Once again we hear of a domestic violence homicide. This time, a Saco man shot and killed his wife and three children, and then killed himself. People are, as they should be, shocked at Saturday’s unimaginable act.
From the outside looking in, it always seems inconceivable that someone would kill those he was supposed to love and cherish.
At the same time that people express horror, they may also, perhaps even subconsciously, question what went wrong. They may wonder why the neighbors didn’t know about the potential for violence or why Heather Smith didn’t get her husband, Joel Smith, help when he threatened suicide earlier in the week. They may question why she didn’t leave.
As is all too common, they may look to find fault anywhere but with the person who pulled the trigger. They may also forget to examine how their own views — those that place blame on victims — contribute to a culture that can enable domestic violence.
Take, for instance, what many think of domestic violence: a one-dimensional issue where a man, typically, harms a woman in some brutal way.
In reality, of course, domestic violence isn’t an isolated event that occurs randomly. There is often a pattern of abuse, neglect and manipulation. Domestic violence is a behavior learned over time.
It will take whole communities to help prevent and stop that pattern. The law can help, certainly, but it can’t always stop someone set on controlling his or her partner.
Parents can talk to their children about what healthy relationships look like — and model them by example. Teens can call on other teens to treat one another respectfully. Everyone can support victim-centered resource organizations.
Lawmakers can champion evidence-based domestic violence high-risk response teams. They can demand more research into prevention and intervention programs. They can do their part to boost local economies, to make it easier for victims to know they can support themselves when they leave an abusive relationship.
Maine residents can learn about the dynamics of domestic violence and know how to react if a family member or friend is in trouble; local resource agencies provide volunteer training, or one can read the current research on the National Institute of Justice’s website.
More people can benefit from knowing the reasons why it can be harder for victims to leave than to stay. They can understand how blaming victims only makes the problem worse and how perpetrators often act differently in public than in private.
They can also learn how their silence, minimization or denial reinforces aggressive behavior.
Calling for greater community awareness and action doesn’t mean offenders should ever get away with the pain they’ve caused. Of course they need to be held accountable.
At the same time, only abusers can change their behavior. No one can do it for them. But the community can make that behavior change more inevitable.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.