Cognitive dissonance: (noun) the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
Thursday’s scathing news assaulted our senses: A man kills his wife and turns the gun on himself. In that short sentence are a thousand unspoken fragments. Two children, orphans. Family, friends, confusion, grief.
Sadly, this story could easily be supplanted in the headlines of any newspaper virtually anywhere. That it happened in Eatonville is just coincidental (TNT 5/15). It has shaken this small town, yet for all the disbelief and outrage, experience suggests this crime will gradually fade from the collective consciousness until it is nothing more than a blip on a spreadsheet.
That is the maddening reality of domestic violence, a stealthy killer as ancient as our species that has only gained recognition as a legitimate epidemic in recent years. But why is that? Why is it that those who advocate for our most vulnerable – mostly women and children – often see their message marginalized and their voices fade into the background until the next murder refocuses the public’s myopic attention?
Despite several decades of efforts, victims continue to suffer in silence. Domestic violence carries a stigma, a humiliation that keeps victims from reaching out. It has also been minimized by morons like Sean Connery, who famously pointed out that, “There are women who take it to the wire. That’s what they are looking for, the ultimate confrontation. They want a smack.”
In Connery’s case, the 007 clearly refers to his I.Q. Fortunately, the majority do not agree with his assessment.
Instead, the response to jarring stories like the Eatonville murder follow a predictable arc: 1) recoil in titillated horror; 2) express anger and sympathy, and; 3) mentally assign those involved to the “defective people” file.
I have seen this reflexive response time and time again over the years. Not coincidentally, the subconscious decision to trivialize the event by wrongly assuming that “this type of thing couldn’t happen to me or someone I know” is a superb example of the aforementioned cognitive dissonance.
Abusers understand this better than most, which is why the first step in victimization is to separate the target from his or her support system, i.e. friends and family. They perform this task so well that their victims are unaware how constant fear has altered their lives.
If DV victims are lucky enough to find a safe place (like the Pierce County YWCA), they are finally able to take stock of their live and begin the long and arduous task of making themselves whole again.
Sadly, the woman killed in Eatonville did not have that opportunity.
If we really want to make headway against such crimes, our communities must be more informed. Domestic violence is insidious. It is stealthy. It is everywhere.
We must also remove the stigma from the those caught in its web. And we need to ensure that sufficient resources are available for victims and their families fleeing its dangers.
By dragging domestic violence out of the shadows and into the spotlight, who knows what we might accomplish? It may be that it will prevent the next potential victim from becoming just one more statistic.