On Friday, our community suffered another loss. Another woman killed, along with her two young children, at the hands of the man who one can only assume, claimed to have loved them. There is now much speculation as to what occurred within this family unit that ended so violently and it is unlikely that we will ever learn the entire story behind this tragedy.
No past police intervention, neighbors reporting a nice and normal family, considerable debt, possible divorce. These are the small glimpses that we have.
Did this couple have a history of domestic violence? I have no idea. Does their story sound like so many others that we hear, sadly, yes. Intimate partner violence is the most underreported of all crimes per the Bureau of Justice. We know that law enforcement intervention does not occur with each act of violence and therefore police are routinely not called. It is also important to understand that domestic violence is not just physical violence. Numerous other tactics are frequently used by batterers – emotional, financial, sexual and verbal abuse. We also know that the most lethal time in a domestic violence relationship is at the time of ending the relationship. Sound familiar?
After this horrific murder was discovered on Friday, HAVEN had a number of inquiries from local media, seeking information or support for their coverage of this crime. One media source became disinterested in our assistance once the police agency didn’t label the murders as a domestic violence homicide.
This was discouraging and at the same time it demonstrates the importance of language and labels. Whenever a homicide or attempted homicide occurs, within an intimate partner relationship, we need to talk about domestic violence. Even if the media or law enforcement does not label the violence as domestic violence, trust me, abusers and victims are labeling it as such. Abusers are using these homicides as the perfect opportunity to remind their partners that IF they dare to end their relationship, they too will have a similar fate – death. Victims are reading and watching this case and are deeply frightened. They can relate to woman’s murder. It is a fear they live with daily.
So when one partner kills the other, we need to have a community conversation. We need more than a press conference, a day of news frenzy and then silence. We need to educate victims about their choices, options and safety planning. We need to send strong messages and then strong actions to abusers to let them know that the entire community will not tolerate their abusive tactics. We need to educate young boys and young men about gender respect and equality.
Visit HAVEN’s website at www.haven-oakland.org to educate yourself about the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault and how to become involved. Let me know your thoughts and help us identify new opportunities to engage the community in this lifesaving dialogue.