What have we learned from this lethal weekend?

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

The Milwaukee Metro area experienced its second Sunday morning of very public gun violence and death. Our hearts are with the victims and their families, the family of the shooter, and those whose lives will never be the same again because of this incident. We know, now, that this shooting and death was the end of a relationship spiraling deeply into the cycle of domestic violence. Without help, death is the worst case outcome of domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence.

Many people have a hard time understanding why the abused person does not “just leave.” To be clear, domestic abuse while most often experienced by a woman, can also be experienced by a man who is being abused by a woman, between partners in gay and lesbian relationships, and between dating partners from the early teen years and on.

Abused partners are caught between the profoundly mixed messages sent by society. Professionals, the courts, law enforcement, media and the community in general are often highly critical of the woman who stays in a abusive relationship. When a woman does attempt or indeed does leave the relationship, especially when children are involved, the woman suddenly experiences criticism, accusation and blame from these very same people.

Post-separation escalation is extremely common and it is at this time that the woman, children and people close to her are at higher risk for a lethal end. As details of Sunday’s shooting and the weeks preceding become clearer, the all too common patterns leading up to the shooting are evidencing with striking clarity. There are many women living now with the additional threat of “what happened on Sunday in Milwaukee, can happen to you.”

The U.S. Surgeon General states that the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of (15) fifteen and (44) forty-four is due to attacks by male partners. It is estimated that the number of children who witness and are traumatized by domestic violence is 5 million.

When a woman dares to risk telling someone, she most often receives conflicting advice or opinion. A clergy person may tell her that “women are to submit to their husbands” or that “love heals all wounds”.  A relative of the abuser may tell her that “if she only gives him time to work things out, it will get better.” A well meaning best friend may tell her that “rage-aholics like that and to stay out of the way when things start bubbling up.” Woman are also often told that if they would only: “be more patient, not aggravate him, try harder, keep the kids quiet, etc” the abuser would not be provoked to abuse. All of these have the effect of blaming the victim for the abuser’s abuse.

Bottom line is that:
NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT FOR ANY REASON TO ABUSE ANOTHER HUMAN BEING! Abuse of any kind has to do with power and control, not love.

Domestic violence is a complex personal and societal issue, and too much to cover in one blog entry. I want to leave the readers with several thoughts:

  • If you are questioning whether or not your partner is abusive, listen to that question and in a safe way, seek help.
  • If what you see in someone’s life causes you to question their safety or if they are in a violent relationship, when it is safe, talk to the person.
  • If you are hearing violence through your walls or window, don’t turn a deaf ear. Call the police.
  • If you are experiencing domestic violence, due to the isolating actions of the abuser, it can be very difficult to call for help. Develop a code word (like tulip, or Pinwheel or whatever word makes sense for you). The purpose of the code word, which is known to a trusted person or two, is that when they hear you use the code word, they know you are needing help or in immediate danger.

One book I recommend to my clients working with the complexities of domestic violence is: Why Does He Do That?, Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. It is easily available at the library or your favorite book store. If you are in a DV relationship, be sure to keep and read the book in a safe place.

For now my final words are: When someone tells you they are living with an abusive partner, believe them. Sojourner Family Peace Center, our local domestic violence shelter is available 24/7. The phone number is: 414-933-2722. Therapists at Aurora Family Service are also available to help at 414-345-4560.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560.

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