The traumatic events at the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday have left the entire state of Delaware reeling and wondering how this could have been prevented. Our hearts go out to the victims' families, as well as to the court employees and visitors and the first responders impacted by the violence. We know we are not alone in feeling devastated for the six children who lost their mothers and the impact that will have on their lives and all of those who care for them. This is a tragic example of how domestic violence impacts not only families, but entire communities.
For those of us who work in the domestic violence service and advocacy community, this is our nightmare, the worst-case scenario for the women and families we serve. Unfortunately, the fear and trauma we are feeling is not unfamiliar to domestic violence victims and their children. Just as we all agree that government buildings should be safe havens in our communities, shouldn't we also be able to expect that feeling of safety in our own homes? For thousands of Delawareans, including Christine Belford, that is sadly not the case.
Because abusers use coercive tactics, fear, and violence to control their partners, including emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse; physical assault or threats of violence; controlling access to financial resources; and isolation from friends and family, their victims rarely feel safe in their own homes or confident about what is going to happen from day to day. The use of children to gain control and instill fear in victims, as we have seen in this family's documented history, is a common tactic and one more reason victims stay in abusive relationships or remain tied to their abuser even after leaving.
Although Monday's case was unusual because it was the abuser's father who pulled the trigger and the incident happened in such a secure place, on average three women are killed by their abusive partner each day in the U.S. A recent report by Delaware's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council's Fatal Incident Review Team found that 48 percent of intimate partner homicides in Delaware occurred when the victim ended or attempted to leave the relationship. Regardless of when they do it, abusers kill because it's their final attempt to control their victim.
Nationally, domestic violence has played a role in 40 percent of mass shootings since 2009. The 2002 DC sniper case as well as more recent shootings in salons in California, Florida, and Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012 were all cases involving domestic violence abusers intent on killing their estranged wives or girlfriends.
Domestic violence homicide rarely occurs as an isolated incident; there is usually a history of abuse in the relationship. We may not see it, either because it doesn't take the form of a black eye or broken bones, or because the abuser deliberately isolates the victim from friends and family. The abuser may seem like a "nice, normal guy" and may be a respected member of the community. But domestic violence is an equal opportunity problem that can happen to anyone, anywhere. Whether you know it or not, you know someone who has been or is being victimized by domestic violence. You also know an abuser.
With one in four women abused by a partner in her lifetime, domestic violence is not just a private family matter or a criminal justice problem; it is a community and public health crisis that affects all of us.
We all have a role to play in ending domestic violence in our communities, workplaces, public spaces, and families. Domestic violence deaths are preventable, and we must commit ourselves as a community to making sure that tragedies like this stop happening. All of us, including media, business and faith leaders, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges, legislators, health care practitioners, and educators must work together to address this problem. We must prioritize our efforts to stop domestic violence now and not wait for another tragedy like Monday's shooting to mourn the loss of the next mother, sister, daughter, neighbor, or friend.
We must also let victims know that they can come forward, that they will be believed, and that help is available. They should know that our justice and social service agencies are safe, supportive places to seek assistance and the legal remedies they deserve. If you or someone you know is being abused, there are community resources available to you. Call a local 24-hour domestic violence hotline for a confidential place to get help or find resources: Northern Delaware: 302.762.6110 (bilingual) and Southern Delaware: 302.422.8058 or 302.745.9874 (bilingual).
Executive Director, Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence