Sunday, December 8, 2013

A tragic death in the blogging world

Today I was alerted to a sad and shocking story. A fellow blogger, Christine Keith, and her 14-year-old son Isaac were killed Thursday evening by Christine’s estranged husband in a DV-related murder/suicide.

Christine wrote a popular cooking and housekeeping blog. It was not one that I had read before, but a reader who was aware of my interest in domestic violence contacted me this morning to let me know (thank you).


Christine Keith

Christine Keith



I now work for a DV agency and as a result, I’ve heard a lot of truly sobering stories. Nevertheless, I was deeply troubled and saddened when I read about Christine. I think it’s because I immediately identified with several elements of her story.

This is what I pieced together from the media stories I read: She was trying to leave an abusive marriage and build a new, safer life for herself and her four children. She had filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order, as her husband had threatened numerous times that he would kill her if she ever left him.

She had rented a small house in East Lansing, Michigan, where she was homeschooling her children and growing her own vegetables on her urban property. She was involved in her local Unitarian church, taught a Zumba class and enthusiastically shared her recipes and other tips on her blog.

In short, she was juggling a tremendous number of responsibilities, with humor and positivity, all while trying to keep her family safe from her violent ex.

This morning I was reading through Christine’s blog and other social media sites. It is always a little surreal to see the last actions, so ordinary and relatable, of someone who has died. There is a post she put up the day before her death, and a picture of her children, gathered around a Christmas tree.

On her Pinterest page, under a board labeled ‘Humor’, I found something that gave me chills.




Note her comment below the picture.

Christine’s story is all too familiar. The most dangerous time for any woman in an abusive relationship is when she is leaving. It is the time when a woman is most in danger of DV-related homicide.

Consider these statistics:
  • At some point during their lifetime, 36% of American women – or approximately 42.4 million – have been a victim of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
  • In the United States, research indicates that women who leave their batterers are at 75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who stay.
  • A Canadian study found that in 81% of domestic homicide cases, the couple was either separated or in the process of separating.
  • Of female homicide victims in 2010, 38% were killed by a husband or boyfriend.
  • In 2009, 14% of state and 16% of local firearms applications rejected were due to a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or restraining order.


Why is leaving an abusive relationship so dangerous? To understand that we have to understand what causes domestic violence. Contrary to popular belief, abuse is not caused by drinking, drug abuse, depression or poor anger control. While these all may be contributing factors that can exacerbate abuse, they do not cause it.

Abuse is caused by one person’s desire to exert power and control over another person.

That’s it, plain and simple. When a woman leaves a man who is abusive, it can trigger increased violence on his part to try to bring her back under his control. Many of these men feel that the ability to have control over their partner is paramount to their own survival.

What saddens me so much about these statistics is that intimate partner homicide is among the most predictable, and thus preventable, of all homicides. Fortunately, a number of innovative homicide prevention programs are popping up around the country.

Here in Johnson County, Kansas, where I live, our agency has partnered with all the local police departments to implement a Lethality Assessment Program. When police officers respond to a domestic call, they ask the victim a series of research-based questions designed to identify those victims who are in lethal danger.

If the women screen positive, the officer will call our agency’s hotline on their phone and hand the phone to the victim, who is immediately put in touch with someone who can help. Even if our shelter is full (and it’s always full), we will take in those women and children who are in lethal danger. If necessary, we will put them up in cots in our family rooms until we can find safe placement for them.

The program appears to be saving lives. In 2011, 7 of the 11 homicides in Johnson County were DV-related. So far in 2013, there have been zero domestic homicides in our county. While it’s too early to draw conclusive evidence, several police chiefs and the county District Attorney have all said they believe the program has saved lives.

This program was put into place about 12 months after my own assault. Sometimes I wonder whether things might have played out differently, had it been there in 2010.

What you can do?

If you are in an abusive relationship, please reach out to someone you trust. Call your local domestic violence hotline. The advocates who answer the phones can discuss your options and help you develop a safety plan, which may or may not include relocating to a shelter. There are many steps you can take right now, without leaving, that will contribute to your safety. You may want to consider calling from a friend’s phone, as your abuser may be monitoring your computer and phone activity.

The National DV Hotline in the U.S. is 1-800-799-7233.  There are also state and local hotline numbers. Any of them can help.

If you know someone you suspect is in an abusive relationship, tell them you are concerned about their safety. Urge them to seek help, but understand as well that leaving is a complex and, of course, potentially dangerous decision. Be patient and supportive. You can find more tips here.

If you would like to help Christine’s children, her church has started a fund where you can donate. She has three surviving children, now orphaned, ages 4, 6 and 8, who are now in the custody of their maternal grandmother. I’m sure they could use your help.

*Edit: I just learned that Christine's mother is also a blogger. If you'd like to leave a message of condolence, her Facebook page is here. I can't even imagine.


I wish I didn't have to write posts like this one. I wish there was no need for the agency where I work. I wish we could disband and close our doors forever. I wish no woman ever had to live in fear, and no child ever had to be exposed to the trauma that Christine's children will spend their lives recovering from.

For those whose knew Christine, I wish you peace and healing. Hug your children tight and be grateful for each day you have to spend with your family.

For Christine and Isaac, may you be embraced by light and love, and may you find peace in the knowledge that your other children will be surrounded by love, support and the safety that eluded you in your final days.





22 comments:

  1. Oh, God. This is heart breaking. I remember the time when I was so, so afraid that the next post I saw that read like this would be about you. Thanking everything that you and the kids are safe, and mourning deeply for Christine, Isaac, the rest of her children, and her family. Some day it will stop. I have to believe that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your prayer and support during my own ordeal, and for your concern for all victims. x

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  2. How truly tragic. And how truly chilling. Your one line, "Abuse is caused by one person’s desire to exert power and control over another person" made me shiver. I know people in this situation and they are always making excuses for the person. Whilst not physical abuse, the controlling obsessiveness and the emotional abuse make me want to grab those victims and run and keep them safe. But you cannot save someone who does not want to be saved.

    R.I.P. Christine.

    So wrong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi hon. I think most women do want help, and often want to leave, but they don't see a way out. They have to consider how they will support themselves and their children financially, where they will live, whether they should pull their kids out of school, what they will tell their friends and family, and of course, they know that leaving will cause their partner to escalate. Throw into that mix the psychological abuse they have endured that has left them questioning their own sanity and worth. These are not small considerations and there are no easy answers. But letting someone know you are concerned for them helps. They may not leave right away (or ever), but it's a chink in the armor, and could possibly offer them a lifeline. Big hugs. x

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  3. So, so, so much love to her surviving children and family.


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  4. I knew Chris, via the Internet. I followed her blog. She followed mine. When I wrote and published my first book, she avidly promoted it for me, because that's just the kind of person she was - she wanted to help, even though there was so much she needed in her own life. Last year, she described a homeschool class she'd taught and I asked her if she would write a curriculum for me ... and I'd pay her. In addition to the billions of other things she was doing (and at the time, I didn't know she was in the process of leaving her husband, too), she managed to write and email the curriculum to me. It was the best $60 I ever spent on educational materials for my homeschooling community.

    Her murder is a huge blow to the blogging community. She had such an amazing spirit and such a positive way of writing about life in general. Even without the addition of her abusive spouse, she was in a horribly precarious situation as one of those "working poor" people we all hear so much about. There were times when she really didn't know if she'd make the rent payment or end up on the streets with her four kids. But she never dwelled on that kind of thing - at least not in the public places online where so many of us grew to adore her for her humor and her wonderful advice.

    She will be missed.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hi Wendy, thanks for sharing with us this glimpse into Chris' life and spirit. This must indeed be a tremendous blow for those, like yourself, who had established an online connection with her. I'm so sorry for your loss. This whole situation is tragic beyond belief.

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  5. that idea of us reading the before and the after chills me too. Too many women have lost their lives like this - 10 years ago I spent a year working in a crisis call centre for women listening to the fear from people was disabling. I never felt so useless being on the end of the phone. Thinking of her three children and the sadness for her community. So bloody sad.

