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Domestic violence cases a vexing problem

Oct. 24, 2012

On Oct. 8, Zina Haughton, 42, filed for a temporary restraining order against her estranged husband.

"His threats terrorize my every waking moment," she said.

The order was granted by the family division of Milwaukee County Circuit Courts and prohibited Radcliffe Haughton from having any contact with his wife. He was also prohibited from owning any firearms, yet he bought one two days later.

He used it to gun down seven women at Asana Salon and Spa in Brookfield on Sunday, killing three of them, including Zina Haughton, before killing himself. Co-workers Cary Robuck, 35, of Racine and Maelyn Lind, 38, of Merton were also killed that Sunday.

Turbulent history

It's not the first time that the state recognized a domestic dispute between the two. In 2011, he was charged with one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, modified charge of domestic abuse, but the case was dismissed when Zina Haughton failed to appear in court. The Brown Deer Police Department is still trying to sort out details from that first incident.

"What happened on Sunday - it's unimaginable that something that so terrible can happen. It's something we can't predict," said Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel.

"(A restraining order) really is a piece of paper, and its effectiveness is going to be proportional to the individual who receives it," Schimel said. He pointed out that mental issues, problems with alcohol and anger issues can make a restraining order ineffective because the individual is no longer thinking rationally.

Stricter sentencing, such as jail time, fines or GPS device installation, are only prompted by further violations of restraining orders or steeper charges to begin with - other misdemeanors and felonies. For example, those stricter measures would be enacted if a domestic abuser is simultaneously charged with disorderly conduct, battery or jumping bail.

In 2011, 873 domestic violent incidents were referred to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office, according to Schimel's office. There are 757 referrals in 2012 so far.

Help for victims

While the District Attorney's Office offers the victim witness assistance staff to help women through tes process, it is ultimately up to the individual to follow through. Schimel said that it's not at all unusual for the victim to recant their statements or withdraw their charges.

He pointed out that domestic violence cases are different from, say, armed robbery, because the victim can feel like they're being punished alongside the perpetrator, especially when they are in a relationship or have a family together. After all, if an abuser needs to pay for a lawyer, post bail or stop seeing his or her children, that financial and emotional burden still falls on the entire family.

"It's the most complicated thing that we deal with, and no two are the same. We can't tell who won't continue - who will turn completely around - and which ones will escalate," Schimel said.

Diane Ripple, director of programs and services at The Women's Center in Waukesha, said that restraining orders are just one service available to victims of domestic violence. She said they are effective in most cases.

The Women's Center serves Waukesha County through domestic violence counseling, sexual assault/abuse counseling, legal advocacy, emergency shelter or transitional living, employment and family support. It is part of the coordinated community response to domestic violence (Waukesha Intervention Project or WIP) which consists of victims' service providers, the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office, local law enforcement officers and other local agencies.

State statistics

Wisconsin observed 34 domestic homicides, plus six perpetrator suicides, in 2011, according to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. While Waukesha County did not have any domestic homicides in 2011, it's obviously still a problem.

For example, The Women's Center receives 6,500 calls per year on its 24-hour crisis line, (262) 542-3828. Law enforcement officers referred 538 victims to the center last year alone. To date, they have helped 92 women obtain temporary restraining orders in Waukesha County this year, and Ripple said that a "critical piece" of that process includes safety planning with the victim.

"After a tragedy like the one on Sunday, it is important for people to remember the victims, and, while it is natural to want to understand the tragedy through their eyes, it is also a time to shed light on the abusers and the tactics of power and control they exert over their victims. (It's also time) to ask why someone who had a restraining order against him was able to acquire a gun so easily in the short time between the injunction being granted and the shooting on Sunday," Ripple said.

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