years after pleading guilty to attempted murder and other charges. When Rosa took the child to see her abuser in prison in October 2015, Delarosa threatened her again. She was so afraid, she told friends, she was considering leaving the state. She got another restraining order.
But in July of this year, Rosa modified that order, too, to allow Delarosa, now free, to see his son.
This dangerous pattern might seem mystifying, but Rosa made the kinds of choices — if they are choices at all — abuse victims make every single day. Accomplished tormentors like Delarosa strip away their victims’ agency, isolating them from friends and family, monitoring their every word and move. They make them feel worthless, helpless, and morbidly dependent.
Maybe we’d like to think we’d just flee in Rosa’s situation — take our children and head to an emergency shelter, or leave the state altogether. But it takes time and money and confidence to start a whole new life, and Rosa possessed none of those. She depended on Delarosa’s mother — who wanted her son freed — for money. And sometimes, running away means leaving everybody who loves you. Leaving can seem like moving to Mars.
These are the things that imprison victims in abusive cycles, making them more likely to give monsters second chances, and even third and fourth ones.
Life with an abuser is ruled by a simple mantra: “Don’t make him even angrier.” Renewing a restraining order or testifying in court can sometimes put victims in more danger, enraging their abusers. Documents show Rosa was afraid a long prison sentence would make Delarosa more likely to come after her when he got out. Sometimes, and this is truly messed up, victims will choose to have contact with their partners so they can keep an eye on them, to better gauge how much danger they’re in. Introduce children, and the decisions grow even more gut-wrenching.
Every path is perilous.
Since Jared Remy murdered Jennifer Martel in the presence of their young daughter in 2013 — in a case eerily similar to this one — new laws have made it easier to crack down on abusers. Courts and prosecutors have redoubled their efforts to make sure domestic abuse victims get the protection they need. When a victim comes into a courtroom, the best judges try to connect them with services. The luckiest find advocates who can walk them through the process, help them think through the dangers they face, and how best to protect themselves.
But ultimately, courts defer to the wishes of victims in domestic abuse cases. Compromised though they may be, victims usually know their abusers better than anyone. And so the courts deferred to Wanda Rosa — abused, broken, and facing impossible options.
It’s unclear how much safer she would have been if she’d chosen another way. A man as execrable as Delarosa was unlikely to be deterred by a restraining order. More prison time almost certainly would not have weakened his resolve to destroy someone he clearly saw as his property.
That’s the most disturbing possibility: that all the protections we could give this woman would not have saved her.Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.