When Ann Kappauf read the news about the Sept. 20 death of Patricia Manix, her first thought was, “That’s domestic violence.”
Shot by her estranged husband, who then turned the gun on himself, Manix’s death is the first in La Crosse this year to be classified as a domestic violence homicide, though victim advocates are concerned it is not being recognized as such.
“I don’t know if the community sees it as domestic violence,” said Kappauf, executive director of New Horizons Shelter and Outreach Center.
“It’s so common (not to acknowledge it),” said Tanya Kessen, director of the Ho Chunk Nation Domestic Abuse Division. “Domestic violence is so secretive and swept under the rug.”
Kappauf and Kessen were two of about 50 community members hoping to remove the shroud of domestic violence at Wednesday evening’s Domestic Violence Awareness Walk, which departed and concluded in Cameron Park. The event, which included a reading of the mayoral proclamation and a speech by survivor Carolyn Rhode, has been held annually for the past decade in an effort to expose the epidemic of violent relationships both locally and nationwide.
“In Wisconsin, it’s going up,” Kappauf said. In 2016, 73 people in the state lost their lives to domestic violence, 57 of them victims, including two from La Crosse, and 16 perpetrators who either committed suicide or were killed during a confrontation with law enforcement. So far this year, 53 in Wisconsin have died, including 33 victims.
Statistics estimate one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Even more will experience abuse in nonphysical forms, including emotional, verbal, social, sexual, spiritual, financial and systems, which includes violating restraining orders.
Kessen perceives a correlation between the drug crisis, particularly in Black River Falls, and the rise in incidents of abuse. Perpetrators, she notes, often act violently while under the influence, and victims may turn to substances to cope.
“We need better legislation,” Kessen noted. “That’s key.”
The Ho Chunk Nation Domestic Abuse Division frequently collaborates with New Horizon to increase support and services for their clients. In 2016, New Horizons provided shelter for 196 individuals for a total of 10,987 nights, answered over 2,000 crisis calls and provided more than 16,000 units of service, including advocacy and safety planning.
One third of victims those killed, are killed either while attempting to or after leaving their partner.
“The most dangerous time is when a victim wants to leave a dangerous situation,” Kappauf said.
Roslyn Givens, who moved to La Crosse from Chicago in 2012, found herself hesitant to flee her abusive husband, fearful of both physical consequences and material losses.
“I didn’t want to leave at first. We had a two-story house and furniture, and I didn’t want to leave my stuff,” Givens said. “Then I realized, why do I care about stuff when I could end up dead in the ground. I knew God would help me if I helped myself. I get teary eyed telling these young girls, ‘If you’re with a guy and he hits you once, go.’ He’ll say he’s sorry and then he’ll do it again.”
New Horizon’s resource advocate Kyle Marmesh works with victims every day but says there is only so much the organization can do, especially when they are contacted after a crisis has already taken place.
“Unfortunately sometimes we kind of do the band-aid work — putting the band-aid on the gushing wound,” Marmesh said. “There aren’t enough of us to do it. We need to get the community involved and for people to make an effort to get themselves educated about recognizing the signs. The main thing is people just need to know it’s a problem right here in our community.”
“It’s when we come together that we have more of a voice and I really think that’s what it’s going to take to end DV,” Kessen agreed.
Givens was proud to share her own voice at the awareness walk, which she arrived at dressed in purple and gave hugs.
“Givens is spelled with a ‘v’ for victorious,” she noted. “I got away...I’m victorious today.”
For more information on services and resources available to domestic violence victims, visit www.nhagainstabuse.org.