Who Would Kill a Child? The Murder-Suicides of Domestic Violence

As I was leaving work today, one of my coworkers was glimpsing the news and shaking his head. “Second murder-suicide report in the last two weeks in Alaska,” he said, adding what’s on everyone’s else’s mind.

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Gonzales, Young and children. (alaskapublic.org)

“Who in the world would kill a child?”

But  before you think this trend in an Alaska thing, a review of all murder suicides published in the Violence Policy Center’s studies titled American Roulette indicated that the bulk of murder suicides including those with children present are largely an extension of domestic violence. Their review of numerous murder-suicides answer the question that none of us can make sense of:

Who would kill a child?

* Mostly men. The Violence Policy Center notes that in 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrators are male.

* The perpetrator has access to a firearm. Very rarely is another percent of murder-suicides used another type of weapon.

* The perpetrator is under exceptional stress at the time, possibly because they fear their partner will abandon them, or they’ve suffered a long-term depression or a job loss.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch

 

I learned another interesting tidbit in this study. The greater the age gap between the perpetrator and the victim, the greater the likelihood of the murder/suicide.

In American Roulette, an analysis of murder suicides during the first half of 2011 revealed there were 313 events during those six months resulting in 691 deaths. Fifty-five of those were children under the age of eighteen.

Who would kill a child?

It turns out, those closest to the child’s mother are the likely culprits.

Do you know a family impacted by domestic violence?

Call the police if you suspect an incident is occurring.

Call child protective services if you know a child lives in a home where their parent is being abused.

And refer adult domestic violence victims to 1-800-799-SAFE.

Does Yoga Prevent Domestic Violence? The Harm in Perpetuating Silly Myths

It’s that time of year again. October. Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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I decided to go to a presentation titled “Let’s Talk Prevention” put on by a social worker at one of Anchorage’s mental health hospitals.

I should’ve taken the misplaced quotes as a sign. A stop sign. Instead, I twisted the arm of a male coworker and we headed off to the one hour lecture.

The presenter, a bubbly and  capable woman I know from other work venues, now works for our armed forces as an outreach manager.  The audience numbered close to one hundred; many of whom were interns, college students therapists, and other front-line workers in government service. It was an encouraging turn-out.

The presentation began with important definitions and facts, like

  1. Domestic violence is a pattern of  behaviors used intentionally for the purpose of controlling and intimidating the victim.
  2. It can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, and race.
  3. Women experience domestic violence at a far greater rate than men. 

And this is where the presentation began to deteriorate. It appeared that the presenter squirmed with the last fact, and wanted to level the playing field. She alluded to the fact that the NFL’s problem with player Ray Rice beating his then-girlfriend was no more serious than soccer player Hope Solo’s assault against her sister and nephew (note: read writer Ta-Nehisis Coats piece in the Atlantic), and if a different group studied domestic violence, they may come up with different statistics.

Next, the presentation was peppered with slides about prevention. They ran the gamut from having good self esteem, practicing yoga,  to smiling more (yes, I said smiling) to taking time for yourself and not having violent posters in your office at work.

What?

pureyogaworkshop

Does yoga prevent domestic violence? Does low-self esteem cause it? Can your smile prevent a problem that impacts one in four women in our country?

I think not.

I like smiling. I know that yoga has many, many benefits for a person’s physical and mental health. And no one should have violent posters in their office.

But it’s not just ignorant to perpetuate myths such as this, it is positively dangerous.

To suppose that a person’s participation in a positive event prevents domestic violence puts the responsibility of domestic violence back on the victim. If low self-esteem can be blamed for domestic violence, and what non-sociopath hasn’t suffered low self-esteem at some point?, where does that leave the perpetrator?

Off the hook. Again.

The causes of domestic violence are complex. Years of research tells us that it’s a learned behavior, often passed down as an unfortunate family tradition, transmitted from parents to children. Our violent culture is partly to blame, and every time we ask Why does she stay? we continue to hold only the victim accountable. Domestic violence isn’t caused by substance abuse, but is made worse by it. It’s also made worse by community educators who are more interested in amusing their audience that transforming them with the ugly truths.

