Senseless by Casey Glenn

While researching local history online, I came across tragic news. I Googled “old turnpike” (my only clue to the origin of an old black and white photo), and eventually I landed at a Google map containing Old Catskill Turnpike Road in Triangle, New York. In the course of my search, a news story also kept popping up, about a fire in Triangle.

It slowly dawned on me that the headline was not ‘old news’. This very road in Triangle was the location of horrific domestic violence, in which a young child was shot by her father, who then took his own life, as her abused and bleeding mother barely escaped with her life.

I continued my search for the place where our old, circa 1920’s photo may have been taken, with its mysterious little girl and background of rolling hills and barns. With little more than geography and fashion (a large bow in her spiral curled hair) to indicate time and place, the mystery will likely remain.

How awful that somewhere others are investigating a scene of deliberate killing (and suicide) by a parent. There is another sort of mystery here. The missing pieces in this case will leave the perennial mystery of murderous rage unanswered and the word “senseless” on all our lips. What other word comes to mind about the death of a small child?

But I want to say a few words that may not be so easily agreed upon. At the end of the newsreel about the tragedy, the reporter said that services are out there to help people find safety, as the camera panned over the logo of a well-known agency. The truth is there is very little they can do to help.

Not long ago, I found out first hand than any abuser can continue to abuse, even from afar, despite the best efforts of caring staff, volunteers, and well meaning supporters. Though no small thing, short lived physical safety is the most they can offer in the best of circumstances. One can go from being a survivor (ever so brief an illusion) to being a permanent economic victim by virtue of the lack of power and financial dependence on these agencies. When I sought help, my first order of business was filling out papers to help them get paid for the services they were offering me. The next was to begin looking elsewhere for help. Time and resources were very limited.

Sad to realize the minimal help that most of us think of as the “safety net” is non-existent, or misnamed. It should actually be called the “drag net” – as in, you must drag yourself through hell during the worst time of your life in order to qualify for help. Then you must wait, possibly without adequate healthcare or legal counsel, frightened that help will not come, while the abuser may have the help of his supporters (who effectively become abusers by proxy). Only part of the excuse for this is the bureaucracy of social services, with their endlessly deferring fraud control devices. They are as overburdened and underfunded as many other providers of public services.

 Shelters seem to have become clearinghouses for private information to be passed on to other agencies, information given in a moment of expectant gratitude for sweet sanctuary and then used against victims later. Nonprofits have become the kindly family member who offers help but is dependent on the abuser, and so serves both interests: the call of the heart and the call of the purse. They can’t afford heroics.

 Corporate interests inevitably control social goods in a way that will maintain the power and the structures that legitimize them and protect their profits. The crimes visited on the child and her mother in Triangle, were truly senseless. The persistence of domestic violence, unfortunately, is not. Might-makes-right economic policies seep through the fragile human relations. Money talks and its servant speaks with forked tongue, leaving the powerless to the wrath of the (rejected) master.

 

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