Last year during national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I mean exactly one year ago on October 28, 2008, I wrote about one of the most disturbing cases with a connection to domestic violence the nation had seen in a while. A tale of horror unfolded, the murders of the mother, brother and young nephew of acclaimed actress and singer Jennifer Hudson. The alleged perpetrator, her sister's estranged husband William Balfour, was later arrested.
While we rejoice with Hudson that she appears to have triumphed over tragedy, it's noteworthy that we've heard very little about the murders since Balfour's court appearance in January. After the initial flurry of sensationalistic coverage, the murders and their connection to domestic violence faded away.
Here we are again. It's national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and we're lamenting other cases we've heard over the past year such as the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident. A tragedy equal to Brown beating the singer is the number of people who blame Rihanna, declaring she must've done something to deserve a whipping like that. Dissecting the young lovers' troubles, we've re-examined other famous domestic violence cases, such as the O.J. Simpson case and the Mike Tyson/Robin Givens case.
The latter still fascinates the public. He was the heavy weight champion, a huge man. She was the thin, glamorous actress. And both are still alive to tell their versions of events.
Tyson, who has released a documentary about his life, appeared on Oprah last month, admitting now that it was an abusive relationship fraught with fights (See video), but still the former boxer seems not to see that it was never a fair fight. If Givens "socked" him and he "socked" her back, how could it be, unless, of course, Robin Givens had an AK-47 in her hands and was a crack shot?
At the time (the Barbara Walter's interview, ~1988), Mike sat at his wife's side, not saying a word. Now, he's ready to talk. (Now, 2009)
"I couldn't believe Robin Givens was saying those lies about me. … I was flabbergasted," he says. "When I look back at it now, I can't believe I sat there and didn't say anything. But then again, if I were to act crazy and start smashing and going crazy in front of television, that's what they would have wanted."
Robin's accusations made Mike furious. "At that particular moment, I truly wanted to sock her, but I just didn't do it. I was young at that time," he says. "I have socked her before, and she socked me before, as well. It was just that kind of relationship."
"You are a very big guy, so it would be hard for some woman to stand up against you physically," Oprah says. "Is there ever an instance where a woman deserves to be struck?"
"I don't know. … Women do kill people and hurt people too," he says. "I just know we're both human beings. … And we have to treat this human being a certain way just from a physical perspective. When I was in this marriage, I was wide open like a puppy dog. She could have done anything. I would have said: 'Okay. I love you still.'" (Tyson on Oprah)
Back near the end of the 80s as their marriage died under a spotlight, the young couple's story nearly split national opinion as much as the Brown/Rihanna incident has today. Some people hated Robin Givens. They said she was a gold digger after the champ's money. Even when I posted in March of this year at my blog on Givens's Larry King live appearance, someone dropped by to say he had inside information that Givens is "evil." I didn't post the incendiary comments supposedly from a former Tyson manager who wanted to remain anonymous.
In addition to these stories that capture the public eye, we may add the domestic violence alleged to have afflicted the Heenes, the family at the center of the reported balloon boy "hoax". Also, Mary Murphy, the bubbly judge from So You Think You Can Dance, recently spoke on Larry King Live and said she was once in a 9-year marriage in which her husband raped and beat her. And this just in yesterday, the wife of professional basketball player Delonte West has filed a domestic violence complaint against him.
I don't know much about West. However, the AP reports he suffers from bipolar disorder. Perhaps you'll hear something about his wife's allegations later because he's a sports star. Yes, you may remember or have heard about the celebrity cases mentioned and can probably name other domestic violence allegations or proven cases of domestic violence involving famous people. For instance, the recent Lifetime Television movie about painter Georgia O'Keefe reveals her husband was controlling and emotionally abusive. (We sometimes overlook that abuse need not be physical.) A victim of his narcissism, O'Keefe ended up in a mental institution, according to the movie.
But what about cases of non-famous people that have been in the news since the Hudson murders, the stories of ordinary people crippled, maimed, or murdered in domestic violence incidents. Do we remember them? Do their stories linger?
- The Santa Claus massacre, Dec. 2008, man facing divorce shoots up his in-law's house, killing at least 10 people at a party.
