The rate of the domestic murder of women is still high. Of all murders committed against women, 30% of them are committed by spouse, boyfriend, former spouse or former boyfriend. What can we do to stop the killing of women by those who claimed to love them? Intervening to stop physical violence through jail time, fines, and other consequences from society has brought a decrease in domestic murders, but they are still too high. And one in four women are assaulted by their male partners at some point in their lifetime--often over a long period of time.
Those who work to combat domestic violence have stepped back and asked themselves what is the best predictor of a man murdering the female in his life? They would like to say that it is physical abuse, since so many who murder their wives committed increasingly more destructive physical violence against the women in their lives before they murdered them. Yet, in too many cases there was no known physical abuse. Husbands who seemed to be regular guys with no history of abuse seem to “out of the blue” rise up and kill their wives or ex-wives.
I think of the Sueppel family in Iowa, who had adopted foreign children. Neighbors gathered at the Sueppel house frequently and sat out on the lawn/driveway, chatting. Children came over to play. And then the news came out that Mr. Sueppel was about to be charged for embezzling funds from the bank where he was employed. Before he was formally charged, Mr. Sueppel killed his wife and children and then himself, shocking the whole community. The media reported that about 10 years prior Mrs. Sueppel had called the domestic violence shelter because of an incident at her home. This information was dismissed. They claimed Mr. Sueppel was a loving man who just “snapped” and did the unthinkable. How could this “loving man” hit his 5 year old daughter, who was in the play room, over the head with a bat and then continue to beat her upper torso until she died? How could he one by one kill off 3-4 children, and shoot the wife he loved so much? He didn’t find it so easy to kill himself. It took driving at super high speed and crashing into an abutment to do himself in. Yet the media denies that this man was an abuser.
However, the domestic violence workers say the best predictor of domestic murder is verbal/emotional abuse. What causes a person to use verbal/emotional abuse against the very person they claim to love? It is an attitude and belief of entitlement. The belief that he is entitled to have his way, to have what he wants. Verbal and emotional abuse are caused by the belief that he is entitled to cast the deciding vote, to have authority that his spouse does not have. It is a belief in his own superiority, that the rules don’t apply to him.
The attitude of entitlement, the belief that he has the right to have his way stands out in the Sueppel story. Even if Sueppel never hit his wife again after she called for help 10 years prior to her murder, it is doubtful that he stopped controlling her through verbal and emotional abuse. It is probable he also used a quiverful of other controlling techniques, which he selected much like one selects an arrow to slice through a targeted prey. His belief in his right to have what he wanted spilled over into his work and he stole from his boss. Actually, he stole from the people who trusted him enough to deposit their money in his bank.
Holding the Sueppel story up next to John Piper’s answer to how a wife should submit to her abusive husband by enduring his “verbal unkindness for a season,” shows Piper’s denial of the life-threatening danger that he advocated for verbally and emotionally abused wives. And his answer showed that he was refusing to deal with the husband’s sin until the husband had sinned “for a season” and to the point that the sin had escalated into something Piper considered life-threatening.
The Sueppel story is one of many. There is the Haitian husband who had physically assaulted his wife, and then persuaded her to drop the restraining order against him. The husband and wife had been going to their pastor for counseling to help them forgive and reconcile, and then the husband murdered his wife and children. There is the man—Lutheran, I believe—who shot his ex-wife during a counseling session at church. Nothing was said of previous domestic violence, yet he shot his wife repeatedly, killing her.
These are not isolated incidents of abuse. They are the culmination of years of abuse; the abuse that doesn’t leave bruises on the outside, but that turns wives black and blue on the inside.
It is time people of faith stop limiting the definition of domestic violence to “regular beatings” and take all the tactics of domestic abusers seriously. Domestic abuse—even verbal abuse, limiting access to family resources, marital rape, and twisting scripture to insist that a wife obey her husband—is life-threatening. It shows a disrespect for the life and person of another, which is the seed and poisonous plant that blooms into domestic murder.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge," a novel about a wife who discovers traditional marriage advice doesn't always work. See www.wanetadawn.com
Chronically Self-Centered Spouse Series - Nope, I'm not doing this series. Nope, Visionary Womanhood is not doing this series. But I do thank Natalie for linking to it over there a couple years back...
4 months ago