I left the lecture with my mortified coworker,  and we both agreed we felt complicit to a crime by listening to the fluff.  I followed up with the presenter by phone, and told her I’d love to take her to coffee and share my concerns. She seemed receptive, but I haven’t heard back after my second call.

If I do get to spend time with her, I’ll tell her my story. I’ll tell her some of the stories of victims I’ve worked with over the decades. And I’ll refer her to writer Ta-Nehisi Coate’s op-ed on the topic that encapsulates the problem with short-sighted thinking so well:

“In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the “Violence Against Women Act” and not the “Brawling With Families Act.” That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.”

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Call 1-800-799-SAFE

Until  next time, namaste.

The conversation continues with the Ray Rice saga/Is it the perpetrator or the victim to blame for domestic violence?

What’s going on in your world?

I made an executive decision to cut back blogging to no less than twice monthly. Somewhere between work and home remodels, revision on an old project and the developing of a new one, I realized that something had to give.

NFL player Ray Rice

But in the past weeks, I couldn’t help but notice the conversations around me are again about domestic violence. With the Ray Rice and NFL controversy, it’s like the O.J. Simpson trial all over again.

In case you’re just now tuning in, the famous football player was arrested for beating his female partner, and was barely chastised by the NFL until the video of the assault was released. Now, the NFL is changing how their managing Ray Rice and other famous abusers. It’s the bad news/good news of what happens when a celebrity is involved in a social issue.

The bad news: Most of the people in my world are still focused on why Ray Rice’s girlfriend married him after he knocked the wind out of her rather than asking why a man would do that to the woman he loves. It’s  incredible that there’s a violent crime occurring to one in every three women worldwide, and we still have permission to blame the victims.

The good news is that the NFL is now doing damage control with a proactive way to deal with violence against women, expanding the role of  Jackson Katz, a violence prevention educator, who will use his curriculum to reach the new players which will trickle down to fans. “Millions of boys across the United States have big posters of football players on their wall,” says Katz. “You can bet that they know what’s going on here.”

Jackson Katz,
Jackson Katz,

So there is always hope. Jackson Katz has worked with the New England Patriot’s extensively, the one team I know of that has a demonstrated long-term commitment to end domestic violence. I know because in 1998, the New England Patriot’s honored me with their Regaining One’s Self-Esteem Award.  (Thanks, Patriots!)

In sweeter news, I loved reading about  one of my favorite blogger Alexis Grant’s method of finding her husband (below).

One night while I was feeling both frustrated (single at 30) and silly, I sent out this tweet:

Click on the  link to read more. It isn’t as risky as it sounds; Alexis met the man who was already in her circle of influence and knew some of her friends.

To see this image, enable images at the top of your email.It is possible for love and safety to meet.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Life and Death of Muriel Pfeil/What have We Learned About Domestic Violence Since 1976

Were the good old days really that good?

Not to Alaska resident Muriel Pfeil.

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In 1976, Muriel got into her car in downtown Anchorage, turned the key, and was blown to bits. Someone had planted a car bomb.

At the time, Muriel was not much past forty and had been through a rocky divorce and custody battle with her former husband, lawyer Neil Mackay. Mackay was later acquitted of murder charges. More than eight years later, when Muriel’s brother fought for custody of his nephew and for control of Muriel’s estate, he was executed on his way home from work.

I became a domestic violence advocate in 1992, sixteen years after Muriel’s death. Time and time again, battered women I met with indicated that Muriel’s death was used by their partners as a means to maintain control. “Leave me and you’ll go down like Muriel did.”

I know of no other women in Anchorage killed by their partners in that exact fashion, but just the threat of a car-bombing proved to be a powerful tool to keep women in abusive relationships.

I think about Muriel’s death and the murder of her brother with some regularity. I’m not the only one. Just this evening, a friend mentioned a Muriel Pfeil conversation at a party she attended last week. So much time has passed, and we’re still pondering how such a horrible thing could happen in our community.

What would I tell Muriel Pfeil about how we have evolved since her murder? 

I’d like her to know about mandatory domestic violence arrests now. That we’re moving beyond asking questions like Why does she stay, and moving towards holding offenders accountable for their actions. I’d want her to know that she wasn’t alone in being a victim, and that now, we have shelters across the world that assist victims of interpersonal violence to find safety and support.