- The death of Ja'Shawn Powell, age 2, Jan. 2009. His father, who maintained no relation with the child, told his mother that finally he wanted to get to know his son. Required by court order to allow visitation, the mother let the child go with his father who took the boy out for a walk and slit his throat. He didn't want to pay child support.
- Wife beheaded: network CEO beheads wife who reportedly filed for divorce, Feb. 2009.
- The Samson Alabama massacre, March 2009. It began with the killing of his mother and spread across two counties.
- The Revelus tragedy: a mentally ill brother stabs one sister to death, kills another by practically decapitating her, and sends a third to the hospital, April 2009.
What of those whose murders weren't sensational enough to make a local or national broadcast or who have not yet been murdered but walk by us daily showing the subtle signs of victim?
Reflecting on this year of families living dangerously since Jennifer Hudson and the world heard news of her family members' murders in Chicago; examining the life of such stories--how they burst across our screens for days and then fizzle; considering the president's recent visit to New Orleans where a woman asked him about increasing funding for legal aid to domestic violent victims in New Orleans and then reading one reporter's minimization of the question; and after searching my daily newspaper for stories about the domestic violence crisis and finding few fresh articles, I am inclined to agree with Erin Matson, action vice president of the National Organization for Women. Before sending readers to an article with data about the need for funding to protect victims of domestic violence, she writes the following:
Despite all the news hoo-hah about the potentially fatal dangers of H1N1 flu for pregnant women, the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the United States is in fact murder.
For as woefully pervasive as domestic violence remains, it's irritating to see how little attention it gets within the mainstream media and government budgeting priorities, for that matter. (Say It Sister)
The article to which she points also covers the need to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2010 and has a link to another NOW article about the increase of domestic violence during economic crises like the national recession that started last year before the Hudson case caught the media's eye. Governments tightened their belts, took an ax to budgets, and too frequently the first casualties were domestic violence prevention and victim protection programs.
And you may remember that as the recession loomed, the media flooded us with stories saying expect more cases of spousal of abuse and family tragedy because we're having a financial crisis, people.
While tough times like the recession and disasters like Katrina bring with them increases in domestic violence cases, these human trials don't cause human bouts of rage or escalating abuse. Money problems stress folks out, and people uneducated about how to handle stress or disinclined to self-control sink to humanity's baser instincts, the part of our nature we should overcome. But it's reported that we should expect people, in particular men, to lose their minds and beat wives, whip children, and kick dogs when hard times knock them down.
Gloria Steinem, while scrutinizing The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything and specifically discussing how the report may be misinterpreted to mean women are treated equally, mentioned briefly the expectation that domestic violence increases during crises and what we're willing to assume about male nature.
Increased domestic violence and alcoholism have been reported as if they were inevitable results of a recession—if there were a Men's Anti-Defamation Society, it should sue—and women are being made to feel almost guilty for having a job at all, however poorly paid and rivaled by work at home. ... Steinem
Her words are worthy of meditation. Do we create paradigms in which we expect, tolerate, and excuse abuse? Are we making an excuse for men to react violently to stress as though men, the more common perpetrators of physical violence, are incapable of controlling themselves and perhaps have good reason to indulge rage when they can't find work?
What is our nation doing to help people in extraordinary circumstances manage their frustration and anger before they harm family members? What are we doing to help victims of abuse who get slapped every day of the week regardless of circumstance? After all, habitual abusers never need a reason to abuse another.
From one Domestic Violence Awareness Month to the same time next year, are you taking action to stop domestic violence in your community?
Per the Department of Justice website, National domestic vio.ence hotlines1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Articles/posts I visited while working on my own:
- Eight states allow health insurers to classify domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.
- Domestic Violence: Your Story Matters
- If you're interested in more discussion of the Shriver report on women, please visit PunditMom's piece here at BlogHer.com
- A Christian woman examines domestic violence and the Christian faith.
- Can men be victims of domestic violence?
- Domestic violence a problem in Native American communities also.
- Governor Schwarzenegger Slashes 100% of Domestic Violence Budget
- Chris Brown Apologizes For Pummeling Rihanna...Again (Video)
- Scroll through this 2007 BlogHer.com post for a list of signs that tell you you're in danger
- Are You in an Abusive Relationship?
- Obama responds to domestic violence legal aid funding question in NOLA
- Presidential Proclamation that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
- A Year of Tragedy and Triumph for Jennifer Hudson
More from entertainment