Expert explains the struggles of leaving an abusive relationship – WJFW-TV

No More Hiding

Domestic Violence Miller Still 7 30 21

Photo by WJFW Newswatch 12

Story By Georgina Fernandez
Local News Published 07/30/2021 3:27PM, Last Updated 07/30/2021 7:07PM
Northwoods – According to the 2019 Domestic Violence Homicide Report, 72 Wisconsin residents were killed due to domestic violence. Of those 72, 16 were in the process of either leaving their partner or had left. According to Jane Graham Jennings, the executive director of The Women’s Community Inc. in Wausau, the period after a victim leaves their abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous moments.

“When someone comes to us, it’s one of the worst moments of their life,” Graham Jennings said.

Graham Jennings has been working at the center for the past 25 years. She says each year her staff responds to 1,500 phone calls and assists 600 to 800 people annually. Many seek support during one of the most dangerous chapters in their lives.

“A majority of victims that are murdered are murdered after they leave the relationship,” Graham Jennings said.

According to Jennings, abusers in violent relationships feed on the power and control dynamic of the relationship.

“So when a victim says they are going to leave, they are saying you don’t have power over me anymore, and that’s a very dangerous time,” Graham Jennings said.

That dynamic can make leaving an abusive relationship difficult–a reality that Hannah Miller’s friends said she experienced.

“How do you leave someone who’s beating you? How do you leave someone who’s put a gun in your face before?” Lexy Hudson, a friend of Miller’s, said. “Because all you’re thinking about in that moment is survival.”

On June 30, Miller was found dead of a gunshot wound in the Township of Pelican. The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office is still looking for her suspected killer, her past partner, Christopher Anderson. Friends of Miller’s describe their relationship as abusive.

“He controlled all aspects of Hannah. What she ate, who she talked to,” Kelly Lee, a friend of Miller’s, said. “He would go through her phone and make sure she wasn’t saying anything to any of us that could potentially get him in trouble with the abuse.”

That type of controlling behavior is common according to Graham Jennings. She says not all abuse leaves behind physical evidence.

“[Victims] say sometimes I wish once they would have hit [me] so I could have shown someone ’cause it was so hard to believe,” Graham Jennings said.

Other tactics include:

  • Using coercion and threats
  • Using intimidation
  • Using emotional abuse
  • Using isolation
  • Minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • Using children
  • Using male privilege
  • Using economic abuse

The use of these tactics is not limited to the time frame of the relationship. According to Graham Jennings, abusive tactics can continue even after the relationship has ended, a situation that Miller’s friends say she also experienced.

“Her biggest fear was always ‘If I call the police, he gets arrested this time, he gets out, and comes back, and what is he going to do to me when he comes back?'” Ali Hoffein, a friend of Miller’s, said.

Graham Jennings says the abuser will often still attempt to control the victim after the relationship ends.

“And oftentimes perpetrators are thinking, ‘If I can’t have you, no one can,'” Graham Jennings said.

Graham Jennings says that belief can spark additional violence. A situation that Miller’s friends say, they believe applied to Miller as well.

“If he was watching her, he could see that she was going out with us, going out with friends,” Lee said. “That she felt secure for the first time. He knew she was relaxed and that she was vulnerable.”

Graham Jennings says those seeking to leave an abusive relationship should reach out to an advocate to help discuss and create a plan to help ensure their safety.