Yesterday I was in a hot rage.

I awoke to headline after headline about a murder-suicide near Deer Lodge where a man shot and killed his partner, their three children then himself. That horrible news struck a nerve, but what made things worse were the headlines associated with the story on its third day of news coverage:

“Official: Montana man shot family because wife was ‘mocking him’”

“Deer Lodge man blamed wife’s ‘mocking’ for mass murder-suicide”

This, simply put, is victim blaming.

The man did not shoot his wife and their three young children because the woman was “mocking” him. In no rational world does mocking equal murder. And to imply that the two are connected or that her actions in any way caused her husband to murder the family is a disservice.

It was not because the wife was "mocking" this man that he chose to murder her and their three young children. He murdered them because that is what he chose to do. This is domestic violence.

As a journalist, I get it. I was a crime reporter for most of my career. It’s a big story. As the days go by you look for new information. You look for those details that you know will grab the readers’ attention. You are doing your job. I did this many times, and now, looking back, maybe I would have made different choices when reporting some of these stories.

As a person who has been affected personally by domestic violence, it enrages me.

When you are in an abusive relationship you often think that your actions can have an impact on your abuser’s actions. If I don’t speak up, if I don’t nag him then maybe it won’t set him off. I’ll just make myself smaller, quieter.

It’s not true. This is a tactic abusers use to control their victims, blaming the victims for the violence and manipulation carried out against them.

Implying that this woman mocked her husband and it caused him to shoot her and their three children is supporting that lie and it is blaming the victim.

Sadly, this is a common reaction to domestic violence, to blame the victim, Erica Coyle, Co-Executive Director of HAVEN, explained to KMMS AM host Chris Griffin during an interview today.

I called Erica to ask if she would do an interview after I became angry about the headlines on Wednesday. I knew she could speak more eloquently about it than I could and I hoped by giving her a voice on the show that maybe it could help others who may be affected by domestic violence or who may have questions.

Here is what she had to say during her interview with Chris. The audio of the entire interview is below.

HAVEN in Bozeman serves survivors of domestic violence and works to engage the community in preventing and intervening in family violence and dating violence. Last year, HAVEN served 1,265 individuals, which is 23% more than the year before.

Domestic violence relationships don’t start off as violent, Erica explains. Over time an abuser introduces threats of violence before introducing actual violence. Domestic violence is a control issue, she explains.

“Domestic violence is all about power and control. We certainly see abusers that do have mental illness. We also see abusers who are upstanding members of their community from an outside perspective. And so it really has no boundaries as far as race, socioeconomic, health, any of that goes. We see it across the board in every community,” she said.

What causes domestic violence?

“It’s a learned behavior. So people are not naturally trying to control and have power over their partner. It’s a learned behavior, so what happens is the children growing up in these violent homes, they learn that that is how a marriage and a family works. So when they enter adulthood, they are more likely to become a victim or perpetrator of violence themselves. So it’s what we call the cycle of violence, the generational cycle of violence and you know to intervene in that, really the best way to help kids learn that that is not OK and that healthy relationships do exist and that we should respect one another. There are some good educational programs but also just getting the kids out of that situation can be really helpful for their future,” Erica said.

Regarding the Deer Lodge incident, Erica says when talking about domestic violence, we need to call it what it is.

“Calling it what it is is important and helping the rest of the public recognize that people in this situation they feel trapped. Victims feel trapped and leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim and that’s when the highest rate of homicide occurs,” Erica said.

Also, be sure to not blame the victim. Don’t give excuses for the abuser.

“Nothing that the victim did warranted being killed, right. I mean I think we can all agree on that,” Erica said.

What can you do if you think someone is involved in an abusive relationship?

“The best thing you can do is try to get them one-on-one, just the two of you, and point out some things that you’ve noticed. Maybe you’ve noticed that they’re consistently having to check in with their partner, that they always have to ask permission from their partner. Sometimes being late to work a lot can be a sign of domestic violence. We hear about abusers who hide car keys and things like that, trying to sabotage their work life and so just letting them know some of the signs you’ve noticed and letting them know, hey, I’m here if you want to talk,” Erica said. “Intervening by being supportive, non-judgmental, that’s the best way to go about it.”

HAVEN offers shelter to women and men leaving violence relationships. It also offers counseling and other resources to those affected by domestic violence. To learn more visit HAVEN’s website or call 406-586-4111.

The story out of Deer Lodge is a tragic, terrible one. But let’s use this as an opportunity to talk about domestic violence and what we can do as a society to help survivors instead of blame them.

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