Friday, April 27, 2007

Defining Justice: From Victim to Perpetrator (A Commentary on the Winkler Trial)

Mary WinklerI am posting this blog on behalf of all women who are or have been victims of domestic violence. I have shared some about where I have come from and how God brought me to this wonderful place in my life. However, in light of the Mary Winkler trial, I am burdened to share some very personal details from my past in hopes to offer some insight to those who misunderstand the mind and behavior of abuse victims.

The Mary Winkler Trial has finally come to an end. There have been so many opinions and discussions regarding whether or not justice has been served. People have asked, "Is it justice that a person should serve such a minimal sentence when taking a life?"

Mary Winkler (as other victims of abuse) has been serving and will continue to serve a life sentence that makes an eternity in jail seem like a lesser sentence. The prison of abuse far exceeds any punishment that could come from a lifetime behind bars. I walked in Mary Winkler's shoes closer than I could have imagined prior to the trial. I had very similar banking experiences in Selmer as Mary did. I had talks with Jana due to the mismanagment of funds that occured during the divorce process. I was closely acquainted for a time (prior to leaving my former spouse) with Jana and Amy and felt somewhat ashamed of my situation when I would see them at church. I felt so stupid. I was always at the bank trying to clean up mess after mess that I did not create.

Zero AbuseI lied to my family and friends to make them think things were better than they were. I lived in fear and walked on eggshells every single day. The mind games, isolation, control, manipulation, verbal beatings, fear, financial disaster, watching my kids get mistreated, fights, food thrown at me, spit on, shoved, threatened, all the screaming, running out into the cold and dark nights searching for relief, curled up in the fetal position in my bed, my car, my driveway, the woods, feeling trapped, hopeless, fearing that I was going to go insane if it didn't stop, feeling like a terrible mother, fearing for my children, fearing losing my children, and the list goes on. Yet, I can say that Mary had even more to deal with than I did.

Two wrongs don't make a right. Mary is not the first victim to make such a terrible mistake. Every day abuse victims commit suicide and/or homocide out of blind desperation and hopelessness of any other way of escape. The insanity has to stop but finding help is rare and when it's found, often it's not nearly enough. Perhaps Mary felt she had to stop her spouse before he killed her or one of the children. Perhaps she just wanted the pain to end and saw this as the only way. Perhaps she just had no clue what she was doing at the time because she had crossed the threshold of clear thinking (which is very likely the case).

It is far too common for society to judge the victim as the villian instead of the abuser who kills the spirit and sucks the life out of his/her victim with every passing day. It's easy to call the victim a liar or just not get involved.

Those who remain apathetic, then judge and condemn might as well assist the victim in pulling the trigger as many victims of abuse do in blind desperation every year. Mary has already served a lifetime sentence in prison. As it has been testified, Mary, in a sense, died long ago after submitting herself to years of abuse. From a personal perspective, at times I would have preferred prison life as to the life I led when I was abused.

It's because of people who think they understand but turn a blind eye to the insanity of the abuse that these things happen. It's because nobody believes the victim due to the fact that abusers are also master manipulaters. They are artists of painting pretty pictures to the outside world while they tear down and yes...murder their victims slowly with words and deeds. They isolate them from everyone who loves them so they have no place to turn. They convince their victims that they are hopeless and helpless and therefore leaving them with no hope of escape. The brainwashing process begins so subtly that the victim is unaware of what is happening. It builds over time until day after day, and night after night is consumed by fear, dread, and walking on egg shells in hopes to please yet unable to ever do so.

A professional counselor once told me that almost (if not every) domestic violence victim considers suicide and/or homocide on almost a daily basis. And yes, there were times that I had my moments as well. Some get out before it escalates to that level...some don't. If a person does not find a way of escape, in most every case, somebody will end up dead. The majority of the time it is the victim who dies. But sometimes, as in the Winkler case, the victim also becomes the perpetrator for one desperate, black moment. The ironic twist to it all is that in the instant that the abusive perpetrator becomes the victim, the abuse victim becomes both the victim and the perpetrator. What a dark, frightening, and horrible monster of a nightmare! But, as horrible as this may be, in more situations than not, the victims are the ones who live the nightmare and end up dead. This usually occurs when they try to reach out for help and find nobody willing to risk reaching back. Abuse victims could probably be described as the living dead. The smile they paint on the outside is nothing more than a mask to hide the death living within.

By the grace of God I found a way out the night that my situation could have escalated to that point of no return. I didn't know what was going to happen to who but I knew that somebody would end up in the hospital, in jail, or dead if I didn't flee (and my situation wasn't even as severe as Mary's). The weeks to follow were the scariest of my life, but I am a survivor (for seven years now). Others are not so fortunate.

Nobody should be so arrogant as to assume they can define justice in a situation like this. Victims are tortured slowly every day of their lives (sometimes to the point of death). Abusers work hard to convince their victims that they are going insane. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they wish they hadn't been. Because like Mary, some of them simply snap.

