Domestic violence reaches far beyond individual homes

By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News

Published: Fri, July 11, 2014, 8:10 p.m. MDT

 Salt Lake police officers Jennifer Choate and Scott Hall respond to a call in Sugar House on January 27, 2007. Neighbors called the police after hearing a loud argument coming from the home.

Salt Lake police officers Jennifer Choate and Scott Hall respond to a call in Sugar House on January 27, 2007. Neighbors called the police after hearing a loud argument coming from the home.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News archives)

SALT LAKE CITY — Families want to help loved ones who experience domestic violence and many do offer that help in the early stages. But over time, their patience can be strained by victims who cannot, for very complex reasons, leave their perpetrators.

More often the perpetrators of domestic violence isolate their victims from their families, which can allow the abuse to fester unchecked, said Jennifer Campbell, associate director of South Valley Sanctuary, which shelters victims of domestic violence and operates a community resource center in West Jordan.

Then there was Katie Stay, who traveled to Utah from Texas last fall to help her sister Melanie Lyons Haskell escape a violent relationship with her former husband Ronald Lee Haskell of Logan.

"It’s very hard to continually help that way. I think it speaks very highly of them (the Stays) that they were still so involved in trying to help. Burnout is very common for social workers who work in this field. To have nonprofessional family members expected to carry the load, it’s a very hard thing to do," Campbell said.

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, is accused of killing Stay, her husband Stephen and four of the couple's children in their Houston-area home on Wednesday. After family members refused to tell Haskell where he could find his ex-wife, police say he tied up the Stays, placed them face-down on the floor and shot them each in the back of the head. The couple's 15-year-old daughter is expected to survive her injuries.

Utah advocates for victims of domestic violence said the mass slaying of the Stay family illustrates the widespread impacts of family violence.

"As a coalition, we're really trying to help communities understand that abusive partners can become lethal offenders. It does increase the risk to extended family members, friends, community members as well as innocent bystanders. We are seeing some increases in cases where there are mass murders occurring in the context of intimate partner homicides," said Kendra Wyckoff, executive director of Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Troubling numbers

Jenn Oxborrow, domestic violence program administrator the Utah Department of Human Services, said one in three women in Utah will experience the impacts of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.

"We know the risk of intimate-partner homicide goes up significantly when the abusive partner is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or suicidal risk and has access to a firearm," she said.

The Stay case is particularly tragic because "she worked very hard to keep herself safe and she had done a number of things to protect herself and her family members. I think the real question here is why would someone be able to do such devastating harm given all the things the victims had done to try to safeguard her situation and her family's situation," Oxborrow said.

Ali Barker, Melanie Lyons Haskell's attorney who represented her in her divorce and helped her obtain protective orders against Ron Haskell, said her client was "legitimately fearful for her safety."

In a conversation earlier this week, Melanie Haskell's mother told Barker that "she (Melanie) felt like she had to pay the ultimate price for her freedom, losing her family, just to get away from the guy."

Yet, Barker said she hopes this incident will not discourage other people from leaving abusive partners and reaching out for help.

"I think Melanie did all the right things in this case. She tried to get away from the abuser. She tried to make a better life for herself by getting away. Unfortunately it resulted in this. But the much more common scenario that happens in these sorts of issues, the victim ends up dying a slow emotional death through manipulation, control and fear (by staying)," she said.

The sooner a victim can get out of a situation, the sooner they can make their own life better, Barker said. "This was just a horrific incident. Nobody could have expected this."

Getting help

Local advocates say Utahns who experience domestic violence can obtain help from the Domestic Violence LINKLine: 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).

The hotlines are free and staffed round-the-clock, 365 days a year.

Campbell said people who work in advocacy or in direct service to victims of domestic violence tend to take personal inventory when tragedies of this scale occur.

But she has become convinced that it takes the efforts of an entire community to help victims of domestic violence and comprehensive prevention efforts, which include teaching young people about healthy behaviors and relationships.

"Bad things happen and they're hard to process. But we can't just say 'This is too much.' Instead, we need to be engaging and say "What can I do? How can I help?' and figure out whatever that is," Campbell said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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1. bobdc6
park city, UT,
July 11, 2014

"I think the real question here is why would someone be able to do such devastating harm given all the things the victims had done to try to safeguard her situation and her family's situation," Oxborrow said."

Answer, ease of access to firearms, allowing any violent nut to obtain a gun. This story, while tragic, is just one of many just like it occurring every day in the US. Time for Congress to figure a way to keep the mentally unstable and criminals from obtaining guns. "Good guys with guns" is obviously not the answer when looking at the weekly death rate.

2. Fullypresent
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 11, 2014

Such a tragic story. Her parents are already saying they have to forgive him when he just wiped out a significant number of their family members. It is all of their individual choices whether to forgive him or not and that choice should not be taken away from any of them. When women are raised to answer to and be obedient to men all of their lives it is much harder for them to stand up for themselves when they are being abused, and they feel the extra pressure religiously to keep a bad marriage together. She did the best she could to stay safe and keep her children safe. My heart goes out to all of them. They will never be the same. This terrible tragedy is a reminder of why the Church needs to put as much attention and money into domestic violence prevention as they do the same sex marriage fight and other things. Domestic violence is destroying many families in their flock.

3. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
July 12, 2014

This argument called domestic disputes are not violent or criminal. Disputes are a Constitution right therefore they are not a crime. This terminology is so broad and widespread its being abused and wrongfully labeled and accused as a criminal offense.

Husbands, wives, neighbors, family, friends and business owners all have a right to dispute anything they choose, to dispute does not make it a crime or felon. Police do not have the right to label acts, they are assuming the roll of judge and jury to create or infer a crime without trial or judges when they document a report.

The only thing that has grown is wrongful interpretation of our rights, and our disputes have so legitimate rights it can even lead to death in protecting constitutional rights. Domestic violence is in conflict with individual rights therefore this accusation if false and unconstitutional infringement of rights.

Laws and labels do not limit our rights man or woman or family or friends. Because disputes happen in public does not make them a threat to each other of others. These definitions supplied by Obama must be used with discretion and if they infringe on rights.

4. lledwards38
Canandaigua, NY,
July 12, 2014

I am stunned at the statistic that one in three women in Utah will experience violence in their relationships. For family and friends of these women, I urge you to give support and encouragement. I also urge you not to take these women into your homes. Refer them to the local shelters, and the professionals where they can live in a secure place while they pick up the pieces of their lives. I know this runs contrary to our Church training. But assisting a women to escape from her violent partner puts you and your family in great danger, as we can see from this tragedy.

An order of protection is issued by a judge, and is only a piece of paper. It is NO PROTECTION from a man with a weapon.

5. Instereo
Eureka, UT,
July 12, 2014

What is sad about this whole situation is how the violence against one person, a spouse, escalated to children and an extended family. I wonder if the hostile feelings were amplified by the ease of access to a gun. For the perpetrator it provided a quick and easy solution to his anger. So while I agree those who suffer from domestic violence should receive help and be able to get out of the situation as easily as possible, I think there should be serious discussion about guns. To many innocent people are hurt and killed each year. While guns aren't the whole problem, ease of access to guns is part of the problem that seems to be ignored.