As our community struggles to comprehend the recent murder-suicide in Olathe that took the life of Amy Shaffer Mabion and shattered the lives of her three children, one of the questions people often ask is, “How can something like this happen in Johnson County with its lovely suburban homes, treed parks, award-winning schools and upper middle-class families?”
As the president and CEO of Safehome, Johnson County’s domestic violence agency, I frequently encounter the misunderstanding that domestic violence happens only to people who are underprivileged, homeless or uneducated. In reality, domestic abuse affects people across all socioeconomic lines, including upper middle-class families in surburbia.
Wealth, education and status don’t inoculate people against abuse. Safehome has served victims from Leawood to Gardner, and Shawnee to Mission Hills. We’ve had clients who arrive in luxury cars and have six-figure salaries, as well clients who have been living in cars and have no income.
They all come for the same reason — to stop domestic violence in their lives.
Dr. Susan Weitzman, founder of the Weitzman Center, an advocacy organization that raises awareness about what she calls “upscale abuse,” points out that upscale victims are often reluctant to seek help. They are ashamed and embarrassed and fear being shunned and blamed. They have been taught that it is inappropriate to involve the police and others in their “personal problems.”
Sprawling homes on large lots make it less likely that neighbors or friends will witness or report the abuse. The victim’s partner may have the financial means to hire a skilled attorney to defend the abusive actions. In addition, family, friends and even educated professionals may take the abuse lightly and minimize the victim’s concerns.
The hallmark of upscale abuse is silence. Upscale victims may feel pressure to maintain the charade of the perfect family and fear that people won’t believe them. They may go to great pains to hide the abuse and, as a result, may experience a deep sense of aloneness.
They want to protect the financial well-being of their children, but they may decide to leave if the children are threatened. Even when the victim leaves, the abuse may continue through financial deprivation, expensive legal action and ongoing custody issues.
If someone you know is in an abusive situation, upscale or not, there are ways to help. You can:
▪ believe them,
▪ express your concerns about their safety,
▪ encourage them to call Safehome’s 24-hour confidential crisis line (913-262-2868) or the metro area domestic violence hotline (816-HOTLINE/468-5463), and
▪ stand by them, even if you may not understand or agree with their decisions.
All of Safehome’s services are completely confidential and at no charge. You don’t have to provide your name or contact information to receive help.
Understanding that domestic violence happens even in upscale homes is the first step to stopping the violence in our community. More information can be found at www.safehome-ks.org.
Janee’ M. Hanzlick is president and CEO of Safehome in Johnson County.