Domestic violence defies stereotypes

Posted 8/21/18

A Colorado couple's social media posts have come under scrutiny in the past week after 33-year-old Chris Watts was arrested on suspicion of killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters.Chris …

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Domestic violence defies stereotypes


A Colorado couple's social media posts have come under scrutiny in the past week after 33-year-old Chris Watts was arrested on suspicion of killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

Chris Watts, who was charged with first-degree murder on Monday, looked to be a doting husband and father in the photos and videos that his late wife, Shannon, posted on her Facebook page. 

Analyzing family photos is largely an exercise in futility, however, if the point is to look for signs that Watts was capable of violence. 

"There's no look. There's no style of dress or outward indicators that one person is more likely to be an abuser than any other," said Lila Sears, executive director of Daybreak, an emergency shelter for women based in Walker County.

The family's socioeconomic status, which appeared to have rebounded since the couple filed for bankruptcy in 2015, is also irrelevant to understanding how such a tragedy could take place.

Though financial stress can exacerbate domestic problems, violence occurs among affluent couples, as well as those who are struggling to make ends meet. 

Shame and the fear of not being able to provide for their children keep some women in financially stable homes — but also in abusive relationships, according to Sears.

Some women also have trouble identifying signs of abuse that aren't physical.

"Men who are more educated or more affluent are more likely to abuse in ways that are not as visible. There is financial abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, sexual abuse. There is physical abuse, but they are more skilled in doing it in ways that people aren't going to see," Sears said. 

It is not clear that Shanann Watts was a victim of long-term domestic abuse, and law enforcement officials have not yet released a motive for the murders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of female homicide victims who died between 2003 and 2014 were killed by a current or former male intimate partner. 

Approximately 15 percent of women of reproductive age (18 to 44) were pregnant or had recently given birth at the time of their deaths.

Daybreak is one of 16 domestic violence shelters located throughout the state. It predominantly serves women in Walker County, although a significant number of clients also come from communities near the Walker-Jefferson county line and southern Winston County.

Daybreak receives an average of 350 crisis calls a year, a number that has remained steady in spite of a gradual population decline.

The number of nights of shelter provided doubled in 2015 to more than 2,000. In 2016, the most recent year that stats are available, Daybreak provided 2,442 nights of shelter. 

The number is determined based on the number of beds occupied on a given night. For example, four beds occupied on a single night would count as four nights of shelter.

In addition to its emergency shelter, Daybreak has one employee housed at the Walker County Department of Human Resources and will have an outreach office at the new Jasper Area Family Services Center beginning in October.

To contact Daybreak, call (205) 387-1157.