Muriel Pfeil's grave
Muriel Pfeil’s grave

What lessons can we learn from the life and death of Muriel Pfeil?

1) Domestic violence is far too common. One in three women worldwide report being injured by an intimate partner within her lifetime.

2) The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is just before or immediately after leaving.

3) The violence can extend to other family members, not just the intimate partner of the abuser.

Do you know someone in an abusive relationship?  Refer them to 1-800-799-SAFE

Muriel Pfeil. Gone, but never forgotten.

Weekend Roundup

How have you been filling your summer days?

I took an impromptu trip to Talkeetna, Alaska this weekend and stayed at a charming  youth hostel there.  I love the connections and conversations when I’m in a hostel, and caught up on reading and writing.

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House of Seven Trees in Talkeetna, Alaska

Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:

Domestic violence

How to Save Your Kids from Future Abusive Relationships– author Lois M.Collins draws a correlation between children who are bullied or bossed later becoming susceptible to becoming victims.

“Parents should help children build “extreme self-esteem.” Kids who see themselves as capable and loved more often avoid abuse.

Conversations with children about bullies and bossy friends can reinforce the idea that people don’t get to control others.”

International Child Abduction

New legislation to help victim-parents recover their kidnapped children has passed handily in the Senate.

The “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” designed to bolster the government’s ability to help parents rescue abducted children taken overseas, now goes to the House for approval.

(For those of you who don’t remember, David Goldman is the dad whose son was taken illegally to Brazil to live with his mother, who then subsequently died. Five years passed before David Goldman was able to reunite with his son.)

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional toll of having a child abducted and taken abroad and feeling helpless to get your son or daughter back,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

Author’s comment:  As a parent of internationally abducted children, I can’t imagine that the government’s efforts towards anything other than kidnapping prevention will be useful. The government isn’t smart enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to manage such a complex issue. My past experience taught me the more government inserted itself, the more problematic finding solutions became. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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Reuniting with Lost Family Members

Always my favorite subject, I love this story about a brother and sister reuniting after 50 years.

Their recognition of each other was immediate as they walked toward each other with open arms. After a long embrace, Roger leaned back and looked at Susan.

“She’s the best thing I ever saw,” he said, planting a brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “She was always my girl.”

And today,  I listened to July’s podcast from the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) Roundtable event about PubSlush, the crowd-funding site specifically for writers. It’s an interesting concept that, according to their website, combines “a global crowdfunding and analytics platform for the literary world.”

If you’re a writer, or thinking about starting to write, do consider a membership at the NAMW. I learn something new every month.  On the column to the right, you’ll find a link I have on my site. It was a great, yet modest investment!

Thanks for connecting with me.

Twenty Years Later/The Messages that Survived Nicole Brown-Simpson

I can’t believe that  20 years have passed already.

There are important historical events that are forever etched in our brains. We remember where we were, and how they changed our world.

mmonFor me, I remember clearly when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon (1969).

When AIDS became a major health threat (1981).

And most of all, I remember when Nicole Brown-Simpson, former wife of sports star OJ Simpson, was found murdered on June 12, 1994.

At the time, I was working as a battered women’s advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. I worked in the same shelter I’d found refuge at with my little daughters four years earlier. I facilitated support groups for victims, helped them get restraining orders in court. The part of my job I loved best was giving community presentations about domestic violence.

Back then, no one wanted to talk about domestic violence.

nicole simpson's leg
nicole simpson’s leg

That all changed when Nicole Brown-Simpson was found butchered at her home in 1994. This, following a fifteen year-long abusive marriage that began when she was a pregnant teenager.

Why does a social issue need to happen to a famous person to become significant? Domestic violence was the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 back then, according to Surgeon General Koop, “more than rapes, muggings, and traffic accidents combined.”

And yet, it remained a dirty little secret.

The months and years following Nicole Brown Simpson’s death, phone lines were clogged at shelters all over the country.

“I’ve been pushed and slapped. Is this abuse?” Or, “My husband’s been threatening to kill me. What can I do? I have no money.”

And presentation requests? Through the roof. Grant money fell from the heavens, and soon, we expanded domestic violence programming to include hospital emergency response teams and a safe home program for Alaska Native women.

