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The myths and truths of domestic violence

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ANN MARIE AMES
August 24, 2008

Kerri Parker and Marilyn Harris felt as if they were reading a story they’ve read a million times.


Red flags popped in the story of Edgerton’s murder-suicide Aug. 17 or 18 and in a fatal domestic stabbing in Beloit the night of Aug. 9.


It’s too late to help those families.


But Parker and Harris want others to recognize the red flags that often are obvious—but misunderstood—in cases of domestic abuse.


Parker is the executive director for the YWCA of Rock County; Harris is the YWCA’s program director for alternatives to violence.


The women can’t and won’t say if they had been in contact with Jennifer Vordermann, who was shot and killed by her husband, Shaun Vordermann, before he shot himself in the bedroom of their home at 39 Mildred Ave., Edgerton.


Nor can they say if the YWCA talked with Stacy M. Hosey, 31, who was fatally stabbed by her ex-boyfriend, Donyil L. Anderson, 35, Beloit. Anderson also stabbed Hosey’s current boyfriend, Branden D. Beavers-Jackson, 23, Beloit.


Hosey died at University Hospital, Madison.


Anderson apparently tried to kill himself after stabbing Hosey. He was hospitalized under police guard before being transferred to the Rock County Jail.


When she called The Janesville Gazette this week, Parker said her “heart dropped” when she read the Vordermanns’ story.


Harris agreed.


“My first thoughts were: This is very tragic,” Harris said. “As I was reading, based on what (Jennifer’s aunt, Julie Ellingson) was saying, I saw lots of red flags. I felt very bad we weren’t able to be of assistance.”


What is abuse?


Victims of domestic abuse are not always punished physically.


They might be struck with words or loss of their human rights. They might be threatened or coerced.


Parker and Harris used feminine pronouns when they talked about the victims of domestic violence, because, they said, women are most commonly the victims. But men can be abused too, they said.


Abusers are not necessarily mentally ill, Harris said, although mental illness could exacerbate a violent nature, she said. Abuse is based on a person’s value system, Harris said, not their mental health.


Abuse is not about anger, it’s about control, Harris said. It’s about the perceived right of the abuser to own the victim.


Many abuse their partners without ever laying a hand on them, Harris said. Abuse might be coercion or threats.


If violence is involved, it comes in cycles, Harris said. The first stage is tension-building that might explode in an act of violence.


Sometimes victims trigger the violence just to get it over with, she said.


After the explosion comes the honeymoon period when the abuser apologizes profusely.


“He’ll say, ‘I’m so sorry. I’ll change. I love you,” Parker said.


Sometimes women stay in an abusive relationship because they enjoy the honeymoon stage, Harris said.


Abuse might creep up so slowly it becomes a part of the victim’s life until she doesn’t recognize it.


It might start with frequent text messages or phone calls. Maybe a boyfriend picks up his girlfriend from work every day.


It might look sweet from the outside, Harris said.


“Oh, isn’t that cute, he picks her up, takes her to work,” Harris said. “He’s doing all these wonderful and nice things, we think that’s very romantic. But those are also signs … you belong to me, now.”


Harris and Parker said abusers might set rules for their partners, telling them what time they have to be home from work or from running errands.


And in Edgerton and Beloit, it escalated into the ultimate control—murder.


“His intent is to do away with her and join her. They’ll be together in Heaven forever,” Harris said.


“He thinks, ‘If I can’t have her, no one can.’”


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LEAVING ABUSE

Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic abuse, said Marilyn Harris, program director for alternatives to violence for the Rock County YWCA.


It’s important to have a detailed safety plan to get out, she said.


Don’t tell the abuser you’re leaving or where you’re going. But do tell a trusted friend, someone who can check up on you when you enact your plan.


Know where you’re going, whether it’s a shelter, a hotel or a friend’s house.


Gather and store things such as marriage papers, birth certificates, extra keys and emergency phone numbers.


Be flexible.


“It’s a process to get ready, and then it’s leaving when there’s an opportune moment,” Harris said. “If the time’s not right, you’re going to need to pull back.”


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LEARN ABOUT ABUSE

Resources are available to learn about reporting domestic violence or finding help for those in abusive situations and for offenders.


Most advocacy Web sites warn readers to only search the Web for help from a safe computer. Sites also urge readers to call 911 if they are in immediate danger.


-- The YWCA of Rock County. In Janesville, call (608) 752-2583. In Beloit, call (608) 365-1119. Visit www.ywca.org. Click on the “Find YWs” link, the “local associations” link and the state of Wisconsin on the map.
-- The Domestic Violence Intervention Program provides programming for offenders. Call (608) 757-5677. Visit www.co.rock.wi.us and click on the deferred prosecution link.
-- The Wisconsin Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Visit www.wcadv.org.
-- The National Network to End Domestic Violence. Call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or at TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit www.nnedv.org.

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