Prior to being arrested for allegedly killing his son, Phillip Hernandez had a long history of domestic violence that resulted in serious injury, ("Suspect has disturbing past," Our Region, March 1).
In line with our society's twisted norm, the sentences he received for those assaults were a fraction of what he would have received if he had committed the same crimes against a stranger.
According to Legal Momentum, approximately two-thirds of reported domestic violence incidents are classified as "simple assault," making the attack a misdemeanor rather than a felony. But as many as half of these "simple assaults" result in physical injuries that are as serious or more serious than 90 percent of all rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. Furthermore, one-third of women murdered in the United States are killed by a domestic partner, and 60 percent of children 5 and under who are murdered are killed by a parent. (Although men assaulting women is the most common situation statistically, domestic violence can be perpetrated by either gender.)
In light of Hernandez's arrest in the brutal murder of his son, it is natural to ask, "How could he allegedly do such a thing?"
I have a different set of "why" questions:
Given the statistics about domestic violence, why are crimes perpetrated against family members still treated as though they are less serious than crimes perpetrated against strangers?
Why are people with a history of serious violence toward family members granted unsupervised contact with children, let alone shared custody?
Through such custody arrangements, victims are forced to endanger themselves and their children by remaining in contact with abusers who have often terrorized them and threatened their lives.
People who have been abused are at the highest risk for murder after they take steps to leave. If the victim does manage to get away, the children in these custody arrangements remain as perpetual hostages, the single most effective weapon that the perpetrator can still use against the victim.
Murder is only the most extreme form of vengeance in these cases; emotional abuse, threats and manipulation are far more common methods of revenge that do untold damage to the children in those situations.
"Why?" is a great question, but let's not limit ourselves to asking why a perpetrator acts as he or she does. Ask why we as a society continue to enable them through lenient sentences and shared custody for perpetrators of serious violence, despite years of evidence that such policies can lead to murder.
Kathy Campbell is a marriage and family therapist in private practice who frequently works with abuse survivors.