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    1. Hi Sarah, I understand that you may have felt useless, but I imagine you were a lifeline to many. I consider the women who work in our Hotline to be some of the most important people at our agency, as they are the first point of contact for someone who is scared. What they say can make a tremendous impact in the life of the caller. Thank you for taking on such an important role. You may never know the impact you made in the lives of others, but that doesn't mean it wasn't felt. xx

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  6. Devastatingly sad. Sad too to think that Christmas time is also an especially dangerous time for families haunted by DV.

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  7. those statisics are surreal.... you wrote beautifully and thoughtfully as usual and my heart goes out to those children and their extended families......

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    1. Thank you, Wendy. The numbers are indeed sobering. These incidences are not isolated and rare, they are epidemic. I hope that we as a society can look at the issue without filters and take the necessary steps for positive change.

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  8. The UU Church of Greater Lansing is accepting
    Donations for Chris's parents and her three surviving children.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi hekates - There is a link to the fund in the post above, where it says 'If you would like to help Christine's children...'. I'm sure they can use all the help they can get right now.

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  9. Thanks for writing about this… as sad as it is this story needs to be promoted wide and far and can we replicate that Lethality Assessment Program around the globe? I have two friends who lost both their sisters due to domestic violence (stabbing) as you have described it - after they had left their exes,and went on to adopt their niece and nephew.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. You have two friends who lost their sisters to domestic homicide? Good god. I'm so sorry.

      I imagine the Lethality Assessment Program will spread to other cities/countries. It is not only of great benefit for victims, but it gives the police the tools and resources they need to handle these situations. We also have a similar program in our area hospitals, which screen their patients. If they indicate DV, we will have an advocate out at the hospital within 30 minutes to meet with the patient. It's an amazing program, but sadly we lost our funding for it recently. We're currently looking for additional funding. I can't imagine not wanting to support such a program. It's a no-brainer.

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  10. Oh, my heart breaks! It should not be so.

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  11. So, here's a twist. My parents (mid-60s) are in the process of trying to figure out how to kick their 28 year old, violent son out of their house. But he doesn't pay rent and there's no contract, so they can't evict him, they have to eject him. Which means they have to serve notice, and the process takes about 20 days.

    I am seriously concerned that he will kill them both if they try this route, but things are escalating in the house to the point where it's dangerous for them to stay. They both still work, and can't afford to retire yet, so leaving the area isn't really an option.

    Any advice?

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    Replies
    1. 4Kix, I am extremely concerned for your parents safety. I spoke with a work colleague, and we both would recommend your parents do the following:

      1. Call you local DV hotline, or the national number listed above, and see what they advise. They can help with safety planning and perhaps filing a PFA (Protection from Abuse order).

      2. Contact your local police station and explain the situation and see, also, if they have advice for how best to get him out of the house. They can come escort him out if necessary.

      I don't understand why they need a notice to eject him, as it's not his house, Could they not just move his stuff out while he's gone and have the police there when he returns? I suppose either way, he may react violently.
      Nevertheless, with or without notice, if he is a violent individual then they are in danger. My heart goes out to your family. This is exactly the predicament many women find themselves in (myself included). I owned my home and had a job, the kids were in school. Leaving wasn't feasible.

      I will keep you and your parents in my prayers. Please keep yourself safe, as well. xx

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    2. 4Kix - One more thing...

      I would suggest strongly that your parents look into getting a PFA (also known as a restraining order). In many cases, if violence is a factor or even a concern (you mention escalation) ex parte orders can be drawn by an attorney and enacted immediately, without a hearing or a waiting period. If he returns to the house after that, he can be arrested.

      I don't know what state you are in, or what country for that matter. Obviously, laws will vary depending on the jurisdiction.

      I want to be careful about giving advice, as I don't know the particulars of your situation and there are other people better poised to do that. I would simply strongly suggest that you or your parents explore these options, and make your decisions with safety in mind. If you think danger exists, then it does. Go with your gut.

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  12. Thank you for writing this and doing such a beautiful job of not only cherishing her but of bringing this issue once again to the surface and the gift of helping us all know what to do if we hear of or see someone struggling through Domestic Violence. I so appreciate it. /sniffle/ it's so sad to hear how she knew that her life was in danger and that her children will struggle with the aftermath of this. Heartbreaking!!! Bless her surviving family, friends and blog followers.

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    1. Thank you, Anna. I can't stop thinking about her children. She must have been their whole world. x

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