"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by its example.
Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."
–Supreme Court Justice Brandeis

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Broken homes: The Economy and domestic violence

Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.


Just last week two local families in Washington County were torn apart by murder and suicide



The Times, Nov 19, 2009, Updated 3 minutes ago

(news photo)



There are so many questions, but very few answers.

In just two days last week, two families in Washington County were ripped apart by the ultimate form of domestic violence.

In Tualatin, 39-year-old Robert James Beiser shot and killed his estranged wife, 36-year-old Teresa Marie Beiser and injured two others with an armory of weapons. Then he turned his gun on himself.

In the Bethany area, 44-year-old Mukesh Suthar shot and killed his 39-year-old wife, Varsha Suthar, and their 9-year-old son, Ronak. He also took his own life.

Why did this happen? Were there warning signs? Could something have been done to stop this?

Cases increasing?

According to a 2006 report by The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit think-tank that researches violence in America, between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths a year are a direct result of murder-suicide cases in the United States. Of these crimes, the vast majority – 74 percent – are committed by male suspects against their wives, most using some sort of firearm. From 2003 to 2007, Oregon averaged eight cases of murder-suicide a year, according to statistics from the state health department.

Katherine van Wormer is the co-author of the 2009 book “Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and Murder-Suicides” and a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa who researches crimes of domestic violence. She said that she’s seen an increase in reports of murder-suicide cases in the United States since the economy started souring.

“The economy is definitely a factor,” van Wormer said. “Fathers in the family have a sense of failure. And these crimes occur in otherwise low-crime areas because they have nothing to do with the crime rate.”

She said the idea of a “contagion” – that people are more likely to commit similar crimes when they see other instances of it occur – is also important, and adds to the complexity of figuring out why these crimes occur.

“The men here have often provided for the family, they are suffering a grave crisis such as economically, in financial and employment difficulty,” van Wormer said. “Feeling disgraced, they think they can’t protect the family so they decide to wipe them all out. A twisted protective motive seems to operate.”

According to a report by the National Institute of Justice, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice, there are four common characteristics in murder-suicide cases:

- A prior history of domestic violence

- Access to firearms

-Threats of violence, especially those that increase in specific details

-Prior history of poor mental health or substance abuse, especially alcohol

According to the report, “Murder-Suicide in Families,” a previous history of abuse was “by far the most common risk factor” in cases of murder-suicide. The report also says that whether the economy is a factor or not in murder-suicide cases is hard to tell because of the relative rarity of these events in the United States.

Getting help

Sarah H. Keefe, community outreach coordinator for Washington County’s Domestic Violence Resource Center, located in Beaverton, said her organization has seen a dramatic rise in calls for assistance in the past week, though she’s not sure why. She suspects that the very public tragedies have led people experiencing domestic violence to seek help before it’s too late.

“Domestic violence is a cycle of power and control over another person,” Keefe said. “Usually, but not always, the violence will escalate over time. The most dangerous time for survivors is when they are leaving the relationship or when they are pregnant.”

She said that people in relationships should trust their instincts and not be afraid to seek help if they need it. The first step is to call the 24-hour crisis line at 503-469-8620 or toll-free at 866-469-8600 and set up a safety plan.

Keefe said that friends and family should also be aware, and willing, to reach out for help if they know someone dealing with domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Resource Center can help survivors in the process of leaving abusive relationships by finding transitional housing and other resources.

“The important thing we as a community can do is bring to light that domestic violence is a community issue, not a private issue – it’s something we all need to talk about, not sweep under the rug,” Keefe said.

“We are all effected by the violence, in our schools, in our workplace and in our circle of family and friends.”

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