We must do a better job of recognizing, understanding domestic violence warning signs

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

In his 2006 report for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan said violence against women and girls was “a problem of pandemic proportions” with at least one out of every three women having been “beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime” by someone she knew.

This “pandemic” often hits home in Washington State, where there have been 422 people killed by their romantic partners or exes since 2009. Of those deaths, 21 were from Clark County.

In the past 15 months, two local women — one in Camas and one in Washougal — have been murdered. In both cases, police said the women’s romantic partners or former romantic partners were to blame.

The first murder, in March 2018, claimed the life of Luz Guitron-Lopez, a 35-year-old mother of three school-aged children known for her culinary skills and cheerful presence at the Camas Farmers Market.

Police named Guillermo Juarez, Guitron-Lopez’ ex-boyfriend, as the main suspect.

A police records check showed that Juarez — who is still on the run — had been in trouble with the law before. In April 2013, he was charged with assaulting Guitron-Lopez in front of their child.

Still, even though she was clearly in a volatile relationship, friends of Guitron-Lopez expressed shock when they discovered she had been in an abusive relationship.

Caroline Bartlett, director of the Clark County YWCA’s SafeChoice Program, which advocates for and supports people affected by domestic violence in Clark County, told the Post-Record in 2018 this isn’t an uncommon reaction.

“We have this idea that abusers are all felons, lower-class, but that’s not the case. Sometimes they’re a community member we’re engaging with on a regular basis,” she said. “Domestic violence is about power and control.”

She added that it is rare that people outside of the immediate family will even know what’s going on. Sometimes, even former partners are surprised to learn the person they once loved has committed an act of violence.

When she heard that her ex-husband of more than 30 years, Washougal resident Robert Burdick, had been charged this week with stabbing his current wife, Linda Burdick, to death, a woman named Tammy Stoddard Lamssies contacted the Post-Record.

“I was married to him back in the late ’80s. He was a kind, gentle man that struggled with tragedy in his life as a young boy,” Stoddard Lamssies said of Robert Burdick. “I’m sure a lot has changed since then. My heart goes out to the families.”

Although domestic violence is a common problem — and violence against women a global pandemic — many seem unable to understand why a person “doesn’t just leave” an abusive relationship. Because the abuse cycle is one of control and power, often the person being abused has already been cut off from their support systems and made to feel powerless.

There are, however, warning signs of domestic violence. And that is the point of this editorial: there are signs and we owe it to our friends, families and neighbors to learn these warning signs, keep an eye out for them and be willing to offer help when we suspect domestic abuse is occurring in our community.

These “red flags” may or may not include actual threats of violence, Bartlett said, adding: “What we commonly see is verbal, emotional abuse — gaslighting, or the idea of ‘crazy-making,’ when the abuser does things to make (a partner) question their own sanity.”

Abusers will try to manipulate the relationship to gain control, and to make their victim more and more dependent. Some common warning signs include sexual violence, financial control, reproductive coercion — perhaps destroying birth control or forcing an abortion — and isolating from support networks.

Domestic violence is not a straightforward or easy issue to tackle. But we must try. For the sake of the two women murdered in Camas-Washougal. For the sake of the hundreds killed each year in this state. And for the sake of our own children and loved ones.

To learn about domestic violence, its warning signs and ways to break the cycle, visit the following domestic violence prevention and education resources: