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Wisconsin spa killings: Shooting followed tragic script of domestic violence (+video)

The events leading up to Radcliffe Haughton killing his wife, two other women, and himself at a Wisconsin spa followed a familiar path: threats, a restraining order, and police visits to their home.

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Ms. Hattery says the narrative is “very typical” of intimate partner abuse that ends in homicide.

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“Victims are often afraid to tell the truth about what is happening. They are afraid [the batterer] has a gun, so they are trying to de-escalate the situation,” she says. “One thing we know is [the homicide] often occurs when victims try to leave a relationship.”

Also troublesome are data that show, in most cases, there is little accountability for those facing charges related to domestic violence. Oftentimes the charges are dropped – as was the case with Haughton – or defendants are assigned to an intervention program that addresses ancillary issues like anger management or substance abuse.

Hattery’s research shows that, in most counties across the US, more than half of those with domestic violence convictions complete just half the sessions, while nearly half don’t bother to show up at all.

The severity of punishment depends on the awareness of the court system addressing each case, says Hattery.

“It is very locally dependent: In communities where you have a lot of activism from organizations fighting domestic violence, you have a lot of support inside the local justice system. In counties where there’s not a lot of traction, there’s not nearly enough of a response,” she says. “A lot of people walk around with a sanitized version of [domestic violence], I don’t think they truly understand the depths of it. If they did, it would be hard for most decent people to turn away.”

Another factor working against Zina Haughton was her gender. Most victims of intimate partner violence are women, according to a 2010 study by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta that found about 1 in 4 women (24.3 percent) and 1 in 7 men (13.8 percent) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

The 2010 annual crime report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that 4.6 percent of homicide victims that year were wives, compared with 1 percent of husbands. The same dynamic is true of girlfriends to boyfriends: 3.8 percent to 1 percent. Data for 2011 has not yet been released.

Years ago the gap was tighter, but what helped lower victim rates for men was the emergence of domestic abuse outreach organizations that women seek out for safety, says Katherine van Wormer, who teaches social work at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and who has written on domestic abuse.

“The homicide rate numbers were about equal before the days of women’s shelters and hotlines. The women often acted in self-defense because they were scared to death. Now there’s an alternative [to homicide] for women,” Ms. van Wormer says.

Zina Haughton wrote that her husband thought she was unfaithful and described the threats as both physical and verbal in her application for the restraining order, filed in the circuit court for Milwaukee County and dated Oct. 8.

“His threats terrorize my every waking moment,” she wrote, saying he threatened to throw acid at her or burn her and her family with gas. “He said he would kill me if I left him or ever contacted the police.”

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