Latest domestic violence death reflects work yet to be done

March 17, 2013 

On Wednesday, I was cleaning out files and sorting through years of information, photos, articles and spreadsheets that collectively show the YWCA Pierce County’s work to help domestic violence survivors and their children get safe, start healing and begin new lives.

I was particularly moved by a photo of a little girl standing next to our Clothesline Project, a visual display of T-shirts on which survivors paint their stories.

Next to this little girl is a baby’s T-shirt, created in memory of three small children and their mother who were brutally killed by their father.

In recalling the graphic details, I began to cry. I have never forgotten the horror the whole community felt at the calculated way one person could murder those he allegedly “loved.” There were several notorious DV homicides that year, and as I recalled those cases I thought, “Thank God this year hasn’t been so bad.”

Then I read the news Thursday morning.

The murder of Sara Barrett, allegedly by her husband, illustrates how much work there is still to be done to ensure that as a community, we do everything it takes to keep people safe. The strategies currently in place do help hundreds of survivors each year; the fact that so many need these services demonstrates the epidemic proportions of partner violence.

One more fatality is still one too many. In a 13-year analysis of 157 domestic violence fatality cases, only five perpetrators spent more than 30 days in jail for prior DV assaults; fewer than half were actually arrested and only 24 percent of those cases resulted in sentencing. In only seven cases did the perpetrator complete all of the terms of sentencing.

Someone trying to smother his wife with a pillow isn’t a troubled relationship, it’s attempted murder. By the way, it’s also not love.

It is completely understandable that – in the face of such violence, pain and grief – people want to make sense of this crime. The conflicting ideas that a perpetrator “loved” his partner, but still murdered her is incomprehensible. But here’s the thing: Control is not love. Violence is not love. Obsession and jealousy are not love. Threats, stalking, assault and manipulation are not love.

Domestic violence is a complex issue, and it requires complex solutions. It requires us to be educated, willing to talk in an honest, open way and to role-model healthy relationships that are loving.

Can our systems do a better job? Of course. Could there have been more accountability and consequences for this man’s violence before it escalated to lethal proportions? Absolutely.

There could also be a time when everyone decides that domestic violence is unacceptable and makes a commitment to learn about it, speak out about it, and take action when you see it happening. No need to wait for another homicide – do it now. It takes each of us; it takes all of us.

When I’m cleaning out my files 10 years from now, I hope they tell a different story.

Karin White is deputy director of YWCA Pierce County.

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