Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
It is important for readers to know that my opinions stated below are based on a general understanding of domestic violence and not on any specific knowledge of details related to the Mazeika murder-suicide. Furthermore, Response and I wish to express our deepest condolences to the family.
On Sept. 8, Andrew Mazeika shot and killed his wife, Judi Mazeika, in front of their Missouri Heights home and then took his own life. This tragedy has shaken many in the community and seems to have left more questions than answers.
When an individual chooses to take his or her own life, there is often a sense of disbelief and a desperate search for the signs that might have alerted others to intervene. In the case of a murder-suicide, the pain, the incredulity, and the pursuit to make sense of the senseless becomes magnified. Although nothing positive can be gained from such an occurrence, there is an opportunity for all of us to learn the lessons that such violence can illuminate.
I believe one of those lessons is calling a spade a spade. Whatever Andrew Mazeika’s reasons, by choosing to take the life of his wife before his own, he committed the ultimate act of domestic violence. According to the Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, there were at least 38 domestic-violence related fatalities in 2011. And now in 2012, the Roaring Fork Valley will have a place on next year’s list.
As tragic as it is for this to have occurred in our small community, the shots fired on Sept. 8 should shake even the most entrenched out of the myth that domestic violence doesn’t occur here. We all need to better recognize and respond to domestic violence, and to do that we must first acknowledge the pervasive level at which it exists.
For the one out of four women who experiences domestic abuse in their lifetime, we must comprehend that each of them is potentially at risk of death. Although both abusers and survivors of abuse universally minimize and deny the level and frequency of the abuse, we – as friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and bystanders – have an obligation not to turn away from the dangers of the abuse occurring in our community.
Although in the Mazeika tragedy there had been no previous reports to law enforcement of domestic violence, this is not a surprising fact to those who have been educated about the dynamics of abuse. Most intimate partner abuse goes unreported to law enforcement and even to those closest to the victim for a variety of reasons (e.g. hope that the abuser will change or that the abuse will stop, loving the abuser, embarrassment or shame, financial dependence on the abuser, fear of emotional and physical retaliation if they leave, isolation and lack of supportive relationships, the inability to support their children alone, hopelessness, guilt – and many more).
Yet it is typical that abuse escalates over time, and rarely is a homicide the first act of abuse or the first sign of that abuse to the public. It is imperative that we all learn to recognize the red flags of abuse: the isolation of the victim, the controlling behavior, the intimidation, the threats, and the patterns of emotional and verbal abuse that we can all so easily minimize.
Victims of abuse are usually the most vocal in underestimating the seriousness and frequency of the abuse and the most likely to hold on to the hope that their partner can change. Simply put, victims want the abuse to end, not the relationship to end. This is why so often victims of abuse will leave their partner numerous times, only to, incredulously to those on the outside, return when apologies and promises are made by the abuser.
It is also important to know that the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse, and the time when the highest number of fatalities occur, is not when they are in the relationship, but when victims are attempting to leave the relationship. This is because the mindset of the abuser is “If I can’t have you, then no one else will.”
Domestic violence is understood to be an act of power and control and there is nothing that makes an abuser more aware that they are losing power and control over their victim than when that victim chooses to leave. Knowing that the couple had a filed for divorce and separated only to have attempted a reconciliation illustrates this dynamic.
There exists such a codependence between abuser and victim, that what is clearly an unhealthy attachment to those on the outside can often be couched in the misguided belief between abuser and victim that they are soul-mates with a kind of love that others just can’t understand. Because an abuser tells their partner that they love them and can’t live without them, a victim can easily believe that their relationship does in fact represent love and that they must remain with their partner in order to emotionally support and care for them, especially when other factors, such as illness, are present as in the Mazeika instance.
There is an opportunity with this tragedy to begin a challenging conversation about domestic violence. Rather than feel the need to hide such horrors from our children, I encourage everyone to use this as a “teachable moment.” The lesson is that sadly, partner abuse does occur, and not simply because of the myriad of justifications such as mental illness or substance abuse, but because one individual chooses to disregard the life of another.
We can most help our children and others when we teach them to recognize abuse so that they can get out before it’s too late, or better yet, learn the warning signs so that they never get in.
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