Yes, it is domestic violence

In a June 5 Star Telegram story reporting the arrest of Cedric McGinnis for the brutal murder of  April Serrano; her mother, Cynthia Serrano; and her aunt, Kathy DeLeon, a Fort Worth police sergeant is quoted as saying,

“We have no indication that this is a domestic-violence-related case. Family members and friends told us that McGinnis and April had dated on and off again. We did not locate any reports in our system that showed any history of domestic violence between them.”

A follow up article on June 6 said the arrest warrant indicated that McGinnis intended to rob the home, and that the robbery was motivation for the murders.

While I am incredibly thankful to the entire Fort Worth Police Department for bringing McGinnis so quickly to justice, I also believe it is important to reinforce that defining domestic and dating violence is not as simple as checking for reports in the system.

Most domestic violence victims don’t report abusive incidents – not the first time, the second time or even the third.  It may take years before a victim calls police.  If she finally does call, it is often only when the incident becomes overwhelmingly frightening or dangerous.  She calls when she fears for her life, but victims are so accustomed to the violence perpetrated by their partners, that it is almost impossible for them to clearly judge their own danger level.  Our 38 years of experience tells us that victims virtually always underestimate the lethality of their situation.

Although they weren’t currently dating, if McGinnis wanted to revive the on again/off again relationship with April and she rebuffed those advances, these murders are a direct result of his inability to force her back into the relationship:  that’s domestic violence.  

I certainly cannot say unequivocally what McGinnis was planning, over 35 years of experience tells me that the actions of abusers are not crimes of passion.  They are calculated and they are cold.  Very much like the actions of McGinnis, who ran out of ammunition and grabbed a kitchen knife to stab Cynthia Serrano because she was still alive, and then stepped over April’s body as he carried her tennis shoes and change from three piggy banks to his car. 

In this specific case, because April was a young woman still living at home with her parents, family members may have believed they could protect her.  Parents often think, “Isn’t that my job?” while not realizing the lengths to which the abuser will go to regain control of their daughter.

In 2012, Roshan Sah, 25, shot and killed Linda Villanueva-Rodriguez, 22 in the front yard of her Arlington apartment. Sah stalked Linda for over a year after she rejected Sah’s attempts to further the relationship. They weren’t married and they weren’t dating, but this was domestic violence.

I regret that April and her family didn’t connect with SafeHaven of Tarrant County so we could help her and her parents develop a safety plan, accurately assess the danger, obtain protection and consider making a report to police.  I regret that somehow we didn’t adequately reach out to her and hundreds of other women and girls, making information and resources more easily accessible.

Our commitment at SafeHaven is to change that.  We want to every Tarrant County neighborhood, business, church and family to know our services are available to all victims and their families.  These professional services are free.  Because victims have already paid too high a price.

Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.  When domestic violence happens we need to call it what it is, whether we are talking about homicide or about our next door neighbor making excuses for bruises she can’t hide.

If we aren’t willing to call it domestic violence, the 1 in 4 women in Tarrant County experiencing abuse right now begin to question if they are victims.

If we aren’t willing to call it domestic violence, the teen being stalked by an ex-boyfriend may decide her problem isn’t serious enough to call for help.

If we aren’t willing to call it domestic violence, the woman with no reports in the system questions if she qualifies for SafeHaven’s services.

If we aren’t willing to call it domestic violence, we can’t end it.