Killings spotlight domestic violence — (The Daily Oklahoman)

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The Daily Oklahoman

August 26, 2001

Author: Penny Owen, Staff Writer

Eventually, she will have had enough of the punching, slapping and belittling. She’ll pack a bag and perhaps stash an envelope of cash behind a drawer to prepare for her escape.

Though she threatened to leave many times before, this time her abuser believes her. Out comes the gun.

Only now it won’t be just a homicide, or even a suicide-homicide. As the abuser exercises his final clench on controlling the household, children sleeping in the next room or caught in the cross fire are murdered as well.

In the last few weeks, versions of this scenario have played out in Chickasha, Dallas and Sacramento, Calif. Gruesome details of throat slashings, stabbings and stranglings have invaded society’s comfort zone.

How could a man lure his 3-year-old son into a cardboard box with new toys, then stab him to death shortly after killing his pregnant wife and four other relatives, as a Ukrainian immigrant from Sacramento is accused of doing?

Some call it “familicide” and many wonder: Has it always been this bad?

Reasons given for killing children in domestic eruptions are as unpalatable as the crimes themselves. Batterers are pros at blaming their victims, and that includes children – for causing a financial burden, taking attention from them, even for just being born.

Killing children is also the ultimate punishment to a parent.

“They usually kill the children before they kill the woman, in most cases, so she can see the children die. They want to hurt her as much as they can,” said Philip Burns, president and founder of SyTech Research, a psychological research firm based in Tulsa.

“He’s killing any remnant of her life. Wiping the earth clean of her genetic pool. That’s how deep the anger goes.”

Domestic violence, once the ugly secret kept behind closed doors, is now aired publicly, in the media and through crisis hot lines, in support groups and with better-trained police intervention. Laws have been toughened to stop the violence; shelters are available. Even neighbors and relatives are more inclined to get involved, or at least pick up the phone.

Some say violence is worse everywhere and domestic abuse just goes along with that. Others say true headway has been made into preventing more domestic homicides by getting victims out of abusive situations sooner and in a safe and permanent way.

Abusers also can be treated for their behavior, when they desire to change.

Before any of this could have happened, the laws and attitudes had to change as well.

Meet Bubba

Oklahoma has some of the best laws in the country against domestic violence, said Ann Lowrance, director of domestic violence and sexual assault services at the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

However, the state ranks seventh in the nation per capita for domestic homicides. Why?

One reason given is the state is more rural, and rural areas generally have fewer resources to help battered spouses. Guns are more prevalent and the potential for isolating the victim is easier in the country.

Another factor is cultural.

As Burns put it: “Welcome to Bubba-land.”

Domestic violence crosses all socioeconomic lines. The wealthy are as guilty as the poor, but abuse is learned behavior and those who beat their spouses today probably were raised in homes where their parents were beaten as well.

Burns, who wrote the book “Multiple Victims, Multiple Causes: How to Recognize, Understand, and Stop the Disease of Violence Within Our Homes, Schools and Workplace,” said he often travels to small towns to speak about violence.

“The people that are there at the meetings are relatively decent people, but I always stop at a convenience store in the community and I get to see all the ‘Bubbas’ hanging out,” Burns said. “The way they talk about their women, it’s a possessive thing. They talk about them like cattle.”

Phillip Bond was the classic Bubba, said his sister-in-law, Kathy Brady of Mustang.

Earlier this month in Chickasha, the 43-year-old truck driver slipped into his family’s Tudor-style rural estate after midnight – where he had been banned by a victim protective order – and strangled his daughter, Meagan, 16, in her bed. He slashed the throat of his son, Nathan, 12, then headed for his wife in their bedroom.

Medical examiners said the children died quickly, but not their mother.

Bond beat Janis Bond, 42, so badly her body had to be put in a plastic bag for the casket.

He then washed the blood off himself, undressed, climbed under the covers of their bed and shot himself in the chest.

Janis Bond took all the right steps in trying to free herself from a 23-year marriage that gradually escalated from emotional to physical abuse. When physical beatings got worse about two years ago, she filed for divorce. That got her husband’s attention and he agreed to counseling and anti-depressants . Things seemed better, and they reunited.

Like many abusers, Bond’s husband said if she tried to leave , he’d kill her and then himself. Though she believed he would, she told her sister he never would harm the children.

Janis Bond sought help through Grady County domestic violence services.

She got a victim’s protective order against her husband after he beat her Aug. 11. On Aug. 12, her husband was arrested for domestic assault and battery, but he bonded out within 24 hours. By early Aug. 16, he had killed all but their two older sons, who no longer lived with them.

Locals wonder what more they could have done.

“I don’t know,” said Debbie Gitthens, director of the Women’s Service Center for Grady and Canadian counties. “It’s the first thing you hear when you go into the grocery store or the coffee shop.”

Heinous, but not new

Oklahoma domestic abuse reports increased 41 percent between 1990 and 1999, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Domestic homicides rose from 55 in 1998 to 64 the following year.

Part of the increase is because of more willingness to report abuse and better detection in determining the cause of death, but the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation estimates that only half of all domestic violence incidents are reported, meaning it happens a lot more than is known.

In a curious moment, Burns said he researched three Oklahoma newspapers back to 1955 to find out how often domestic homicide occurred then as compared with now. Though it usually didn’t make the front pages, he found it was relatively common – and children were often victims as well.

