Domestic Murder and Murder-Suicide: It’s Not About the Relationship

The headline from WIVBTV News in Buffalo read, “Troubled Relationship Ends Tragically”.

Meanwhile, there was this headline in the Savannah Morning News, “Troubled Port Wentworth Marriage Ends in Murder”.

These are two examples of how news media regularly misrepresent cases of domestic violence murders and murder-suicides; not just in their headlines but also in their reporting beneath the headlines. The end result of this skewed coverage is that the murder is presented as an outcome of a “troubled relationship” rather than as the end result of a violent abuser who is seeking to possessively control his partner, and in most cases, to prevent her from leaving him.

In the WIVBTV News story about a murder-suicide involving an unidentified husband and wife, the reporter says, “Neighbors say there was a long history of domestic violence in the Black Rock home, and a recent restraining order was supposed to protect the victim who lived inside the home.” The reporter added that the husband had also been suspected of having previously killed his ex-wife.

Despite these clear indicators of prior domestic violence, the on-air reporters proceed to muddy the picture by saying, “Neighbors say the woman was finally going to leave.” One particular neighbor was quoted as saying, “She was bruised from head to toe but then she’d go running back to him”. With the absence of any expert commentary, this irresponsibly suggests that the wife was somehow culpable by going back to an abusive partner. Here, an expert commentator would likely have pointed out that returning to an abusive partner is common since abused women are at highest risk of being killed when they are leaving their partner.

In the Savannah Morning News story about the murder of Nancy Sanders by her husband Kenneth, who stabbed her 27 times in front of their children, it was noted that he’d been arrested four months earlier for biting Nancy. Nancy’s sister talked of how possessively controlling Kenneth was toward Nancy, relating how he would call her multiple times per day and show up at the house if she did not answer. “My sister couldn’t breathe”, the sister said. Kenneth Sanders had previously been arrested for stabbing his first wife. Despite this clear evidence of his past violence and smothering control, however, the report goes on to cite several of Nancy’s problems.

Rather than recognizing that her apparent depression might be related to being abused, the report says, “The behavior noticed by her friends possibly related to fibromyalgia. Nancy was diagnosed with the disease, a chronic pain disorder closely related to depression, shortly before she was killed.” Adding insult to injury, the reporter mentioned that several years earlier Nancy “had been involved in forgeries, according to court reports”. Meanwhile, the reporter includes a quote by Kenneth’s brother who related that Kenneth had recently told him, “I couldn’t take it anymore”.

These two cases are not isolated examples of how the media paints false pictures of intimate partner homicides. According to several studies of domestic homicide news coverage that were conducted by domestic violence experts, skewed or incomplete analysis are more the rule than the exception. According to the Washington Coalition Against Domestic Violence, only 22 percent of the 230 newspaper articles about domestic homicide that they analyzed specifically cited these as domestic violence-related incidents. A higher proportion of these stories, (48 percent), cited the killer’s stated motivation, such as “rejection”, “rage” or having been “provoked”, as if this were a reason for killing rather than an excuse.

One particularly egregious example was a front page headline in the Boston Herald that blared, “Scratch Ticket Rub Out” with a follow up headline, “Cops: Lottery Habit Fueled Fatal Attack.” The story quoted the killer as saying that he killed his ex-wife because of her “addiction” to instant lottery scratch tickets (hence the “rub out” in the headline). This is a case where the killer’s excuse was taken at face value even though it was subsequently revealed during his murder trial that his wife’s lottery ticket purchases had nothing to do with his decision to kill her.

A Rhode Island study of domestic violence-related murder-suicides found that newspapers were more likely to cast these as “unpredictable private tragedies” rather than as manifestations of domestic violence. A Massachusetts study of domestic homicides between the years 2003-2008 found that the media identified only 11 percent as having a history of domestic violence even though all of them had such histories. A more recent study in Iowa reported similar findings. One problem identified by all three studies was the lack of domestic violence experts as sources of information about these crimes. A fourth study, this one in Washington state, found that domestic violence experts were cited in only 4 out of the 44 stories about domestic homicides.

Domestic violence experts provide important context to these homicides that help the public to understand that these are not “troubled relationships gone awry” or in the case of murder-suicides “suicide pacts” or “mercy killings”. Nor are they “crimes of passion” or the “provoked” actions of “jilted husbands”. Experts provide much-needed correctives to the obvious misinformation and biases offered by the killer’s friends and relatives. Experts can also provide commentary about the reactions of neighbors who often state that “they seemed like such a nice couple” or (the killer) “didn’t seem like the type”. Experts can point out that most abusers don’t fit the stereo-types of abusers as “macho men” or “rageaholics” and are often well-liked by their co-workers and neighbors. In my own study of attempted homicides, neighbors rarely knew about prior domestic violence, according to the victims. As one victim put it, “(the neighbors) liked him (the abuser) way more than they liked me”.

