“Dorothy Giunta-Cotter knew that someday her husband, William, would kill her.” That’s not the first line from a murder mystery, but how Rachel Snyder’s illuminating article on domestic homicide in the latest New Yorker begins. (And yes, just as anticipated by the victim, in 2002 her husband murdered her.)
As a father of three daughters, I learned early on that women have agendas and perspectives of which men are both ignorant and, on many occasions, simply ignore. Not that any of my daughters were ever the victims of domestic violence. They have wonderful, loving husbands. But as a former pastor, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about domestic violence. And violence is not merely a characteristic of the poor or of minority families. It takes place in all colors and all classes. And that includes an executive or two, whose acquaintance I developed in my consulting business.
The statistics on domestic violence are shocking. Snyder starts with the fact that one in every four women is a victim of domestic physical violence at some point in her life. Indeed, the Justice Department estimates that three women and one man are killed by their partners every day. (Roughly eighty-five percent of the victims of domestic violence are women.)
Here’s the real shocker. Between 2000 and 2006, thirty-two hundred American soldiers were killed; during that period, domestic homicide in the United States claimed ten thousand six hundred lives. Snyder argues that the figure, pulled from FBI data is likely an underestimate. Furthermore, half of women killed by their partners had sought help from the police or the criminal justice-system at least once. We now know that a single incidence of violence is a clear indicator of future violence. In fact, violence unfolds on a timeline, spiking exactly when a victim attempts to leave an abuser, or when there is a change in the situation such as a pregnancy or a new job.
Kelly Dunne’s organization
Snyder tells much of the story through Kelly Dunne, the operating officer at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Amesbury, Mass. Now forty-two, Dunne graduated from college in 1997, and on her first day at the Center, thinking that she might handle one or two cases in the divorce state, she brought a book o occupy her in her spare time. When she arrived, five women were waiting to file restraining orders. One had spent the weekend locked in the basement; another had been kicked down the stairs. “I remember thinking, Are you kidding me?” Dunne said. “This is what’s going on in this town over the weekend?”
One of Dunne’s more significant insights is that the prevalence of domestic violence is partially because of a deep cultural misunderstanding of how violence operates. Typically we assume victims cause the abuse and that if the situation was truly threatening the victims would leave home. Furthermore, we also assume that restraining orders are believed to keep perpetrators away. Third, we assume that if a woman doesn’t show up in court to renew the restraining order, the problem has been resolved.
None of these three assumptions is correct.
What’s to be done about domestic homicide?
Since 2005, when Dunne and her colleagues created a high-risk team, Amesbury has not had a single case end in homicide. As a result, by using other colleagues from the field, Dunne has trained more than five-thousand people from thirty states that include Massachusetts, California, Louisiana, Florida and Illinois, all replicating the work of her high-risk teams. At the core of the model is to protect victims and monitor abusers. As Dunne says, “It’s really cheap to do what we’re doing. It’s a lot cheaper than murder investigations and prosecutions and jail time.”
Why men should be aware
Although the article provides data without clear recommendations, there are occasions when basic knowledge can be very useful. Often, when people encounter an event whose occurrence is so implausible to them that they hesistate to report it for fear they will not be believed. In essence, such people–and I suspect men are in the majority when it comes this issue–think to themselves, it can’t be, therefore, it isn’t. Violence to women is just such an event.
But, why not just ignore domestic violence, keep your head down and ignore what life throws at other people? If anything is true when it comes to our own personal and national interests, hewing to the humanistic and Judeo-Christian values is critical to all of us. What are those values? Distributive justice–justice which is marked by a concern for all people and the common good–and compassion. Such “neighborliness” brings its own rewards.
Rachel Louise Snyder, A Raised Hand, The New Yorker, July 22, 2013, p. 34ff.
Flickr photo: Steve D. Hammond