Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Santa doesn't kill people, Abusers kill people

We know that incidents of domestic violence often increase around the holidays as stress increases and families spend more time together, and this season has been no exception.

A Bibb County man has been charged with wounding a woman during a domestic dispute at their home.

A man in Madison held his estranged wife and their child hostage in a hotel, prompting a police standoff.

A Cherokee County man beat his girlfriend and left her by the road to die, which she later did in the hospital.

A fourth Georgia man has been charged in his wife's shooting death in South Carolina where they were visiting family.

And, nationally, no one has missed the coverage of the so-called "Santa Massacre", where a California man murdered his ex-wife and 8 of her relatives at a Christmas party.

What you'll notice about these articles is that the phrase "domestic violence" is never used. Each of the cases is treated as a one-time incident, as if the perpetrator just snapped. What we know, however, is that most men who murder their partners have a long history of violent behavior.

When a woman calls our hotline, contrary to what most people expect, we don't immediately tell her that she needs to leave. Instead, we help her plan to leave, if she chooses to, in the safest way possible, even if that takes some time. That's because one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to end it. When abusers sense that they are losing control over their victim, they may decide to escalate the violence to prevent her from leaving, or may instead choose to exercise the ultimate form of control by taking her life.

Take the so-called Santa shooting. According to the AJC, Pardo began purchasing ammunition and guns and ordering supplies to build a flame thrower as early as last summer. He ordered the Santa outfit that gained him entrance to the home in early fall. His plans began around the time that his estranged wife filed for divorce.

Again, none of the articles describing this horrific event mention domestic violence, but one of the most telling quotes for us comes from an article in the Huffington Post describing a 911 call made by a survivor of the shooting hiding with her daughter in a neighbor's home.

"I have a feeling I know who it is," she said, and identified the shooter as her former brother-in-law. "They're going through a divorce right now."

Most people going through a divorce do not choose to murder their ex, their ex's entire family, and their own mother for siding with the ex during the divorce proceedings. Something made this woman suspect that her former brother-in-law was capable of such violence, and that indicates to us that there had been signs of abuse in the couple's past.

Many people still feel that domestic violence could never happen to them, or that it is rare, or that it doesn't affect anyone outside of the immediate relationship. For those who still think this way, it is important to label domestic violence for what it is, to recognize how common and dangerous it has become, and to help everyone understand that domestic violence is a community problem with a community solution.

If you are in the Atlanta area and want to learn more about what you can do to end violence against women, call us at (404) 370-7670.

Update: A Baldwin County man killed his girlfriend and then himself this morning. The Macon Telegraph notes that the couple had a history of domestic violence.

Update 2: A Gwinnet County man fractured his wife's skull, almost killing her, on Christmas day. The Gwinnett Daily Post notes that he had prior domestic violence charges.

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