“Mommy, I still have blood on my sweater.”
Marissa Perez is just nine-years-old and she was one of the lucky ones. She didn’t know that sitting in her classroom could endanger her life and probably impact her health for the rest of her life. Her teacher, Karen Elaine Smith and her classmate Jonathan Martinez, age 8, were not as lucky. The teacher’s abusive husband, who she planned to divorce came to the school to shoot her, but also shot two of her students. He then killed himself, all in front of her traumatized students.
The murderer and terrorist, Cedric Anderson had a history of domestic violence and other crimes, but no problem maintaining access to the gun used in this vicious crime. One law enforcement official actually referred to the murders as a domestic dispute as if both parties somehow contributed to his heinous actions.
The children in the class saw and heard this despicable crime. Children in other classrooms throughout the school, heard the shots; were asked to take cover; undoubtedly feared for their safety and were eventually able to run to safety. Their parents heard there was a shooting in the school and for a time did not know if their most precious child was dead or alive. This ghastly act will haunt thousands of people for the rest of their lives.
This Preventable Attack is Not a Rare Exception
This crime that traumatized a community was all too predictable. The most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to leave an abuser. Anderson had a history of domestic violence and other crimes, but the system never created any accountability for him and allowed him to continue to have access to dangerous weapons. It also appears that he had made previous threats in response to Karen’s decision to leave. But nothing was done to protect Karen or the children.
The United States spends billions of dollars every year to protect us from terrorist attacks. This is entirely appropriate because it is a real danger. Far less known is that a majority of mass shootings are similar to this one in that a domestic violence abuser targets an intimate partner and then kills others in his attack. But the media does not focus on the domestic violence aspects of the case and public officials do not make the prevention of domestic violence the high priority it deserves.
Proven practices that would prevent the kind of tragedy that Anderson just committed in San Bernardino would also prevent other domestic violence that isn’t as dramatic as these murders but severely impact the direct victims and the community. Research from the Centers for Disease Control demonstrate that children who witness domestic violence will live shorter lives and face a lifetime of health and social problems. The United States spends more than one trillion dollars every year to tolerate men’s violence against women that leads to all these mass shootings and so much other trauma. In other words, the failure to take domestic violence more seriously is foolish because a small investment in prevention would save far more money in health costs and crime.
Proven Practices Would Dramatically Reduce Domestic Violence Crimes
District Attorney, Bill Delahunt noticed that almost every inmate at a nearby high-security prison had a childhood history that included domestic violence and often sexual abuse. He believed that if he could prevent domestic violence it would reduce all crimes. This is exactly what he and other leaders accomplished when they developed the Quincy Model from the late-1970s until the mid-1990s. A county that had averaged 5-6 homicides enjoyed several years in a row with no murders. Similar practices in communities like San Diego and Nashville also led to substantial reductions in domestic violence crimes and especially murders.
The successful practices included strict enforcement of criminal laws, protective orders and probation rules together with practices that made it easier for victims to leave and a coordinated community response. I have added the use of current scientific research and technology and reforms in the custody courts to create the Quincy Solution which would save the United States $500 billion every year and dramatically reduce domestic violence crimes especially murders. Bill Delahunt noticed that some victims stopped cooperating when their abusers sought custody. This did not derail the success in Quincy because at the time it was a rare tactic. Today the most dangerous abusers seek custody to regain control over their victims and undermine laws to prevent domestic violence. The family courts, using outdated practices from the 1970s have failed to recognize and respond to these tactics.
The research demonstrates that the only response that is effective in changing abusers’ behavior is accountability and monitoring. Even today many officials continue to rely on ineffective and irrelevant responses like anger management, therapy, substance abuse treatment (good for the addiction but not DV) and leniency. On the surface it would seem like strict consequences would add to a prison population that is already too large. In practice, however the word gets out that a community is taking domestic violence seriously and that abusers are likely to face consequences. Therefore they stop committing their crimes because contrary to popular misconceptions they can control their behavior. And children who no longer witness domestic violence are less likely to commit crimes when they grow up.
Marissa Perez is probably going to suffer nightmares and a whole lot worse. I hope she is able to get the help she needs to overcome this trauma. Instead of spending the money to help thousands of children and adults harmed by this tragedy it would be far easier to implement the Quincy Solution so abusers like Anderson don’t have a gun, do not go to the school and face consequences long before Marissa has blood on her sweater.