Last week, 38-year-old therapist Amie Harwick died from blunt force trauma after a violent encounter at her Hollywood home involving an ex-boyfriend. She had previously taken out two restraining orders against Gareth Pursehouse in 2011 and 2012, one of which quotes her as saying: “He has suffocated me, punched me, slammed my head on the ground [and] kicked me.” Harwick’s last restraining order against Pursehouse ended just two weeks before she died.
Pursehouse was arrested over the weekend in connection to her death, bailed out of jail on Tuesday, then re-arrested Wednesday. He has been charged with one count of murder and another of first-degree residential burglary, with the special circumstance allegation of lying in wait. We also know that Harwick’s roommate narrowly escaped their apartment and jumped a wall to raise the alarm to neighbors.
Harwick’s case has received a lot of media attention in the days since, due in part to the popularity of her 2014 book, The New Sex Bible for Women, as well as her prior engagement to comedian Drew Carey. In the wake of the tragedy, Carey postponed taping of The Price is Right for a week and said in a statement: “She was a positive force in the world, a tireless and unapologetic champion for women, and passionate about her work as a therapist. I am overcome with grief.”
The spotlight on Harwick’s death was further prolonged after Wendy Williams made a tasteless joke about the fact that her death involved a fall from a third story balcony. Harwick’s brother Chris has since requested an apology from the talk show host, saying: “Domestic violence is something no one should be joking about.”
In the last few days, several of Harwick’s friends have gone on the record referring to Pursehouse as a “stalker.” One, Dr. Hernando Chavez, said that he had been present at a recent accidental encounter between Harwick and Pursehouse, at which Pursehouse “was irate, angry, aggressive, verbally abusive, distraught, under duress. And she was trying to calm him down, she was trying to help him soothe, she was trying to be compassionate and empathic.”
What we can glean from all of this is that Amie Harwick probably died in the same manner that takes the lives of thousands of Americans annually. The number of homicides by intimate partners rose from 1,875 in 2014 to 2,237 in 2017—1,527 of whom were women. What’s more, according to a study published in the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) Journal, in “70-80%” of those cases, “no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.”
While domestic violence is a problem that affects all genders, there can be no doubt that women are on the receiving end of most of it. According to figures gathered between 2003 and 2014, more than half of the female murder victims in the US are killed by romantic partners. That figure applies all over the world too. The Global Study on Homicide estimates that half of all female murder victims in 2012 were killed by partners or family members.
Amie’s story, while shocking, isn’t exactly what you’d call new.
America has a long history of beautiful, prominent young women dying at the hands of current or former romantic partners. In 1980, Paul Snider murdered his estranged wife, 20-year-old model Dorothy Stratten. In 1982, Dominique Dunne—most famous for her role in Poltergeist—died by strangulation at the age of 22, in an attack by her ex-boyfriend. In 2014, dancer Stephanie Moseley was shot dead by her husband, Earl Hayes. This month, a 21-year-old man pleaded guilty to murdering Instagram influencer Bianca Devins the day after the two had been to a concert together. Most famously of all, O.J. Simpson was found legally responsible for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, in the civil trial that followed his famous criminal acquittal.
Every time one of these murders takes place it weighs heavily on women everywhere. But Amie Harwick’s death is particularly hard to stomach precisely because of the abundance of caution she practiced while she was alive. Dr. Chavez’s comments about Harwick’s kindness in the face of Pursehouse’s anger will be acutely familiar to every woman who has ever smiled politely through incidents of harassment or abuse, as a means to ensure escape. In addition to taking out restraining orders, Harwick constantly promoted healthy boundaries and self-care on her social media. As one who counseled clients dealing with domestic violence, she knew and used the tools to protect herself.
Just one week ago, she posted: “Let’s remember how much control we actually have over the partners we pick and how we move forward in our romantic relationships.”