Time and again, Matt Huckabay has read or watched coverage of the aftermath of a domestic violence story – after someone has killed a loved one or mowed down strangers. This is how domestic violence gets defined because this final monstrous act is what the public sees, said Huckabay, who runs a batterers’ intervention program established 20 years ago in Placerville. Counselors in that program and others around the state go deeper with those perpetrators willing to let them in and examine the source of the rage that fuels the behavior. All too often, Huckabay and others have observed, the seed of the internalized rage was planted in childhood when batterers were physically or sexually abused or when they began to see abuse as a normal part of a romantic relationship.
Casey Gwinn, a former San Diego prosecutor who now works with survivors of domestic violence, said that he’s been trying for years to get to the root of the rage that fuels men who strangle their partners. Gwinn described this act as “the last warning shot” because it is the greatest indicator that a violent relationship will turn deadly. Women who are strangled are eight times more likely to subsequently be killed by their partners than victims who were not strangled, studies have shown, and the more times they are strangled, the greater the odds that things will turn lethal.
It’s not just the women in these relationships who face the risk of death, however. Gwinn said that research has begun to link stranglers with familicide, cop killings and mass shootings. “Tons of people have childhood trauma. I’ve got a high childhood trauma score,” said Gwinn, who has written about his own childhood experience of sexual abuse by a stranger. “Lots of us have our issues from childhood abuse, but there’s something different about these stranglers.”
Huckabay noted that staff counselors at his nonprofit have learned that many batterers, both male and female, had few interactions as children with adults who could model healthy relationships or who could have taught them how to cope with the abuse or violence they had experienced. “They lack really significant close relationships with caring adults,” said Huckabay, executive director of the Center for Violence-Free Relationships. “Most of the people that they grow up around are also dysfunctional in a variety of different ways, so they learn coping skills that are rooted in violence, usually physical violence, certainly emotional violence.”
CHILDREN WITNESS DOMESTIC ABUSE
Researchers who looked at 300 cases where men strangled their wives or girlfriends found that, in four out of 10 cases, children were present at the time the victim was being strangled. If children living in abusive households don’t recover from these and other traumas, they pack their baggage into adulthood, Huckabay said. They may end up finding a partner who is there for them, who validates them and who loves them in some consistent way – even if it’s consistent in an unhealthy way For instance, they may find someone who will do drugs with them or who expresses affection in a way they have needed it, Huckabay said, and they believe they’ve found a perfect match because, even if there’s dysfunction, they can both navigate it. He recalled one man whose partner called him at the times he set, and he relied upon that constant connection, that reassurance as validation of his power and control. If his partner didn’t make the call, then he was certain she was cheating on him.
It didn’t enter his mind that his partner took 10 minutes longer calling him because she couldn’t get away. Her failure to call had to be centered around the two of them. Time and again, the batterers’ partners are going to find that there isn’t enough time in a day to offer enough reinforcements to satisfy someone with such an emotional deficit, Huckabay said. “It’s just a never-ending hole that can never be filled with enough phone calls, with enough gifts, with enough showing up, with enough sitting close to (them), with enough doing everything except being in their space 24/7, and even then, that won’t be enough,” he said. “It’s coming from that place of individuals who have a history of having been rejected by the primary people in their lives.”
BATTERER WANTS TO CONTROL PARTNER
Even if they have no evidence to justify any suspicions, batterers still operate with the belief that their partners are doing something to harm them because that is their experience, Huckabay said, and they will employ physical violence, mind games, stalking, verbal threats or whatever else is needed to quash what they suspect.
Gwinn prosecuted physical and sexual abusers for 20 years but has since co-founded the social change organization Alliance for Hope International where his team works on strangulation prevention, intervention with abused youth, and support for adults who survived domestic violence or sexual assault. Alliance for Hope runs Camp Hope America where counselors focus on healing and offering hope to minors who survived sexual or physical violence or who lived in households where there was domestic violence. They run one of the camps in the Sacramento region in collaboration with the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center. “Our toughest kids at Camp Hope are kids who have experienced child sexual abuse,” Gwinn said. “The rage in them is very different. When I deal with a kid who’s really just filled with rage, he’s almost always the child sexual abuse survivor. By the way, that includes girls, too. Both boys and girls that have real rage issues at camp almost always turn out to be child sexual abuse survivors.” Gwinn has written two books in which he presents case studies examining stranglers who have killed the people they love, friends, coworkers, strangers, law enforcement officers. “People think these guys are monsters all the time, and they’re not,” he said. “They’re not. There are socially moderating influences on them. … As long as there are laws and some consequences, I do think it’s a moderating influence in their lives, so they can’t just do what they want whenever they want to whomever they want.”
Source Credit: Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee. Link to original article.