Saturday, November 3, 2012
The clearest examples of the role domestic violence has in suicides are probably murder-suicides we hear about from time to time. In most cases, these deaths involve a husband or male domestic partner who murders his wife or girl friend and then kills himself.
In rare cases, a husband will not only murder his wife but his children, too, before turning a firearm on himself. More than 90 percent of the time, firearms are the method of choice. Nearly 95 percent of the time, the person pulling the trigger is a man.
While in York County the numbers of these kinds of deaths have rarely been more than two or three in recent years, they underscore the pain and suffering suicide imposes on families and communities. All too often family histories emerge after lives have been lost. What were rumors of trouble at home become cold, hard facts indicating a family was coming apart. Repeated physical injuries to a wife or a child are finally recognized as impending signs of the ultimate violence ending the lives of a depressed husband, his wife and their son, or a desperate man who could not accept losing control of a spouse or a girlfriend.
In the end, family members, classmates, members of the same church, and co-workers come together to ask how such a thing could have happened. Sadly, the answers to these questions contain striking similarities: a history of physical abuse, a real or imagined loss of control or dominance for a man who is succumbing to depression, and easy access to a pistol or rifle. Life goes on and the memory fades until the next incident is made public and the process repeats itself.
This is the obvious role of domestic violence in suicide, but it is not the only one. According to research studies appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who are the victims of repeated domestic abuse are 12 times more likely to take their own lives because they see death as the only release from their physical and mental agony. Children who have been exposed to domestic violence are two to five times more likely to kill themselves either as children or as adults because they have not been able to overcome a deep and subtle legacy of fear and abuse. For women and children in these circumstances death can come quickly, or it can take years to unfold, sometimes with a history of abuse repeating itself.
A few years ago there was a popular phrase: "It takes a village to raise a child." Presumably this saying meant we all have a responsibility to look out for our children and our neighbor's children. In cases of domestic violence and murder/suicide it can be said it takes a village to ignore or fail a child, too. If we are to reverse the numbers of deaths in our community we will all have to take part in being our brother's keeper.
In any situation involving the warning signs, risk factors, and domestic violence, the presence of firearms compounds the risk for murder and suicide. While it is people who kill people, 92 percent of the time it will be an unstable man with a rifle or a pistol in his hand who will be the most likely person to kill others and himself.