Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's call it what it is, then do something about it

Domestic violence. It's not called that in the initial article describing the recent murder of Fitchburg resident Francesca M. Weber by her estranged husband, Steve J. Weber - but that's exactly what it is/was.

A second article detailing the events that lead up to the tragic shooting death does a better job of describing exactly what was going on in that relationship (and kudos to G. Hesselberg and E. Treleven for putting it together), but I can't help but think that more could be done to add information about local domestic abuse prevention and assistance programs. Because that's what's being dealt with here, and there are certainly--and sadly--more such cases that exist in the shadows.

It's becoming more and more clear that this incident was not at all isolated. Weber appears to have had a long history of violent behavior and abuse toward his family. And Francie, for her own reasons, appears to have gone back and forth between getting a restraining order against her husband, to attempting reconciliation (predictably, it never ended well).

The pattern is all-too familiar. Though we've made great strides in educating and changing societal attitudes about domestic abuse, the frustrating fact remains that we're not as far along as we ought to be. That anyone would still think physical or mental abuse was a viable solution to their problems is unconscionable. And that anyone would still find it difficult to remove themselves from such a situation is tragic.

The numbers are staggering. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), in Wisconsin, "one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime." In addition, "one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape."

There are an estimated 1.3 million women who are victims of physical assault "by an intimate partner" every year. And this terrible trend has a cyclical effect on the children raised in such environments, as "boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults."

I strongly suspect that most people would find these statistics and realities to be horrifying, but the infuriating fact remains that, as a society, we aren't doing nearly enough to change things for the better. We should all take a long, hard look at how we handle these kinds of circumstances--from our own home lives, to those occasions when we see it happening to someone we know (or don't!), to what our culture feeds us through news, television, and movies.

I'm not talking about censorship, but rather expecting--and demanding--better.

A small step in that direction would be expecting our news media to appropriately label awful situations like the Weber case as being domestic violence, and then doing even a little bit to provide information on related services like Dane County's own Domestic Abuse Intervention Services.

We should also be putting appropriate pressure on law enforcement and the courts to better recognize dangerous people like Steve Weber--who police had been aware of since at least 2006, and then arrested in 2008 after he attacked both his wife and daughter:
A daughter told police she saw her cement construction worker father straddle her mother, hands around her neck, choking her. When he found out police had been called, he choked his wife again, the daughter said, and then he hit Francie Weber with a closed fist, eight times, and said “I’m going to kill you.”

In the court complaint, the daughter said when she tried to intervene by grabbing a fireplace poker Weber grabbed the poker from her and hit her with it, then slugged her and, when she fell to the ground, kicked her in the stomach, causing her to vomit.
His court appearance for this incident was scheduled for this week, for which he was apparently out on a measly $500 cash bail, on the condition that he not have contact with either his daughter or Francie (who had filed for divorce). He was also banned from being in the area of their home.

But that wasn't enough, not by a long shot. How is it that the acts of sheer brutality described above were met with such an obscenely low bail amount? Why was a man like that allowed to walk free? These are important--and urgent--questions that need swift and firm solutions.

Because Francie's murder should have never happened in the first place, and should never be repeated for anyone else.

From Shannon Barry, Executive Director at DAIS:

"This unfortunate incident highlights what so many of us in the domestic violence movement already know -- that victims can be more at risk when attempting to separate from their abusers than at any other time. In fact, they are six times more likely to be killed when attempting to leave the relationship.

"As a community we need to stop asking 'Why doesn't she leave?' and start asking 'Why does he do that?' and truly hold abusers accountable for their actions.

"We also want to make sure that current domestic victims know that there is help available. So often we hear from clients how their abusers use media coverage of cases like this to intimidate them further. It is critical that when media are reporting on these crimes that they are including the crisis line number for their local domestic violence agency. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) Crisis Line for victims in Dane County is 251-4445."


John Rummel said...

GREAT post. Kudos to you (and Shannon Berry) for framing this incident correctly.

kristirufener said...

I knew Francie really well, but never knew about this aspect of her life. She was always so much happiness and sunshine, that I never would have guessed she had this terrible secret. I, as well as many others in the community, were not only astounded to hear about the murder, but to also hear about the bail being set at $500. What sick kind of joke is that? Thank you for this post, and I hope others can realize that this is a very real thing that is going on, and something NEEDS to be done.

Libbey05 said...

thank you

Zach W. said...

I'm still having a hard time figuring out why the judge gave this man a paltry $500 bail.

Emily, great job with this post, and I say that as someone who's "in the trenches" every day working to eliminate domestic violence in our communities.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this.

I survived two years of awful, horrifying, frightening, and often
life-threatening domestic violence at the hands of my husband. I left
him after one too many black eyes; he went to jail,and was released
after his boss posted bail ($300).He went on to break a girlfriend's
jaw, attempt to run over a female friend with his truck, and most
recently, assault his live-in fiance with a paring knife (once again,
jailed; once again, bailed out, this time at the steep rate of $1300)

My most recent serious boyfriend,once a shoulder to cry on,felt
"cornered" about a year into our relationship and used that as an
excuse to act out in an increasingly violent manner. He'll deny it to
this day, but I'm back in therapy because of our final "incident"-- a
closed fist punch to the mouth that left my mouth bloody, and my jaw
swollen and bruised for over a week. He's already happily involved
with another woman, no doubt bewitching her with the same sorry
excuses men have used since the dawn of time: "I don't know why she
didn't leave." "I didn't know what to do." "It only happened a few
times." And my personal favorite: "It 'happened to her' before, so
obviously it's something in her, not me."

My heart goes out to Francie and her friends and family-- especially
her children. And what you bring up is an excellent point that might help others (and there are many) currently in the same situation. Call it what it is. Even the first time. As a society, we would all do well to adapt a less
forgiving attitude to ANY violent act done under the pretense of love.

I found that in the wake of the Chris Brown/Rihanna assault there was
a good discussion going on in the media about these issues. These two
HuffPost articles were particularly accurate, I think:


Dustin Christopher said...

Ya know, it's not often that someone I'm interviewing says something that surprises me at all, but Shannon Barry threw a left hook across my chin today, with "So often, when we hear from victims that we serve that when these types of cases are hitting the media, other abusers are using them to control their victims by saying things like, 'Look, this could happen to you, this is what I'm talking about.'"

I don't consider myself sheltered in the realm of human horribleness, but that one made my stomach drop out from under me. It makes my blood boil.

Anonymous said...

I went to high school with Francie, but didn't know her. I knew Weber in elementary and was only surprised, when reading the news, that it took this long for him to get in trouble this serious. I have read that Francie stayed with him for decades.

I worked with a woman, once, who was the same -- a joy to be around, at work. Until we all heard on the news one day that her estranged husband shot her, in front of her kids, and then drove off and shot himself, none of us had any idea of the horror she lived with every day. I wish she had come to work crying, miserable -- then we would've had a clue.

Emily said...

Thanks for sharing all of your stories, folks. One of the most powerful weapons against this kind of abuse and violence is honest speech about it.

The Lost Albatross