The recent national dialogue on guns and gun control hits home for Domestic Violence Advocates. Advocates have been aware for many years of the nature of guns and their impact on the lives of victims of domestic violence and their families. Advocates recognize the potential lethality of gun possession in the home where family violence occurs. Advocates also recognize the spontaneous gratification that may occur at the time an abuser pulls the trigger, ultimately ending the life of a victim, a victim’s family member or friend.
Domestic violence related homicide is the culmination of power and control. It may be a pattern of behavior that has a long duration or it may be a new pattern of behavior. This pattern of behavior may be overt or it may be covert. For instance, an abuser may have left signs prior to the incident of homicide such as punching holes in the wall, leaving threatening notes, leaving notes about suicide, threatening to take custody of the children, harming or killing the family pet, holding a gun to the head or chest of the victim. But an abuser’s intentions may also be covert, so that others may not be aware of the pattern of power and control, even though it is almost always there. When someone is killed in a domestic violence related homicide we often hear, “There was never any sign of abuse. This was the first time.” However, there is usually more than meets the eye. For instance, the recent homicide of Kassandra Perkins in Kansas City by her football pro boyfriend who subsequently committed suicide came as a shock to many. But as time passed more information surfaced about the abuser’s controlling behavior. Victim’s often hide information about the abuse. A victim may choose to endure the abuse without help from the outside due to several factors: shame, fear of retaliation and/or a belief that she can change the abuser’s behavior.
It is important to recognize the red flags of an abusive relationship. These red flags include controlling ones actions, monitoring where someone is at all times, calling or texting someone incessantly, restricting an individual’s friends, isolating someone from their family, checking cell phone logs, checking gas mileage. In isolation these may seem like innocent gestures of affection or caring but in the context of a pattern of behavior of power and control they are potentially lethal. Any type of violent threat in a relationship should be taken seriously. Any person or agency that works with a victim, whether it is an advocacy agency, medical personnel, law enforcement or judicial system should take a victim’s self-report of danger as an imminent threat of harm. Domestic violence related homicides can come as an unexpected action that belies past incidents of abuse. Advocates look for duration, longevity, and escalation. Advocates also assist with safety planning in order to help someone think through a sequence of actions that could possibly be life-saving. However, there are no guarantees of protection, as is evident in the recent tragic shooting in Hazard, Kentucky. A mother, 12 year old child and mother’s uncle were shot and killed by an abuser during a visitation exchange. This tragedy is just one more example of why the discussion on gun control must include domestic violence, so that protections that may be recommended will also strengthen gun-related domestic violence laws.
Incidents of abuse are not necessarily physical but could be any action of power and control, such as verbal threats, stalking behaviors, threats or actual harm to animals, attempts to isolate and threats of suicide.
One of the biggest triggers for this type of homicide is separation. Separation includes an announcement that a victim is going to leave a relationship, file for a divorce, secure a protective order, or file for custody of children. The actual “leaving” of a relationship may also put a victim in harm’s way. Abusers may resort to lethal behavior after their spouse or partner has filed for divorce, or a divorce action has been grants; filed for a protective order or a domestic violence order has been granted; fled the violence and gone to a shelter or other unknown location. The rate of lethality increases by 75% at the time of separation in a violent relationship according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
National statistics indicate that on average three women are killed each day by an intimate partner or spouse in the United States. Kentucky’s unofficial domestic violence homicide count shows that during a 13 month period from September 1, 2011 through October 31, 2012 two women per month were murdered by their spouse or intimate partner. Seventeen of these murders were a result of gunshot wounds.
There are state and federal laws that prohibit gun possession in certain domestic violence cases where there is a protective order in place. If you are in a violent relationship and need assistance, safety planning, and educational information on domestic violence please call your Logan County Advocate at 726-4509 or the Crisis Line 1-800-928-1183. Your Logan County Advocate is available to assist you in court, with filing a protective order or making a referral for legal services.