In the month of August 2010, in the United States, there were 275 newspaper headlines reporting a domestic violence homicide. In metro-Detroit there were 4 such headlines. When the first murder/suicide occurred in our area, my phone did not ring. HAVEN did not have any requests from the media for comments or information to help assist others that might be experiencing domestic violence in their lives. When the second attempted murder/suicide occurred, the phone started to ring. Everyone suddenly wanted to know – why is there a rash of murders? Is the economy to blame for these deaths? What is going on?
While the murders in August were tragic, they were not an indicator of any one ‘thing’. They were, in fact, part of the national epidemic that we fight each day in our own local community.
The facts and myths about domestic violence:
1. Unfortunately domestic violence homicides occur at a startling rate. It is estimated that there are over 100 domestic violence related homicides per year in Michigan alone. The recent deaths/attempts are not a “rash” but a sad reality.
2. Batterers don’t snap and they don’t have problems with anger management. Batterers believe that they have a right to have power and control over their intimate partners. They believe that it is within their right to do whatever is necessary to gain and then maintain this power and control. When their partner wants to end the relationship, some batterers will resort to the extreme form of power – killing their partner.
3. The economy does not cause a non-abusive person to suddenly become a batterer. It does cause batterers to become increasingly more violent. Does economic stress cause individuals to be angry, argumentative, etc. – yes. Will it lead to abusive behavior – maybe.
The definition of domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors including a wide range of physical, sexual, and psychological treatment used by one person in an intimate partner relationship against another to gain power unfairly or maintain that person’s misuse of power, control and authority.
It seems that much of the focus of these recent cases has been on the stress of the economy. But there is an additional common thread. In these murders or attempted murder, the woman was in the process of ending the relationship. We don’t know why she wanted a divorce. It may have been related to their financial problems but it might also have been deeper. What we do know is that most domestic homicides occur when the victim is ending or has ended the relationship.
4. Often in a media report a law enforcement official states that the murder was not domestic violence because they- the police- had not been called to that home in the past. No police contact does not mean that domestic violence has not occurred. It only means that the police have never been called. We hear from victims over and over that they do not always call the police. Reasons are many- perhaps physical violence was not used, fear from additional threats of violence if the victim seeks help, or they may believe the police will not intervene in a helpful manner.
5. Domestic violence takes many forms including verbal abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse/control, sexual abuse and physical violence. Not all abusive relationships are filled with physical violence. Many of the signs of an abusive relationship are unseen by others. Victims and batterers may be able to hide the verbal assaults, the control of finances, the jabs at self worth, the threat of another assault. Neighbors, friends and family members often comment after a murder that they were shocked and had no knowledge of an abusive relationship.
So what is our response to these horrific murders and the continual misunderstanding of domestic violence? We keep talking about intimate partner violence. We keep training professionals to recognize the hidden signs of abuse. We keep providing a safe, confidential place for victims and their children to heal and grow. We keep educating school children and teens about gender respect, consent, healthy relationships and bystander intervention. We keep insisting that batterers be held accountable for their actions. We keep asking you, our supporters, to speak up, to spread the word and to support our work.
Together we can keep victims safe and we can move closer to a life without fear.