‘Mental health problem’ is letting abusers keep right on abusing
Saturday, November 11, 2017
A few weeks ago, a car screeched to a stop in front of a business. More startling for the people working behind the windows was seeing the man behind the wheel using the face of his female passenger as a punching bag.
“It looked like he had pulled her head into his lap,” a witness told me. “He was punching down on her and her legs were up in the air.”
The woman somehow managed to jump out of the car and ran inside the business as her attacker sped away.
The woman's battered and broken face was swelling as she apologized repeatedly for bringing her tragic life through the door.
The car soon reappeared, and the man began yelling the woman's name. He was demanding that she come out and get back in the car.
The witnesses had called the police by then. They locked their door and told the woman they were not about to let her leave. She thanked them for helping. Most likely, her relative safety was fleeting.
The man had driven off again before the police arrived. The officers knew the woman well and where they could find the man. They had been to the house before on domestic violence calls.
We really should stop calling it domestic violence, by the way. That sounds too much like “disturbing the peace.” Two family members in a shouting match qualifies as domestic violence.
When someone's head is repeatedly split open—and worse—the name for that cycle of abuse should be more reflective of what is happening. Abuse is not the right word either. Domestic “horror” would be more accurate.
Previous interventions on behalf of the domestic horror victim who ran for her life into that business have achieved little more than documenting a cycle of physical and mental torture, according to the witness who told me the story. Police indicated the man has gone to jail briefly, but that the victim accepted him back, and the cycle of horror resumed.
There is a tendency toward holding victims like her at least partly responsible. Experts will tell you she lives with the constant fear that he will kill her if she leaves. The same experts acknowledge that her fear is legitimate because most such murders do occur after the woman has left.
This is a cycle of horror that law enforcement and the courts see constantly. Most other people rarely see it unless it plays out in public view. And by that time, the experts will say, the victim often ends up dead.
Crazy, but what can you do?
That seems to be the frustrated response from society and the criminal justice system to what should be called domestic horror. The response is more nuanced than my oversimplification, but it’s unacceptable all the same.
Now we have seen an apparent domestic horror situation spill over into yet another mass shooting carnage—this one inside a small Texas church. And the official response so far appears to be, “Crazy, but what can you do?”
Since the church massacre, I’ve been thinking a lot about that woman who ran into that business. And I’ve been thinking that the guy who made her face look like a piece of meat ought to stay in jail for at least as long as a drug dealer might.
It’s easy to acknowledge that a mental health problem is behind any mass shooting. When the killer has a documented history of imposing domestic horror, the deficit in mental health extends far beyond him.
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