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Domestic violence survivor advocates share abusers’ links to mass violence, and advice as families gather for the holidays

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 4:50 PM CST
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(WSAW, AP) - As details unfold in the deadly incident during the Waukesha parade where a man barreled down the street killing at least six people and hurting more than 40 others, advocates of domestic violence survivors are continuing to point to research showing a link between those crimes and mass violence.

Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, is the suspect in the Waukesha killings. He had a history of domestic violence. In fact, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson said Brooks was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place just minutes earlier when he drove into the parade route.

“One of the things that we know about domestic abuse offenders is they’re really about power and control and they want to be able to control the people in their lives. And so, when they feel like they can’t, that’s when they exert more concern and more pressure,” Jane Graham Jennings, the executive director of The Women’s Community in Wausau said.

She explained domestic violence has a well-documented role in many mass violence incidents, which is defined as when more than three people are killed. Most of the research looks at mass shootings. One study looking at convicted perpetrators between 2009-2020 found that 53% of the killings were related to domestic violence. That percentage increases when looking at a narrower window between 2014-2019, where another study found more than two-thirds of perpetrators had a history of domestic violence.

“There has been a history of violence against women of violence against intimate partners and disparaging or awful comments made about women. That they think women aren’t equal citizens,” Graham Jennings noted.

With Brooks, it was not gun violence, but he had been free on $1,000 bail for a case in Milwaukee County earlier in November in which he’s accused of intentionally striking a woman with his car. Prosecutors said they’re investigating their bail recommendation in that case, calling it inappropriately low.

“It can really trigger a lot of people feeling angry and frustrated and especially those survivors of domestic violence who were injured repeatedly after their abusive partner was released from jail, was able to pay bond or was released on a signature bond and they thought they would be safe and protected and they’re not,” she said. “And so, seeing someone again who has been released and now has committed this atrocity just really makes people feel really angry about the criminal justice system letting them down.”

What role pre-trial release and bond may have played in the Waukesha incident has policymakers looking at making changes, however, there are several layers of laws around bonds and what judges can consider and when.

Reports noting more violence

The light on domestic abuse comes at a time when advocacy centers typically see a decrease in the number of calls to their support hotlines.

“The thing we think is that families want to stay together for the holidays. They’re thinking everything is so stressful right now, when the holidays are over, when it’s less stressful, everything will be fine and it won’t be this bad if we can just make it through and it will be OK.”

Over the past year, as more people stay home during the pandemic, Graham Jennings said the reports of domestic abuse have gotten more physically violent, which makes this season of people staying at home all the more concerning.

She noted stress does not cause domestic violence, that the perpetrator’s need for power and control over the lives of people in their life is the cause. That is an important distinction because that often means when the stress of the holidays is over, the problems in the abusive relationship do not end.

“Stress just might be a trigger point that makes someone from verbally abusing to physically abusing.”

Some signs of an abusive relationship include extreme jealousy, the partner is degrading or demeaning the other, or the partner is speaking for the other. It can take several attempts for a person to leave their abuser because they often still love them, and as family and friends gather, it can make it challenging if that known abuser still comes to dinner.

“Judgment and telling them what they should do isn’t helpful because we don’t know what the consequences might be if they do the thing you think is best for them. It might put them in more danger.”

Graham Jennings said telling a person to just leave the jerk often can backfire because that person will go to their defense and grow closer to them. So, she said friends and family need to be supportive of their loved one and allow space for them to navigate what they can do to get themselves and any other family they have with them safe.

“We listen to what they need and we offer thoughts like, ‘I’m concerned about you. Are you OK? If you’re not OK, please reach out for help.’”

The Women’s Community staffs its hotline 24/7 even during holidays. Graham Jennings said even people who do not want to formally report can call anonymously to talk through options and ask questions. That number is (715)842-7323.

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