Monday, April 27, 2009

UGA Professor Murders Wife, Others

We are following the domestic violence homicides which took place in Athens this weekend and will provide you with updates as they become available.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Motive unclear", no mention of domestic violence
AJC: He was a "respected professor on campus"
Online Athens: A "crime of passion"
Online Athens: Killer had two guns in car with his children, children in vehicle during shootings
ABC: Rumors of an affair (victim blaming), friend killed because he intervened in argument

Online Athens: "Investigators don't know if Zinkhan is hiding or, as in many domestic violence murders, committed suicide." - props to the reporter for labeling this domestic violence

AJC: More victim blaming - "professor's wife wanted a divorce", "marital discord", "controlling behaviors"

Online Athens: First wife had a restraining order against him during their divorce Zinkhan's body found, GBI confirms suicide

There are a few things that deserve comment.

First, so many of these articles feel the need to discuss what a great guy Zinkhan was, how well regarded he was in the University, and how no one expected these murders. It's as if we expect batterers to look a certain way and for us to be able to spot them a mile off. As we've learned over many years, batterers look like your son, your dad, your pastor, your boss, your best friend, and your brother-in-law. Batterers are homeless and live in mansions. Batterers are doctors and lawyers and waiters and cashiers. That is why it is so important to believe women's stories; we can't always tell what batterers are capable of, but their victims can.

Second, it is true that there are often warning signs in violent relationships, but many times there isn't a history of physical abuse before an extreme act of violence (like murder) takes place. However, if he owns a gun, has had a restraining order taken out against him in the past, and his current wife has reported controlling behavior, those are considered by us in the field to be red flags for future violence.

Third, neither infidelity, divorce, passion, or marital discord can cause domestic violence or make a woman to blame for violence used against her. Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors over time which can sometimes end in an ultimate act of control, murder. If a batterer feels that he's losing control over his partner because she is trying to leave or has found someone else, he can become exponentially more dangerous, but she certainly cannot be blamed for causing another person to commit a crime.

Fourth, domestic violence is not a private matter. So many of us are not willing to speak up against violence because we think it isn't our business or that if we speak up, others will think we're being battered too. As this case illustrates, however, domestic violence spills out into the public in very dangerous ways, and, by taking a stand, we are working to make our entire community, public spaces and private, safer for everyone.

Finally, murders are unfortunately common ends to violent relationships and, as mentioned in the Online Athens article, many perpetrators also take their own lives afterward. In the state of Georgia there have already been 30 domestic violence homicides in 2009. The only way the violence will stop is if we as community members call it what it is - domestic violence rather than marital discord - and take a stand against its presence in our families and communities.

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