Recent murder-suicide highlights domestic violence

“Why didn’t she just leave?”

According to Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services (DASAS) Director Kim Kramer, this simple question is the kneejerk response that many give in cases of domestic violence — a response that Kramer says serves as yet another barrier that prevents victims from breaking the cycle of abuse and finding help.

“We shouldn’t ask ‘why doesn’t she leave,’ Kramer said. “We should ask ‘why is he abusing her? Why is he breaking the law?’ The victim isn’t doing anything wrong.”

The ongoing issue with domestic violence — and how many in our culture still deal with it — was highlighted in southwest Michigan following the murder of area radio and TV journalist Denise Bohn-Stewart, who was shot to death by her husband, Eric Stewart, in their home in St. Joseph April 19.

Kramer, who has served as the head of the tri-county domestic abuse
support organization for the past five years, said the tragedy demonstrates that domestic violence can happen in any household or any type of relationship — even among teenagers or the elderly, she said.

The director and the 15 staff members of DASAS, an organization that provides support and advocacy services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse living in Cass, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties, work every day to combat the issue and the stigmas that still are still attached to it. The organization helps out victims and families affected by these types of crimes in a number of ways, including running a victim shelter located in Three Rivers, a 24-hour crisis hotline to provide advice and counseling to victims still stuck in abusive relationships and support groups that help survivors dealing with issues stemming from abuse.

Last year, the organization fielded support calls from 660 people living in its service area, and just this past month took 88 calls, Kramer said. Since October, DASAS’ shelter has had 114 visitors, she added.

Another service the organization offers is education, with Kramer and other employees hosting programs meant to elucidate ongoing issues with domestic abuse, she said.

It is through this community outreach that Kramer said she hopes to demonstrate how difficult it is for victims of domestic violence to simply escape their predicaments. Be it out of obligation to keep the family together, fear that leaving may jeopardize the safety of their children or because of a lack of support from friends and loved ones, many victims find themselves caught in a vicious cycle they cannot easily break away from.

And when they do try, that’s often when their partner’s abuse becomes most violent, Kramer said.

“You simply cannot rationalize with an irrational person,” she said. “Abusers become even more abusive because they fear losing control of their victim.”

By asking questions about why victims continue to stay together with abusive partners, it contributes to a culture of victim blaming that further serves to keep victims from seeking help, Kramer said.

One way that people can help eliminate this problem is by challenging statements by their friends and family that uphold this perspective, she added.

“If we, as a society, declare that we no longer will accept this type of behavior and begin standing behind survivors that will go a long way in helping to eliminate cases of domestic and sexual abuse,” Kramer said.

The director encourages local victims of domestic violence to reach out DASAS by calling its 24-hour hotline at 1-800-828-2023.

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