I would like to say that domestic violence advocates worked with the community to make lasting changes. I think it’s true. There was something that resonated about this beautiful and rich young mother of two who predicted her own murder, called the police repeatedly, and was slaughtered anyhow.

The messages we learned to tell our abused friends and loved ones?

You’re not alone

You deserve to be treated well.

It’s not your fault.

There are people and agencies that can help you.

We also learned what not to say.
You should leave.

Forgive him. He looks so sad.

What’s wrong with you?

History has taught that the most dangerous time in a violent relationship is just before or just after leaving it. So we advocates, we family members, we friends must remember to hold our tongues and keep our advice to ourselves.

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Tell them to call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Want To Be a Creepy Stalker? There’s an App for That! Senator Al Franken’s Solution to Privacy Violation

Senator Al Franken knows that a parents dream has become a battered woman’s nightmare.

Al Franken
Al Franken

Mobile phone tracking apps, marketed as a way parents can know where their children really are is being used instead by domestic abusers as a way to stalk their victims.

In the post 10 Best Apps for Paranoid Parents, author Brett Singer sells the benefits of these apps.

Ever wish you could know where your child is, all the time? Using GPS in real time, this app helps you keep track of and automatically locate where your child goes with his phone. If he’s traveling alone, you can confirm that he arrived at a specific destination, or if he’s meeting up with friends, they can confirm each other’s locations. Location info is never shared with anyone else beyond those who have permission to see it, and data is saved for later review. Even though the app is free, parents will need to purchase a subscription for the tracking feature.

Now, imagine that you are a person convinced that your partner is cheating on you. Or that you’re a jilted lover who cannot get the other out of your mind, and might wish to confront him or her alone?

The same apps marketed for parents can be used to fuel your obsession.

stuart-smalley
Stuart Smalley

How creepy is this?

In response, Franken has proposed the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, and tells about a domestic violence victim who was at the court house seeking an order of protection, only to receive a text from her abuser asking why she was in court.

If the bill is approved, it would be a violation for a person to install the app without the permission of the phone owner, and the app company would also be in violation.

The tracking apps have been installed secretly not just by perpetrators of domestic violence, but by first-time dates who’ve been granted access to their date’s smart phone.

The way I see it, there are two takeaways.

1) Password protect your smart phone and don’t grant others access to it. Don’t leave it unattended on a first date any more than you’d leave a drink unattended.

2) Al Franken is as clever a senator as he was on Saturday Night Live as Stuart Smalley.

The Truth About Leaving a Violent Relationship

Many months ago, the Anchorage Daily News reported a brutal stabbing.
Fortunately, the victim lived. Her story wasn’t so  unique. Her former boyfriend, who didn’t appear to harbor ill-will towards her about their break-up two months earlier, apparently did. He stabbed her nearly to death.
Reporter Casey Grove interviewed her days later, and asked the victim why she had been with a man with a checkered past.

Instantly, I was transported back to the 90’s. Back to a time when part of my job as a domestic violence advocate  was providing lectures and workshops for community panels, law enforcement, and other providers. Domestic violence was the new hot topic. It was just after the death of Nicole Brown Simpson, and suddenly, abuse in relationships was no longer a secret. What was on the minds of the audience? More often than not, it was Why Does She Stay?

The other part of my job as an advocate was to work with abuse victims. On any given day, I would see three to five women who had either just left the battered women’s shelter or had never been in it. Most appointments had been scheduled in advance, but sometimes women at wits-end simply walked in unannounced and needed to talk to someone. I loved being that someone. I got to listen to her tell her story, suspending the judgment or hope that a family member or friend might have about whether she should stay in or leave the relationship. I would ask questions meant to spur thought, and give general information about safety and emergency planning. I referred her to an information and support group that was attended by other victims of emotional, physical, and/ or sexual abuse. And week by week, she muscled-up emotionally by meeting with women in similar circumstances and hearing their stories of survival. She would learn to tell her own story. A year or two later, often that same woman who had timidly walked through the door now returned, transformed. She was making a life for herself without abuse, and proudly volunteered her skills or made a donation to the center. The bonus for me was obvious: I inhaled second-hand strength.

Some women left their abusers. Many of them went on to have fabulous lives afterwards, advancing their education, employment skills, or enjoying a loving relationship with a different partner.

