“M.U., a neighbor, tells KHON-TV she was shocked by the deaths. She said the Dikito’s were nice people.” (KPUA Hawaii News, 04/27/08)
“Stunned neighbors described the couple as friendly and happy, and the family as the least likely for such tragedy to ever befall.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 05/22/08)
“The husband, he would be in the yard most of the time cleaning or playing with the children –playing and stuff, and we would say ‘hi,'” neighbor S.S. said. “He is the nicest guy. He is always on the bench out front. He was always waving.” (KITV, 04/27/08)
“The stabbing happened at about 6:20 p.m. on Kamehameha Avenue, a day after the couple, who were married 19 years, attended a family party where there were no signs of strife, according to a relative. (Hawaiian TV.com, 05/31/10)
“He was one of my favorite customers,” R. said. “He was a sweet, sweet, sweet guy so when I heard about the murder-suicide I was shocked.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 07/04/08)
“Grineline James’ co-workers and friends at both schools said the couple appeared to have the perfect marriage. They were never seen fighting and he was a dotting husband who would do anything for his wife.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 07/04/08)
“F. said her neighbors are a ‘nice family,’ and said there were no signs of trouble or domestic abuse.” (Star Bulletin, 04/07/00)
“All I know is he was a really nice man,” M. said. “He kept to himself and was a quiet person, simple.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 05/28/08)
“Tyrone Vesperas is a quiet, reserved man, M. said, and said the boy seemed to be growing closer to his father in recent months as the family tried to navigate the divorce. “They were getting so close, they were playing ball together all the time, they were talking,” she said.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 06/13/07)
“E.M. never knew the troubles her daughter was going through with her husband. ‘She did not tell me any problems'” (Star Bulletin, 06/04/08)
“M.L., Tan Lam’s brother, yesterday said he never saw his brother act violently.” (Honolulu Advertiser, 06/13/05)
“B.A., Figueroa’s cousin, said a friend drove the couple to the man’s farm, and that he had ridden along. The couple seemed to be getting along. ‘They were just talking story,’ he said. ‘Normal.'” (Honolulu Advertiser, 02/05/06)
What do all of the people who provided these testimonies have in common (besides the shock they each experienced over the fact that the domestic violence victim in each instance was killed)?
The people making these comments all knew the couple, the victim and/or murderer, either as a family member, friend, neighbor or through daily interactions – so it’s fair to say that these people were familiar enough with the murderer to make such comments, right? Yet despite their close observances and interactions, NONE of them suspected domestic violence in ANY situation…
My point here is NOT to analyze or criticize how these loved ones “missed” the signs and symptoms of domestic violence or to point out how no one “saw it coming” because “he was such a nice guy” (since chances are no matter how bad the DV was between the couple, the victim herself probably NEVER truly believed that “she’d be next” or that he’d REALLY be capable of actual murder). The messages we say to reassure ourselves are:
That kind of thing only happens to “other people” because it either “won’t happen to me” or “no one I know would be ‘stupid enough’ to be/stay in that kind of a situation”.
Let me make it clear that NO ONE – not even “the most expert of our expert domestic violence experts” – can predict which victim will be the next fatality or what abuser will turn into the next murderer, and if THEY can’t “see it coming” what makes any of us think that WE can? This ties into the point I DO want to make:
No one knows a relationship better then the people who are in it (and I’d also like you to consider how the very same comments made by the loved ones above could’ve actually been used to HARM the victims had they not been killed).
A DV homicide is clearly the worst-case scenario and thankfully, that’s an extreme case scenario (not as popular as surviving) so that’s the good news from a distance, BUT if you’re a survivor whose actually “one of the lucky ones” to get out of the abusive relationship with your life, the exact same comments and testimonies about “what a nice guy” your abuser is and how unlikely it is that he would behave in the manner you describe towards anyone* will constantly follow you. You’ll learn to withhold talking about your DV experience because doing so only brings on discomfort, skepticism and a chorus of “what a nice guy he is” from those who honestly don’t know him the way you do.
*Domestic violence doesn’t happen to “anyone” it happens to the victim; if you’re not the victim in the relationship chances are you’ll never fully know her truth.
Splitting-up or divorcing your abuser seems to give everyone (personal and professional) permission to not only comment on your relationship and experience, but place themselves as more of an authority then you are now about your ex-partner! Disengaging from an abusive relationship seems to mean that you’ve surrendered your expertise of the relationship and/or your partner so that even the mailman has something to say about it. This is quite a contradiction from non-abusive break-ups or divorces where everyone tends to take a more respectful “that’s a private and personal matter” stance.
No one encourages or expects a non-victim to disclose all the intimate details of his/her relationship because it’s a personal and private matter, right? BUT for victims, not only is a disclosure of intimate details encouraged (“break the silence”) but it’s expected if she’s going to make an abuse allegation (especially against “such a nice guy”). Then when she does as she’s encouraged/expected, instead of being met with overwhelming support she’s met with overwhelming scrutiny. (And then no one can figure out WHY she’s gone back to him, WHY she recants or WHY she starts gushing more and more outlandish, improbable, shocking and disturbing accounts in such an animated, intense and reactively defensive manner). Moreover her reaction to being scrutinized causes others to question her credibility, and worse is when non-professionals feel entitled to talk to or question the abuser himself about her claims so that they can determine what the truth is for themselves.
Think about it for a moment: how would YOU feel if someone you know (no matter how well-intentioned) made a “statement of fact” over-riding your firsthand experience about your intimate relationship with someone else – or better yet – presumed to tell you that they know more or better about your partner based upon THEIR relationship or experience with him/her? (For example: who knows a husband “better”: his wife, his daughter, his mother or his best friend? How can a daughter state as fact that her dad’s “a good husband” when she’s never known him as a wife?)
And if you’re confronting an abuser with a victim’s truth, what kind of a response do you think you’re going to get? Do you REALLY expect him to throw up his hands and say, “Ah – you’ve caught me! Guilty as charged!” or do you think he’d tell you “his side of the story” that will include a reference to how mentally ill or emotionally unstable she is? (By the way, that mentally ill/emotionally unstable reference is a HUGE red flag: it’s one of the first explanations offered by abusers to contradict a victim’s claims.)
If you’ve “crossed the line” by trying to talk to the abuser “to investigate” or to play marriage counselor, please do not be shocked or surprised to be met with the victim’s anger, mistrust, distrust and/or disengagement from you, even if you have “good news” to report, ie: “It’s all a misunderstanding – you should hear his side – he still loves you and wants you back.”
A relationship is between TWO people (not three, unless you’re including God, otherwise it’s two) and the only people who will ever know the entire truth of a relationship – especially an INTIMATE relationship – will be the two people who are involved in it. Despite how close you are, how well or long you’ve known the couple (or one partner), what your relationship is to one or both, the fact remains that you will NEVER know every intricacy and nuance of that relationship. When loved ones and/or professionals presume to “know” the abuser better then the victim-survivor, not only are they stepping into dangerous territory (the topic of a future article) but it’s extremely offensive, invalidating and belittling to the victim-survivor.
The bottom line is that knowing a couple (or one of the partners) does not mean that you really KNOW them – your relationship to someone does NOT grant you expertise where their relationship with someone else is concerned. Had the victims not been killed, ALL of the comments made by family members, friends, neighbors, etc. would have been used against the victims as evidence to prove his non-abusiveness and as a reflection of “what a nice guy he really is”.