“Prominent resident beaten to death.”
“Prominent” was the word that stood out to me reading this headline in the April 6 edition of the Las Vegas Optic. The second jolt was a photo of Sherry Anne Clancy, a woman I knew.
Sherry Anne was well-known in our community. She held several important jobs during her 15 or more years here. She worked for New Mexico Highlands University, the Las Vegas Optic and the City of Las Vegas for starters. Other volunteer work brought her into organizations working for peace and justice and organizations promoting local artists — of which she was one.
She’s one of three homicide victims in Las Vegas so far this year — and all three occurred in each victim’s home. I only knew Sherry Anne, and understand in some detail the circumstances behind her death, so I will use her tragic death as an example of the causes and effects of domestic violence.
So how is it that a respected, competent and forthright woman like Sherry Anne Clancy could be in a domestic situation that resulted in her violent death by a household member? (To be exact, at this point, Tamara Smith is “arrested and charged with an open count of murder.” My understanding is she will not go to trial if she is found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial. But she is the person charged.)
On the average, more than three women are murdered in the U.S. by household members every day, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. This is irrespective of their prominence, wealth, beauty or status. Yet in spite of this research finding, we seem to equate household violence with poverty and disrespect for women in many cultures and some religions. These elements were not major factors in Sherry Anne Clancy’s case. So how can we understand this?
One way is the widespread anecdote of the frog swimming in the pot of cold water. If the water is heated quickly, the frog jumps out. But if the water is gradually heated over a significant amount of time, the frog gets boiled to death.
The frog story (whether true or false) communicates something we all recognize: Humans too get used to situations; things begin to seem normal and expected, even if not desirable. So we might assume that Sherry Anne spent many years getting used to being afraid and living with that as best she could. Perhaps it felt better to her than feeling disloyal to someone you love. Perhaps she felt she needed to care for the weaker/disabled loved one.
Shame is another element as we try to understand domestic violence. Shame is a powerful emotion that comes from deep within and overwhelms any rational thinking about taking protective action. Many people feel profound shame about their household and its hidden dynamics of violence or abuse.
Some of these family relationships slide into emotional abuse, name-calling, bullying, criticism and terrible arguments. From there comes pushing, shoving, threatening, slapping and then hitting and kicking, punching and beating and then, finally, murder.
The cycle of violence in households usually involves the abuse, then apology from the abuser, then after some time, abuse again. Frequently, the perpetrator cries, apologizes, professes love, begs, and makes promises of no more violence. This lasts for a short time, and the cycle begins again.
Each time is usually worse than the last time. The end of it all, without some intervention, comes death.
So what’s to be done?
• If you suspect or know of household violence, speak up. This is a situation that you can and must respond to. It’s a moral and ethical responsibility. Talk to the suspected victim but do not put yourself in danger; let it be known that you are supportive and can “walk with her.” Let her know she is not alone. Get involved. Communicate your concerns! Remember that communication’s best side is “the good listener.” If the victims are children, report to the social services in your area or the police. Other helpful services include Adult Protective Services; Children, Youth & Families; Tri-County Domestic Violence; and the NMHU Women’s Program. If the situation is imminent, call the police.
There are other resources; find them.
• Do fears of saying the wrong thing make you keep your mouth shut? Think about what you need to say, write it down, and then say it — don’t send it as a letter. Say what needs to be said. Something like, “I’m worried about you. You seem to me to be in a difficult and dangerous situation. I want to help.” Stay with it. Don’t let a brush-off stop you.
• If you are the one feeling menaced and in danger, know that you need help. Do not let shame or family loyalty stand in the way of getting help. Reach out. Find the one or more people you can trust and who can support you. Protect yourself and keep children out of harm’s way.
• Read some articles or books on how to help, or success stories of former victims. Perhaps someone you know who is a counselor, therapist or maybe just a compassionate person who will guide you in an approach to the situation or how to get out safely. Help is out there, look for it and find it. Remember this: Love is not enough — there must be respect and moral behavior too. Love does not sustain itself in violence and fear.
Sherry Anne Clancy’s death is a tragedy. But it would be more of a tragedy if you and I don’t heed the message in it. Some of our sisters, brothers, children, friends and neighbors need our help.
At this very moment in our community, someone is being hurt. Whose name will be the next headline? Let’s try harder, speak up and take action.
Together we will find a way to stop the violence.
Joan Irene Krohn, a Las Vegas resident, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.