TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Editorials

February 27, 2014

Domestic violence cases need to be scrutinized more

CORBIN — Domestic violence — since Tuesday this pair of words has nearly numbed my brain and made my heart heavy.

A former high school educator who taught both of my sisters was gunned down along with her 17-year-old son, and her mother, in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday morning in Glade Spring, Va.

The woman’s father was also shot but survived.

The shooter?

Her husband — who was also under an order of protection to stay away.

After years of suffering both verbal and mental abuse, she finally began taking the necessary steps to rid herself of this abusive albatross.

But it simply didn’t work — and now surviving family members remain to pick up the pieces of these shattered lives.

The shooter killed himself after his selfish rampage.

I’ve known people who quietly faced domestic violence.

One woman I know was married to her abuser, and the fear always hung in the back of her mind that he might do something to the children.

She was already tolerating various types of verbal and mental abuse — abuse that she kept silent from her friends and family for the bulk of her facing this situation.

Look at what happened to that woman and her children in Graham, Wash. The father takes his then 2- and 4-year-old sons on a mid-winter camping trip in the Utah desert.

The mother then disappears.

The sons become older — age 5 and age 7 — and are able to say things about that night which struck officers as odd.

Including that the mother had been in the trunk of the car during the frigid camping trip.

Although the boys’ father was suspected of having something to do with his wife’s disappearance, the court system felt it necessary to allow him custody of his sons. Only when his father was arrested for sexual-related charges did the court system find it imperative to allow the missing woman’s parents to have custody.

But the father was still allowed supervised visits — and on one of those visits, he brutally murdered his children, he killed himself, and set it up to where the house exploded.

The social worker assigned to supervise this visit was permanently emotionally traumatized — as anyone would be after witnessing something so horrific you could have stopped if things had played out ever so slightly differently.  

Domestic violence has become so commonplace in today’s society that it’s often ignored — and often in the courtroom.

The woman I know suffered greatly during her marriage. She’d awaken in the night to her husband shooting off a nail gun into the kitchen counters.

As the marriage progressed so did her gnawing fears.

Often the woman gets punished — “Why does she stay?” has almost become cliche in modern society.

But leaving can pose a new host of problems — the woman I know was granted a six-year order of protection against her husband. That same court system felt justified, however, in eventually allowing unsupervised visitation with small children.

It’s a travesty.

And it could be deadly.

I have witnessed domestic violence, although my brush with it was among strangers.

I was sitting outside my apartment in Albuquerque, N.M. one afternoon after classes and heard the loudest commotion erupt from the street — it was Central Avenue, better known as Route 66, and if I heard that racket over the traffic noise it had to be loud.

I walked over to the source of the noise, which remained audible although the words were unintelligible to me.

When I got within eyesight, I watched this big man haul off and punch a woman he was with squarely in the face.

She staggered, and turned to walk away. I hollered at him, but before I could do anything he shoved her into traffic.

She landed in front of speeding cars, which screeched tires in an effort to avoid her.

I ran back to my apartment and grabbed my cordless phone, instantly calling 911.

I ran back outside, and she had managed to get out of the road and back onto the sidewalk — but the man just continued pummeling her with his fists.

I couldn’t believe she wasn’t running, although she was screaming in a foreign language.

Knowing I had to go to work, I watched the couple as long as I could, hoping the police would arrive to arrest the man.

At the time I was without a vehicle, and either walked or rode the bus. It was still running, so I opted for the bus.

Three stops after I boarded the bus, I stared in awe.

The couple got on the bus — she was bloodied and battered, and they were still snarking away at each other.

And as luck would have it, they piled up behind me on the bus — so I was privy not only to their conversation, but also an occasional jab from an errant elbow.

With today’s increasing crime rates it becomes more and more difficult for law enforcement to handle everything, and with the risk of domestic violence turning against an officer, it must fall on the duty of the court system to protect the people.

But that system failed those two little boys in Washington.

And it failed a well-respected educator, her high school football player son, and her vibrant, active mother. And the man left to pick up the pieces must mourn the loss of his wife, his daughter and grandson.

Domestic violence cases need to be better scrutinized by the court system. Questions need to be asked when these accusations surface. Sure, many of the cases are minor, drunken slaps which don’t amount to much.

But others are signs of a lurking danger of which the court system should be at least partially responsible.

Listen to the potential victims. Ask her friends, her family, her coworkers and her neighbors — people know more than you think, and are willing to honestly help.

Ignoring or glossing over the potential of what could really happen with pretty words and legal jargon might lead to a brutal killing as was seen in southwest Virginia this week.

John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at jross@thetimestribune.com.

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