Opinion

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Guest Column

Addressing Systemic Violence

The recent killing of a young mother by her estranged husband can serve as a wake up call for us all

The recent killing of a young mother by her estranged husband can serve as a wake up call for us all. The underlying sadness that we feel is that our society has failed to do enough to address the root causes of domestic violence. The threat of domestic violence is woven into the fabric of women’s lives, and the tragedy lies in that this most recent death is so unsurprising.

Many in our community are privileged enough to go about their lives without having to consider domestic violence. This is understandable. But when a member of our community, our friend, our family, is lost, we see the cost of our complacency. We can no longer assume that domestic violence is someone else’s problem.

In supporting the work of the Abbie Shelter, we have learned that unless our community speaks out and acts against the systems of power and abuse, the crimes which constitute domestic violence will, once again, fall into the shadows. We can prevent this most recent loss from fading away by educating ourselves, and choosing to act. Here are three places to start:

1. Understand that domestic violence does not end when the relationship is terminated and the survivor leaves. Because of their sense of entitlement and control, abusers frequently continue to stalk, harass, threaten, and try to control the victim after the victim escapes. In reality, the victim is often in the most danger directly following the escape of the relationship or when they seek help: one-fifth of homicide victims with Orders of Protection are murdered within two days of obtaining the order; one-third are murdered within the first month.  https://ncadv.org/statistics

2. Understand what happens to victims and survivors after they ask for help. The Abbie Shelter receives over 100 calls each month on our 24-hour Helpline, and most of those calls receive continued assistance from Abbie staff for legal assistance, therapeutic services, and financial support. Safe housing is only one of the many needs of survivors that the Abbie supports.

3. Demand that the county provide better support to the Flathead County Victim Advocate position. This position was overseen by the Abbie Shelter until 2007, when it was transferred to the county and where it is currently housed in the County Attorney’s Office. In 2018 the sheriff’s department requested that the position be transferred to them, but that request was denied. There is serious doubt in our board that the victim advocate is being adequately supported and we need your help to make it clear that survivors of domestic violence are a priority.

Domestic and sexual violence is a systemic issue for us to solve, and no single act is going to eliminate it from our culture. It will require each one of us to listen to and believe survivors, and hold abusers accountable at every level. To teach men and boys that their partners’ lives are not property to be kept. More than anything, to understand that it is not survivors’ responsibility to solve this problem – in this most recent case, Emily Mohler pursued nearly every avenue of safety that was available to her.

In the end, there will always be painful questions that do not have answers. But we know that with proper support from a coordinated justice system, survivors fare better. As members of this community, we ask that you not look away, that you learn about the causes of domestic and sexual violence, and that you demand that our local leaders hold victims as a top priority in creating safety and justice in our county.

The Abbie Shelter has provided domestic and sexual violence services to the Flathead Valley since 1976.