By relying solely on non-experts as sources of information, the media wittingly or unwittingly reinforces misconceptions about domestic homicides, and sometimes seems more intent to entertain than to inform the public. Domestic homicide is most often the culmination of a history of domestic violence in which victims are being abused right in front of our eyes and in broad daylight. The real tragedy is that we don’t see it because we are looking for something else; something that more closely matches our preconceptions. Domestic homicides sometimes provide experts with the opportunity to call attention to the underlying realities — but only when the media thinks to call us.

One excellent resource about media coverage of domestic violence of domestic violence homicides is “Domestic Violence: A Guide for Media Coverage” published by the Iowa Domestic Abuse Death Review Team. It contains concrete recommendations for accurate and responsible reporting about domestic violence. Good reporting isn’t just a matter of better informing the public but also helps surviving victims to understand their experience in a larger context and to recognize that they are not alone, and their loved ones to heal. For daily domestic violence news and information in the United States, follow Domestic Violence Crime Watch on Facebook. Domestic Violence Crime Watch is dedicated to raising awareness about domestic violence with a focus on domestic violence related homicide.

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President Obama Issues Proclamation Declaring April 2015 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

April 2015

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A PROCLAMATION

As Americans, we each have the power to shape our country’s course and contribute to the extraordinary task of perfecting our Union. For more than two centuries, progress has been won by ordinary citizens — women and men who joined arms and marched toward justice. This month, we are once again reminded that we can change our culture for the better by standing together against the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and refusing to accept the unacceptable.

Nearly one in five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape. Every year, too many women and too many men are sexually assaulted and abused. This is an affront to our basic decency and humanity, and it must end. Sexual assault harms our communities, weakens the foundation of our Nation, and hurts those we love most. For survivors, the awful pain can take years to heal — sometimes it never does. When an individual’s possibilities are limited by the scars of violence and abuse, our country is deprived of enormous potential. Sexual assault takes a collective toll on all of us, and it is everyone’s responsibility not only to speak out, but also to take action against this injustice.

More than two decades ago, then United States Senator Joe Biden did both. At a time when many victims were stigmatized or left to suffer in silence, he authored the Violence Against Women Act, which would forever improve the way our country responds to sexual assault and domestic violence. In the decades since, our Nation has built on that progress. We have taken strides toward changing the way people think about sexual misconduct, making it clear that every person has the fundamental human right to be free from sexual assault and domestic violence.

Thanks to the work of advocates, community leaders, public servants, and courageous survivors who shared their stories, our Nation has come an incredibly long way. But from schools to military bases and throughout all communities in America, we must do more to end the crime of sexual assault. My Administration has made this a priority since day one, beginning with the establishment of the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. And we will keep fighting as long as it takes.

We have taken action to strengthen our criminal justice system, uphold the civil rights of victims and survivors of sexual assault, and ensure that all people can live free from sexual violence. Now in its second year, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is helping schools live up to their obligations to educate students in safe environments. We continue to address the impact of sexual assault on persons living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS. I have also made clear that violence and abuse have no place in the finest military this world has ever known. And last fall, we launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to let people know everyone has a role to play in preventing and effectively responding to sexual violence.

It’s on parents and caregivers to teach their children to respect and value others. It’s on teammates, classmates, and colleagues to recognize sexual misconduct and intervene to stop it. It’s on all of us to work for the change we need to shift the attitudes and behaviors that allow sexual assault to go unnoticed, unreported, and unpunished. During National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, let us commit to being part of the solution and rededicate ourselves to creating a society where violence is not tolerated, survivors are supported, and all people are able to pursue their fullest measure of happiness without fear of abuse or assault.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2015 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. I urge all Americans to support survivors of sexual assault and work together to prevent these crimes in their communities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Teen Dating and Sexual Violence Prevention

Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Nearly one-half of adult sex offenders report committing their first sexual offenses prior to the age of 18. In many cases, students are the first to know about instances of abuse at school and away from school grounds.

Schools have the opportunity to integrate teen dating violence prevention education into existing school curricula in many ways.

What schools can do – Teen Dating Violence Prevention Education

• Schools are encouraged to partner with domestic violence and sexual assault organizations to provide prevention education to students.

• Schools can ensure that students have access to supportive services by collaborating with community-based organizations, particularly rape crisis centers and domestic violence service providers. These providers have experience and expertise in teen dating violence and various forms of sexual assault.

