Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year” for everyone in our valley. This year, we have had a run of domestic violence murders, the most recent occurring just before Christmas. We now have four more motherless children in our community, who endured the trauma of being present during the beating death of their mother Amanda Hillious, and who now will likely only know their father from behind bars. Add to this the death of their paternal grandfather within days of their mother’s death. I can’t quite imagine a worse Christmas for Amanda’s children.
I shudder at the thought of Amanda’s last hours on this earth. If the events occurred as relayed in the press, I predict she thought only to secure her children’s safety, to ask them to avoid being witness to her murderer removing the life from her body. Despite the awareness of domestic violence in our society, the enhanced sentencing associated with family member assault, and domestic violence shelters’ efforts to provide a safe haven and support, this scourge on our community and families remains.
Back in 2006, I received a “Domestic Violence Professional of the Year” award. Ironically, in the same year, the only hate mail I received as a prosecutor was from domestic violence victims. I had victims refuse to testify against their perpetrators and change their testimony at the time of trial to protect their perpetrators. So why did the victims I sought to protect reject my efforts? Because the desire to maintain a family unit — despite the dysfunction and abuse — was more compelling than obtaining justice and ending the chaos. For the victim, “justice” came with significant consequences: economic uncertainty and potential homelessness, public exposure of family secrets, and children deprived of seeing the abusive parent (or worse, the inability to protect the children from abuse because the abuser retained his/her parental rights).
The cycle of violence — why a perpetrator harms a person he or she loves, why the victim stays, why a victim stops legal proceedings against a perpetrator — remains a psychological conundrum, challenging to explain and monumentally difficult to change. How many of us read Amanda’s story and initially thought, “why didn’t she … ?” I did and then promptly corrected myself. Victim blaming is an ignorant response that abusers use to justify their actions; if, as a community, our first response to Amanda’s story is also to victim blame, we do so in service of her murderer.
The truth is: it doesn’t matter what Amanda did or didn’t do; she didn’t deserve a death sentence. We owe it to Amanda’s children to ensure the blame for her death rests solely with her murderer, so that they may know some semblance of peace in the future.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.