For others, the consequences for leaving were tragic. They plunged into poverty. They were injured or killed. Or even worse, their children were put at risk.

I took the survivor’s stories to help with the community outreach.

The truth about leaving a violent relationship is it’s  no guarantee to safety or to happiness.

So maybe asking a different question makes sense.

Perhaps the reporter could have asked different questions. Why did this man stab a woman he once loved? Why do we focus on  domestic abuse victim’s choices for partners rather than the abusers actions? And how can we collectively work to end domestic violence in our world?

Love, Pistorius Style/The Pretty Faces Behind the Ugly Problem of Domestic Violence

With all the other things going on nationally, I had not paid attention to the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Honestly, I thought Pistorius was a political figure. And then I stayed home last weekend and caught up with the news.

What’s not fascinating about a tragic Valentine’s Day ending (in 2013) to a romance between a South African super-model and a super-athlete?

They were both beautiful, rich, and talented. She was a law graduate. He is a double-amputee sprint runner. Soon after they met, the couple appeared to have the world by the tail

Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning
Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning

Pistorius admits to shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early morning hours on Valentine’s Day, believing her to be an intruder. Given that the place he lives in South Africa is rife with break-ins, and given Pistorius documented history of anxiety about being victimized, I would have believed his alibi.

But according to reports, the Pistorius/Steenkamp union had some classic markers of an abusive relationship.

Like many relationships that turn violent, theirs began with quick involvement.

Pistorius used tactics to control Steenkamp, and made frequent (and very public) negative comments about her. Her gum chewing. Her taste in music. Her efforts to learn accents for an acting role.

Oscar Pistorius demonstrated his jealousy frequently to Reeva Steenkamp, accusing her of flirting with other men, of not introducing him quickly enough to other men at events they attended. Witnesses say he called her incessantly from the beginning of their relationship.

Quick involvement, control tactics, and elements of jealousy are common in abusive relationships. The behaviors typically increase over time and lead to physical aggression.

Do you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence?  It’s important to connect her to resources. 1-800-799-SAFE is a great start.

 

I Wish I Had Never Made Him Angry/Throwback Thursday Hits the Courtroom

“I just wish that I’d never made him angry!”

I hadn’t got the memo that Throwback Thursday had morphed into other arenas besides Facebook. Yet there I was that day, in the lobby at work after court with a battered 18 year-old girl, whose black eye and angry scratches to her neck appeared to have only deepened her commitment to her teenaged abuser. 

Hello, 1970’s.

Goodbye, decades of outreach efforts where those in the field have worked to hold abusers accountable. To tell victims that  domestic violence isn’t their fault, and it’s not their job to walk on eggshells in order to avoid a pummeling.

But she wasn’t the only one blaming her for the violence. The suspect’s father explained to defense counsel and me why  his son beat up his long-term girlfriend. According to him, there were mental health problems (hers). There was co-dependency (hers). There was a history of aggression (hers).

I was left to wonder: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did she blame herself from the beginning of the relationship, or was it after hearing those around her? And why does that matter?

It matters because domestic violence is one of two crimes (along with sexual assault) where society scrutinize it’s victim’s most heavily. Where the victims’ attitudes still have such a strong  influence on the legal case outcomes. And where perpetrator’s progress in their Batterer’s Intervention Program can be linked to how their victim and their extended family views their actions. If they’re held accountable, the are far more likely to make changes. If their behavior is minimized, it’s still  working. Why make changes?

You can only do so much to plant seeds for change. My staff and I did the usual–

* Reassured the victim her injuries were not her fault.

*Reminded her she deserved to be respected.

*Referred her to community resources including the local battered women’s shelter for further safety planning

And above all else, we explained to her that domestic violence/dating violence is the unfortunate gift that one generation imparts to the next if the cycle isn’t interrupted. And this arrest may be just the interruption needed for change.

I hope so.

Speaking of hope, I found a great link to address teen dating violence.

Next week we’ll look at some of the wonderful suggested conversations and tips they give to parents and families of teens about healthy relationships.

Do you know someone who needs help because they’re impacted by domestic violence?

Refer them to 1-800-799-SAFE.

Thanks for stopping by.