Still a Survivor - The Susan Still Story

July 30, 2018

 

Susan Still speaks on behalf of those whose lives have been impacted by domestic violence.  She is a survivor of 24 years of abuse by her former husband.   Their case is unique, as in December 2004 Justice John F. O’Donnell handed Ulner Still a 36 year sentence, landmark for New York State, as the longest sentence given for the crime of domestic violence where the victim survived. Instrumental in the conviction was a videotape he had one of their children film while he was abusing her. 

LIFE AND DOMESTIC ABUSE

Susan Still was born in 1964 in a New York middle-class family. She attended college in Buffalo, New York where she met blues guitarist Ulner Lee Still and fell in love. They married a few years later while Susan supported the family financially by working at a health insurance company. At first, Ulner was controlling but not particularly violent or abusive. According to Susan, he had a will to dominate and the power to brainwash.  Her husband eventually isolated Susan from talking to her parents or friends. However, due to her husband's proficiency at manipulation and control, and its gradual increase, Susan was slow to realize the high level of danger in which her husband's domineering behaviors placed her. After giving birth to their oldest children, a boy and a girl, Susan had to quit work and stay home to take care of them. As the family's financial situations deteriorated, Ulner became more physically abusive. It came to a head in 1992 when Ulner struck his wife after she forgot an item when grocery shopping.

In 2002, the family's financial situation continued to worsen as they had another child and their careers became less stable. Susan began working again to singlehandedly support the family while Ulner became increasingly abusive. As Susan found a new confidant in her new employer Lynn Jasper, Ulner became more distrustful. The long-term marriage became shaky and Ulner began to threaten Susan more frequently. Ulner instructed his sons and daughter to call their mother "white slut" (though she is in fact biracial) and on one occasion ordered his son to tape him beating her. He would later play the video tapes to the family during dinner, occasionally pausing, pointing out Susan's flaws, mocking her while justifying his brutal behavior. Employer Jasper soon noticed bruises on Susan's face that she disguised as accidental injuries. Finally in May 2003, Lynn encouraged Susan to escape the household with her two sons after discovering a farewell letter at her office drawer containing words like "If anything should happen to me or if I should turn up missing, it is possible my husband was involved".

ESCAPE AND COURT CASE

Susan and her two sons sought protection from the police in May 2003 and reported her husband for domestic abuse. Lisa Bloch Rodwin, assistant district attorney for Erie County, N.Y. gathered evidence and prosecuted the case. Susan took custody of her two sons, then 13 and 8. 

AFTERMATH

In December 2004, New York State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell handed Ulner Still a 36-year prison sentence. The grounds were assault, in the second degree (six counts), assault in the third degree (six counts), and endangering the welfare of a child (two counts), making it the longest sentence given to the crime of domestic violence that didn't result in the death of the victim. On May 7, 2007 Susan Still appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to bring awareness to domestic violence against women. The show aired home videos recorded by the Stills' 13-year-old son of a 51-minute-long beating of Susan by her husband.  Still has gained recognition among groups that campaign against violence against women, served as keynote speaker in Houston for the National College of District Attorneys and shared her story with Diane Sawyer on “20/20” in October.  
 
Susan has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah’s LifeClass, Oprah Where Are They Now, and 20/20 with Diane Sawyer, to bring awareness to domestic violence and its effects on families.  She speaks at conferences nationwide, to law enforcement, attorneys, and judges on the criminal justice response and travels to businesses speaking on the effects domestic violence has on the workplace and what employers can do to help. Susan participates in trainings for law enforcement, crime victim advocates, and other community responders, and has spoken on military bases, at youth conferences, high schools and colleges about the warning signs, and the importance of breaking free of abusive relationships. 

 

WARNING:  This video contains graphic and disturbing content.  

 

 

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