TAKE ACTION: Danger signs a person could be at risk of being killed by their partner, and how to help victims of domestic violence

TESSA says about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men report having experienced severe physical violence from a intimate partner in their lifetime.
If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship, this number is available 24/7 and is...
If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship, this number is available 24/7 and is 100 percent confidential.(KKTV)
Published: May. 11, 2021 at 8:21 AM MDT|Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:13 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - One of the worst shootings in Colorado history was driven by relationship violence.

“We know that this is not a domestic terrorism incident, not an ideologically-driven crime,” said Mayor John Suthers.

When a gunman stormed a birthday celebration on Mother’s Day morning, he appears to have been targeting his girlfriend -- with her relatives becoming collateral damage.

“At the core of this horrendous act is domestic violence,” said Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski. “... When he wasn’t invited to a family gathering, the suspect responded by opening fire and killing six victims before taking his own life.”

Local non-profit TESSA, which offers support for domestic violence survivors, says the sobering reality is that relationship violence is neither rare nor confined to a certain type. According to its relationship myths page, more than 10 million people annually of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses are victims of domestic violence.

And tragically, death is not an entirely uncommon outcome; according to a 2017 CDC report, homicide is one of the top five causes of death among women 44 and younger.

“Incidents where domestic violence ends in death is obviously the worst-case scenario,” said TESSA CEO Anne Markley. “That does happen less frequently, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. We certainly see levels of violence that escalate very high without ending in death.”

Markley says relationship violence reports locally have skyrocketed in the year since the pandemic started.

“Within a normal year, we’ll see about 15,000 or serve about 15,000 individuals in our community. This year, we seen around a 50 percent increase this past year, and in 2020 we served around 23,000 individuals.”

It can be difficult for outsiders to know when something isn’t right in a relationship. TESSA says there is a pattern many violent relationships cycle through over and over: the honeymoon phase (or remorseful phase when this is a repeating cycle), tension-building phase and explosion phase.

“That [the tension building phase] can last any amount of time. That could be a short amount of time, that can be long, and then from the tension-building phase, it will move into that escalated incident, whatever that may be,” Markley said.

Among the ways an outside person can help (Information from TESSA’s “12 ways to help combat intimate partner violence”):

- Be a resource: If someone discloses to you their lived experience of abuse, it is important to remember to listen, believe, validate, and refer. Support and believe survivors when they come forward. You could be the first person they have told.

- If you see something, say something: Intimate partner violence is still seen by many as an issue that should be kept within the family. In order to end these cycles of violence we need to understand the importance of saying something when we see something happening. If you overhear your neighbors having a violent altercation, call the police.

- Don’t just stand by: Bystander Intervention is an important skill in preventing violence. This does not only mean intervening when overt acts of violence occur but also addressing cultural norms that perpetuate intimate partner violence.

- Document situations: If someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it can be helpful to assist them in documenting the abuse as it occurs. This not only builds their confidence by validating their experiences but also can help them have a stronger court case if they choose to pursue legal actions.

It’s important to note that abusive behavior is not always physical. A person may never lay their hands on their partner but instead use emotional and verbal tactics to belittle, abuse and control their partner. Colorado Springs police say that before the night of the shooting, the gunman had never physically harmed his girlfriend. He had, however, displayed power and control issues during their yearlong relationship.

“The suspect had a history of controlling and jealous behavior towards the victim. This behavior in particular was most obvious in trying to isolate her from her family and making efforts to prevent her from attending family events,” said Lt. Joe Frabbiele.

Some of the shooter’s behavior falls under what TESSA calls “danger signs” in a relationship. These signs include both physical and emotional/verbal indicators that a partner’s behavior could escalate into deadly violence -- even if up to that point, the victim had never been physically harmed.

“There are no previously reported occurrences of domestic violence between the two in that relationship with the local police departments here. Through the course of the investigation, investigators have not learned of any unreported physical altercations between the two during the course of their one-year relationship,” Frabbiele said.

Everyone should educate themselves on the following “danger signs,” which TESSA says are red flags that someone is at very real risk of being killed by their partner.

Controlling behavior (examples include telling a partner what to wear, when to be home, controlling finances, limiting/controlling contact with friends and family)

Intense jealousy or possessiveness

Intimidation (examples include threats, driving fast, smashing holes in the wall, standing close and shouting in a partner’s face threatening to kill themselves)

Stalking (examples include physical stalking, stalking through social media, looking through a partner’s phone)

Worsening violence (more severe, more frequent)

Strangulation and choking

Threats to kill

“These are the signs that someone is in danger of being killed by their partner. They are often missed by friends, family and others until it is too late. The signs are either not seen, or dismissed as not serious -- yet we know that certain signs mean that a victim is highly likely to be killed by her partner. ... One or a cluster of these behaviors towards a partner mean that she is at risk of being killed. The risk increases during or following separation. Don’t assume a victim is safe because she is planning to leave or has just left a violent relationship, many murders happen at this time,” TESSA says on its webpage.

To read more, click here.

If you or someone you know is in a violent relationship, TESSA has a confidential safe line available 24/7: 719-633-3819.

If you or someone you know is in a relationship exhibiting the above danger signs, contact TESSA’s safe line right away or call 911 if in immediate danger.

For more resources, visit TESSA’s website by clicking here.

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