• Schools have the opportunity to interrupt the cycle of violence by connecting victims, perpetrators, and bystanders to community services. Schools are strongly encouraged to make these connections and provide facilitated referrals to counseling, advocacy and educational organizations.

• Violence prevention education should be implemented not at the expense of academic achievement, but as a means of ensuring it.

S.H.A.R.E., Inc., Help for Abused Partners, and S.A.R.A., Inc. provide Teen Dating and Sexual Violence Prevention Programs in schools in Northeast Colorado.

Our Teen Dating and Sexual Violence Prevention Education Programs:

• Provide a definition of dating violence or relationship abuse that includes physical, sexual, verbal and emotional or psychological abuse.

• Teach healthy relationship skills and alternatives to abuse.

• Identify power and control issues as they relate to teen dating violence.

• Challenge attitudes that blame the victims.

• Increase empathy for victims/survivors.

• Encourage bystander accountability.

• Challenge social norms that permit or support abuse.

• Are facilitated by a person with expertise who has specialized training in the dynamics of sexual and relationship violence.

Call (970) 867-4444 for more information.

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Sexual Assault Awareness: Intimate Partner Rape

Intimate Partner Rape is one type of sexual assault.

Rape by an intimate partner is a an abuse of power by which one spouse attempts to establish dominance and control over the other. Marital rape is a form of intimate partner violence.

• Results of a large study showed that more than 7 million women have been raped by their intimate partners.
• Women who are victims in physically abusive relationships are especially vulnerable to rape by their partners, and rape in marriage may occur more often than has been estimated.
• Women who are marital rape victims are more likely to experience repeated assaults than other rape victims; in fact, among battered women, sexual assault may be a routine part of the pattern of the abuse.
• Women who are raped and battered by their partners experience the violence in various ways. Some are battered during the sexual violence or the rape may follow a physically violent episode where the husband wants to “make up” and force his wife to have sex against her will.

The traditional definition of rape in the United States most commonly was, “sexual intercourse by a man with a female not his wife without her consent” which meant that a husband was allowed to rape his wife without fear of legal consequences. By 1993, largely in response to the women’s rights and equality movement, every state and the District of Columbia had passed laws against marital rape.

However, Marital Rape is one of the least reported crimes. A victim may find it difficult to define what happened as rape, or to identify someone she is married to as a “rapist.” And it’s often still harder for a spouse rape victim to prove that she didn’t consent to her husband than it would be to prove non-consent with a stranger.

Victims of domestic violence, including marital rape, in Northeast Colorado can get help by calling toll-free 1-877-867-9590.

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Abril es el Mes de Conciencia sobre la Agresión Sexual

En los Estados Unidos, abril ha sido designado Mes de Conciencia sobre la Agresión Sexual (SAAM, por sus siglas en inglés). Durante el SAAM, activistas generan conciencia pública sobre la violencia sexual y para educar a las comunidades y las personas acerca de cómo prevenirla.

Si requiere información adicional sobre SAAM, no dude en contactar al National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) al 1-877-739-3895 o a resources@nsvrc.org. El NSVRC cuenta con intérpretes en línea y staff bilingüe para atender sus pedidos en español.

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Spares for S.H.A.R.E. Bowling Tournament – Annual Fundraiser: Thank you sponsors and donors!

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Thank You to all of our Sponsors and Donors for our annual fundraiser Spares for S.H.A.R.E. Bowling Tournament

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual assault is a serious public health issue that affects all communities.The impact of sexual assault can be wide-ranging and can have long-term impacts.

One in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Sexual Assault Awareness Month calls attention to the fact that not only is it widespread, but sexual assault impacts many segments of the population. It calls all of us to work together to increase awareness, provide services for victims, support survivors, educate our communities, and speak out against harmful attitudes and actions that allow sexual assault to continue.

Some types of sexual assault include:

Child sexual abuse. One in four girls and one in six boys will experience a sexual assault before the age 18. Young people experience heightened rates of sexual violence, and youth ages 12-17 were 2.5 times as likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault.

Sexual abuse and teen dating violence.  Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Nearly one-half of adult sex offenders report committing their first sexual offenses prior to the age of 18.

Sexual assault on campus. As many as one in five women have been sexually assaulted in college, and one in 16 men in college have been victims of an attempted or completed assault.Creating a comprehensive approach to ending sexual violence on campus involves awareness, risk reduction, response, and prevention.

Intimate partner violence and sexual assault.  Intimate Partner Rape, also called Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV) or Marital Rape, is a rape or sexual assault that occurs between two people who currently have, or have had, a consensual sexual relationship. Intimate Partner Rape may occur in relationships that have an existing pattern of domestic violence. Most states now recognize that rape within a marriage or long-term intimate relationship is illegal and can be prosecuted.

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