By Wendy Oldenbrook
Violence Free Colorado Blogger

As an advocate working with survivors of domestic violence, I was often outraged at how fundamentally cruel people could be to the women I served. I was also surprised by how the public conversation about gun violence seemed to miss the mark from my frame of reference: women are much more likely to be shot by their partner than the general public is to be a victim of random, Newtown-esque gun violence.

Why aren’t we more outraged by the horrific, deadly – very much common place – violence that is domestic violence? Why does it continue so robustly year after year? Why are people still asking “Why doesn’t she leave” instead of “Why did he do that?”

Sadly, I think part of the reason is that people outside this field do not have a sense of how wide-spread domestic violence is. They read headlines in the paper such as “Murder, Suicide”, television shows report on “Deadly Desire,” crippling beatings are relegated to 3rd degree assault and child endangerment – and often not reported on at all. It is no wonder our public conversation still defaults to images of a woman with a black eye who is sad and struggling with how to leave her alcoholic husband… instead of on how she was murdered.

In 1994, I took a class at Aurora Community College on Domestic Violence. The most impactful assignment my teacher gave was to keep a scrap-book of every newspaper article over the period of weeks that described domestic violence. As my scrapbook grew, I began reading the paper in a new way – and this has never left me.

Here is an example:

5/5/2013 Headline: 2 people shot in north Denver, 1 killed from Denver police say it appears to be a murder – attempted suicide between a man and a woman in “some sort of relationship.” No mention of domestic violence.

5/6/2013 – follow-up from above Headline:
Woman dead, man stable after murder-suicide attempt in Denver from the Maria C. Rodela died of “two gunshot wounds to the head during the “domestic altercation,” the office said. Court records show the couple married in 1996, and Maria Rodela filed for divorce in February.” Still no mention of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no common language for the crime of domestic violence. Murder – assault – kidnapping – rape – stabbing – all excellent terms (and legally accurate) to describe a specific crime – but none actually name the social issues we are fighting: domestic violence.

We need to make sure the public knows how often domestic violence happens in our community. Our leaders can’t be compelled to take action if they don’t connect all these crimes to what they are: domestic violence.

When you see an article that describes domestic violence – call it out as such. In conversation, point out that although an unfortunate event was murder-suicide, it was also clearly domestic violence because the wife had left her husband, there was a restraining order in place, he held her hostage for two days … or whatever the actual details are. Call it domestic violence. Everyone needs to understand how wide spread and lethal this issue is.