If just one of the many people who arrogantly and ignorantly throw out their judgements had taken the time to sincerly and sacrificially risk reaching back in her time of need, then maybe this could have all been prevented. Somebody did that for me. She didn't judge. She didn't condemn, she risked her own safety and offered me help when I was ready for it. She never tried to influence my decision. She just let me know that the help was there should I need it. Then, when I did, it was there...and still is. This is what victims need...not further pain and suffering inflicted by those who they turn to for hope.

Often, even the church in it's effforts to help can bring about more harm than good due to ignorance about abuse. They encourage women to stay and obey they comfort them and try to ease their pain with words such as, "Submit to your abuser and win Him over. God will bless you for it". If you have given an abuse victim this advice I implore you....HAVE MERCY! This is not biblical teaching and it's not good child rearing either! What kind of behaviors do children learn who grow up in these situations? What kind of people will they marry? How will they treat them? What kind of contributions will they make to society? Some churches really seem to get the one that rescued me. They helped me see reality and respond rightly for my children's sake as well as my own. They reflected Christ to me after I had begun to lose sight of what He looked like. They offered mercy and grace. I received Peace and Hope.

Wheel of Domestic ViolenceMary is a CLASSIC abuse victim and the reaction from those who are ignorant to the dynamics of abusive situtations is also classic (which is a big reason why many victims see no way out short of somebody dying). I lived it! By a miracle and the skin of my teeth, I escaped. I was judged and/or abandoned by family (although that was temporary), my church, and my "friends" (most of whom I no longer associate with).

Following my escape from violence, I volunteered with WRAP for several years. I heard their stories over and over and over. The circumstances vary but the stories are all the same. And the isolation/lonliness/fear/hopelessness is what drives them to that breaking point. People rarely believe or want to be involved. They turn their heads, or worse, they arrogantly and ignorantly gossip, often victimizing the victim even further while exalting the abuser. It's all sick and twisted by all parties involved, (including those passing judgement while looking at a distorted picture from a safe distance far away).

As far as justice in Tennessee...the lack of justice comes in defending and protecting victims in these situations. Orders of protection aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Abusers have no respect for the law when it comes to perpetrating their victims! Attorneys are not available as most victims are financially deprived. My attorney was very expensive and often I felt as if he were defending my abuser!

When victims cry for help, little or nothing is done and the violence only gets worse when they try to reach out or escape. The public needs to be educated. The church needs to understand what they are dealing with and be very careful with how they approach assisting in situations of domestic violence. The worst advice that can be given to a victim of abuse is to tell her/him to stay in the name of GOD! I'm sure that there will be some accountability involved with a statement like that. Opression? Is that God's will? Bondage? Is that why Christ died? Allowing our children to be raised in dangerous situations? Yep, that's being responsible with the beautiful gifts He entrusts to our care.

When is something going to get done to prevent this from happening again? What will it take for insensitive people to get a clue? More victims die than abusers. What kind of hope to victims have of survival apart from their abusers? With their abusers? What kind of choice is it to have to decide between living amongst the working, uninsured poor, or raising little ones in an atmosphere of violence? Who raises the children while the parent is working two jobs just to keep the power on? Should the father (as in this situation) raise the children because he has financial stability? Should they live with the mother in poverty but safety? People need to stop kicking the victims when they have already been beaten to a pulp spiritually, mentally, physically, and financially. The dynamics are so far beyond the imagination of those blessed enough not to understand.

No, Mary did not have the right to take a life, but what right do abusers have to abuse? They take the life of their victims while they are still living! Where is the justice in that? So many get away with it!

I have also heard people say that letting Mary "off so easy" sends a message to others that they can kill their spouses if they are not happy in their marriage, or that being a victim of abuse gives a person a license to kill. This is not true. Only a very dysfunctional human being would believe a message like that from a situation like this.

For all those who are bent on criticism, When you have walked in Mary Winklers shoes even one day...then maybe you will have room to criticize. You may even walking in her shoes right now without even knowing it. Perhaps you are only an argument away from snapping and doing something terrible that will alter your life forever.

It's time to give support to those who are being abused right now..those who don't have hope, those who are contemplating murder or suicide at this very moment. What can we do now? How can we stop the next murder from happening? Who do you know that is being abused and what do you plan to do to help? How much are you willing to risk to prevent a possible homocide/suicide?

Victims are so easy to identify. You only have to look. I encourage everyone who reads this to research domestic violence and become informed and compassionate. Be a part of the effort to stop this needless suffering. Let justice be served BEFORE it's too late.

In my heart of hearts, having existed in the mind of a victim, I truly believe that Mary did not even care about the outcome of this trial (other than how it will affect her children on top of all that has been done to them already). It probably wouldn't have made a difference if she went away for three years or fifty. I'm sure that living with the memories that she has for the rest of her life (as well as the ones she has given her children) will be far worse than any sentence she could have been given.

This is not a time to judge or condemn. It is a time to pray. Christians, of all people should have mercy and see the need for prayer for everyone affected by this horrible yet preventable tragedy. It's time to reflect on our own lives. It's time to think about where three of our fingers point when one of them points in judgement and ignorance towards somebody else.

I believe you, Mary.

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