“It’s the same pattern as you see today,” Burns said. “The question is: Is it more prominent now? Well, we have a higher population, which will lead to higher violence has become a form of entertainment in society.”

Burns drew a parallel between today’s school shootings and tomorrow’s domestic abusers. He said he fears the lack of conscience among some youths will culminate into future household violence.

Also, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one out of five adolescent girls nationwide have dated a male who abused them. In Oklahoma, it’s one out of four.

“So the question is: what’s going to happen 15 years from now?” Burns asked.

One positive change has come in attitude toward domestic violence, particularly among law enforcement. Burns said he interviewed several retired police officers who recalled a consensus in the 1950s that the woman who got slapped around probably deserved it.

Now, police and emergency room workers go through extensive training to handle domestic violence. When responding to a domestic call, victims are routinely given cards listing helpful numbers and explanations of services available.

Improved response, coupled with emergency shelters and professional guidance, have helped women leave abusive situations sooner than in the past. Still, Gitthens said, it takes an average of seven attempts to stay away for good.

Batterers also tend to use children as pawns to get their partners back.

They’ll take children from school, for instance, knowing the victim will come looking for them.

Most dangerous times

While more women are leaving their batterers, it is the most dangerous time for them, especially when the abuser thinks they mean it.

Reaching out is more important than ever at this time. At least half of those killed in domestic violence never sought help, statistics show.

“At the point where the situation becomes lethal, it can just as easily be her as him,” Gitthens said. “I don’t remember a domestic where she kills him and killed the children.”

Pregnancy is also a precursor to murder. Earlier this month in Dallas, an estranged husband shot his pregnant wife, killing her and the unborn child. He then killed their daughters, ages 18 months and 7 months, before fatally shooting himself.

Surprisingly, homicide is the main cause of death for women who are pregnant or were recently pregnant, according to a 2001 domestic violence report in the Journal of American Medical Association. Some 43 percent of the deaths of women who are pregnant or were pregnant in the last year are attributed to homicide.

The 27-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, who was added Thursday to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, allegedly killed his wife while she was pregnant.

“We know the jealousy often increases with abusers during pregnancy because they are extremely jealous as a rule and that sharing of attention, even if it’s with their child,” is intolerable, Gitthens said.

Improved laws

This year, the state Legislature passed the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board bill, which creates a multi-disciplinary board of law enforcement officers and other experts to review each domestic-related homicide.

The hope is that the board will reveal factors that caused situations to turn lethal, so others can be prevented.

Oklahoma is also the first state in the country to allow rape victims to file victim protective orders against their assailants. Before, a prior relationship had to exist.

Language from Oklahoma laws also was used to create a federal system, where states honor each other’s protective orders. These orders are legal requests filed by a victim to keep an abuser away. If violated, the abuser is arrested.

Gitthens also said that victim protective orders are more effective than people realize.

“At least 80 percent of the time in my experience, VPOs work,” Gitthens said. “You only hear about the ones that don’t work. Jail does seem to get their attention. For some, it was actually the first time they were told, ‘You cannot do this.'”

A cycle unbroken

Pinning down the perpetrator, on the surface anyway, is a bit like cornering gelatin. They come from million-dollar homes and public housing. The abuser can be a pillar in his community or a mean, mouthy type.

Concern exists for children growing up in homes with emotional and physical abuse. Such potentially abusive behavior shows up in schools and teachers should be aware of it, not only for school safety, but to provide that child with counseling to break a violent cycle.

“If we can stop raising bullies and get kids functioning on their own self-esteem, that’s hopeful,” Gitthens said.

Phillip Bond, for instance, grew up in a home where his mother did everything his father told her to do. He expected the same of his wife.

“Phillip was heard many times saying, ‘If you’d only do what I said, everything would be all right,'” Kathy Brady said.

For a while, he got what he wanted. When he’d return from long stretches on the road, the family would stop what they were doing and adjust to his wants and needs.

“They went where Phillip wanted to go, they watched what he wanted to on TV, Janis cooked the meals he wanted and all life revolved around Phillip,” Brady said.

They didn’t maintain this catering when he began to stay home regularly.

Also, as his children grew into teenagers with outside interests, their father resented it.

“Little by little, he banished them from his heart,” Brady said.

Not hopeless

Burying Janis and her children was the kind of experience their family hopes no other family ever has to endure. So they want others to know the warning signs – and to run like heck when one comes their way.

Brady, 52, warned women to beware of quick anger outbursts that result in minor pain, like squeezing an arm tightly. Pushing is abuse and shouldn’t be tolerated.

A man showing abundant affection in public may simply be exerting control over his “property,” so if he hangs on too tightly, be suspicious.

“When they have to know every move you make, every place you go, when they start criticizing hair, weight, clothes, friends,” Brady said, get rid of them.

“If you think you love him, you’ll get over that,” Brady said. “You don’t get over being killed.”

One positive aspect coming from the Bond tragedy is that families have started looking inward.

“Since this incident has happened in Chickasha, we’ve noticed a real increase from family members calling, saying, ‘You know, my daughter’s in this situation, my friend’s in this situation, what can I do to help her?’ ” Gitthens said.

The bottom line is, when an abused person gets help, they don’t usually end up dead.

“The number of women who die is huge, but when you look at Oklahoma, we provide services to some 17,000 women, and 64 ended up in homicide,” Gitthens said. “There are a whole lot of women getting help that aren’t dying.”

Copyright 2001 Oklahoma Publishing Company