Therapist Amie Harwick was fatally attacked Saturday in her Hollywood Hills home and police have arrested ex-boyfriend Gareth Pursehouse on suspicion of murder. The story is tragically familiar: Harwick tried repeatedly to protect herself against Pursehouse, a freelance photographer whom she had dated. She showed up, multiple times, to the Superior Court branch in Van Nuys to get two temporary restraining orders against him. Harwick jumped through the hoops required by the legal system. Then, this weekend, police discovered her mortally wounded body when responding to reports of a woman screaming.
Her most recent restraining order against Pursehouse expired two weeks ago, according to ABC 7.
The story is garnering swift media attention—from Page Six to the Daily Beast (which ran with a sensationalistic headline reading in part, “Hollywood Sex Therapist... Plunges to Death”)—not because it is exceptional for a woman to be murdered by a current or former partner against whom she has desperately tried to protect herself, but because she once dated a celebrity: the comedian Drew Carey. The reality, of course, is that this celebrity tie is the only thing that is unusual about this case: More than half of all female homicide victims are murdered by an intimate partner, and recent research suggests that homicide by intimate partners is on the rise.
Harwick, a well-known marriage and family therapist, got a temporary restraining order against Pursehouse in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2012, she got another temporary restraining order against him. It is unclear from electronic court dockets why she sought the restraining orders, according to the Times, but it is clear that she felt unsafe. “She did everything she could do to protect herself, and this person still sought her out and was violent toward her,” said Hernando Chaves, a close friend and Beverly Hills sex therapist.
Harwick, who therapeutically specialized in working with women in abusive relationships, believed her troubles with Pursehouse to be a thing of the past, according to friends who spoke with the Times. Then, in January, she ran into Pursehouse at an event that he was photographing. “She said that when he saw her, he just went ballistic. He lost it. He made a scene,” said friend Vera Duffy in an interview with the Times. “She was very scared. ... She said, ‘What am I going to do? I let my roommate know, I have home security.’” Chaves, who was at the event, said that the chance encounter seemed to “reignite [Pursehouse’s] obsessive preoccupation with her.”
When police arrived at her home on Saturday, they “found her unconscious and mortally wounded under a third-floor balcony with injuries consistent with a fall,” reports the Times. “Her roommate, who met arriving officers in the street, said Harwick was attacked in the home and he had narrowly escaped by jumping a wall, authorities said.” There were signs of forced entry to the residence.
It is unclear whether the recently expired restraining order played any role in Harwick’s murder. Tunisia Offray of Shepherd’s Door Domestic Violence Resource Center told ABC 7, “A lot of these guys aren’t threatened by the piece of paper,” she said. “They will play the system. They will wait until they have their opportunity and then they’ll do whatever they feel they need to do to seek revenge.” Obtaining a “permanent” restraining order requires navigating a legislative process that can be technically, logistically, and emotionally challenging. Meanwhile, the research on restraining orders shows varying levels of effectiveness in preventing violence.
What is clear is that the legal system failed to keep Harwick safe, just as it has with so many victims of intimate partner violence. Offray suggests that what is needed more broadly is education around intimate partner violence, the rehabilitation of perpetrators, and a total overhaul of the restraining order system, which is broken. That is what Chaves says he wants people to see in Harwick’s death—“not the sensationalism of her dating Drew Carey or being a ‘Hollywood sex therapist,’” he said, “but that our system is not protecting women.”