Early last evening, I watched on as a jury delivered its verdict in the Aaron Schaffhausen murder trial. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, jurors rejected Schaffhausen’s insanity plea; they believed he understood that what he was doing was wrong, and that he was in control of his actions when he killed his three little girls.
While there’s really no “win” following a tragedy like this, I know there’s a tremendous sense of relief from many in the community that Amara, Sophie and Cecelia received a measure of justice yesterday.
Why we must change perceptions of domestic violence
The reason I’m writing today, however, has much less to do with the trial—I’ll leave that to the media—and much more to do with comments I’ve heard about Aaron Schaffhausen’s mental state in the weeks leading up to the trial; even among those who claim to understand domestic violence and advocate for victims.
See, while there were many who believed Aaron Schaffhausen knew what he was doing when he entered Jessica’s home last July, too often, I listened to people say, “He had to have been out of his mind. Only someone who was insane could have done something like this.”
Sadly, that’s not so.
And it’s an attitude that must change if we’re to protect victims of domestic violence in the future.
My own “he couldn’t possibly” experience
This isn’t meant to be a story about me, but, on some level, I understand where those who believed Aaron Schaffhausen was insane were coming from.
That’s because, during my marriage, it’s the only way I could explain away Darkness’s frightening behavior. Because I couldn’t comprehend engaging in such threatening actions, I could only surmise that his actions were the result of a momentary lack of control.
And so, over and over and over again, I boarded an emotionally exhausting rollercoaster ride, in which I couldn’t predict what he might do—because it was all outside the realm of what I knew to be a normal human experience.
It wasn’t until I read extensively about domestic violence, received a lot of therapy, and had created some emotional distance between Darkness and myself, that I began to see things in a new way.
His actions were intended to hurt me, even if those actions came at the expense of our own children.
And once I was able to view what was happening through his “win at all costs” lens, everything else began to make sense.
While at a vastly greater, far more devastating scale, Aaron Schaffhausen is no different. His intention was to hurt his ex-wife, Jessica, no matter the cost.
And mental health expert, Dr. Erik Knudson, testified to precisely that fact on Monday. In his testimony, he stated, “Mr. Schaffhausen threatened to kill his children and he gave a reason why he would kill his children which was that he found it desirable to hurt his ex-wife. That does not suggest that he lacked appreciation or he lacked awareness of the wrongfulness of his conduct and in fact, he was aware of how that conduct would affect another person and that was his intent.”
Lundy Bancroft sheds light on domestic violence-related homicide
Domestic violence expert, Lundy Bancroft urges law enforcement, the courts, social workers, and anyone else who works with domestic violence victims to never take an abuser’s threats to kill their children lightly.
In his book, The Batterer as Parent, he writes, “In a well-publicized case in New England, a batterer shot four children to death in front of their mother, and then killed himself—but did not attempt to kill her. This case illustrates the role that the batterer’s desire to emotionally injure the mother can play in an assault or murder of her children.”
Mr. Bancroft reminds us that, while the prevailing perception is that batterers lack impulse control, that is not the case.
Rather, they exercise extreme control over their partner, consequences be damned.
And until we begin to universally acknowledge that there are those who can seemingly throw away lives with the same blatant disregard as a cheap pen—all in order to inflict pain on their partner—we’ll never be able to hold those abusers accountable or provide victims the resources and support they need to live safe and healthy lives.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Jessica.
Lundy Bancroft will be presenting a domestic violence workshop at UWRF on Thursday, May 16th. Please read about why I believe you should attend. Then, visit the Turningpoint website to learn more about the event and share the opportunity with those who work with domestic violence victims and perpetrators. Together, we can strengthen our community’s response to violence.