Why didn’t she just leave? Why didn’t she let police help?
Those questions may have been asked in the wake of a domestic violence incident in south Forsyth that left a mother and her two young sons dead and her 75-year-old father with multiple gunshot wounds, but family violence victim advocates say those are not the right questions to ask.
“Whenever we hear of loss of life due to domestic violence, we want to make sure that the victim is not blamed. These homicides are tragedies that are not caused by the victims,” said Jan Christiansen, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
When Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the home on Old Atlanta Road on Wednesday morning, they were made aware of the fact that units also responded the night before on reports of domestic violence.
When they arrived the evening of July 21, they were assured nothing was wrong.
There were no physical marks of aggression, and the 911 call was in reference to a verbal fight.
“When we respond and they say everything is fine and there are no bruises or signs of a struggle or marks, legally we’re limited in what we can do,” Forsyth County Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle said.
Less than 24 hours later, 37-year-old Rebecca Manning’s boyfriend, 32-year-old Matthew Fields, shot her and her 8- and 9-year-old sons Jared and Jacob Smith to death and critically wounded her father Jerry Manning. Fields then turned the gun on himself.
Domestic violence issues are “difficult,” Doyle said, and “unfortunately it’s very common.”
According to Adrianne Hamilton-Butler, director of development and communications for the coalition, victims take a number of facets into consideration when deciding whether to report their abuse or stay with their abuser.
Fear of retaliation is often the biggest concern that snuffs the rationale or courage it takes to leave, she said.
“The risk of this is quite high in situations where there is insufficient evidence to arrest the abusive partner or if the partner is released from jail on bond,” Hamilton-Butler said. “Even in the small percentage of cases where abusers are convicted of family violence, most convictions are misdemeanors and result in little to no time in jail.”
Jessica Butler, executive director of the Gateway Domesestic Violence Center in Hall County, has said making steps toward leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time for a victim.
For that reason, the center offers a 24-hour confidential crisis hotline at 770-536-5860, where victims can get help planning their move.
Violence in the home is not a rare occurrence, Hamilton-Butler said.
“The reality is that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Three million children annually witness domestic violence in their homes,” she said.
The murder of the Manning family is one of a few recent serious domestic violence incidents in the area.
On July 8, Erin Niccole Jones, a 28-year-old Forsyth County 911 communications officer, was shot to death by her 43-year-old live-in boyfriend at their home on Maple Hill Drive in downtown Dawsonville. They had two young children together.
Kathy Giaquinta Smith, the ex-wife of former Habersham County deputy Anthony Giaquinta, and her close friend Steven Thomas Singleton were found dead in February at a Clarkesville home following what authorities have said they believe is a “long-simmering domestic dispute” between the divorced couple.
Hamilton-Butler said Georgia ranks ninth in the country in the number of women killed by men in 2014.
“Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer,” said Shandra Dawkins, new executive director of Forsyth County Family Haven, a local domestic violence shelter. “It doesn’t care who you are, your race, color, creed, sexual orientation, religion or socio-economic background.”
Victims may fear they will not be able to support themselves and their families financially if they leave or if their partner is incarcerated. Or that they will lose custody of their children if such matters are brought to light.
The shame of being a victim keeps many silent, too, she said. Some even blame themselves for getting into the situation and refuse to talk to people about a “private family matter.”
Gateway Domestic Violence Center
Confidential, 24-hour hotline: 770-536-5860