The Hard Truth about Domestic Violence

The facts are startling: one in four women will be abused in her lifetime

I hope it won’t surprise anyone that this magazine is checked for accuracy from cover to cover. From opinion columns to restaurant listings to articles on travel, health and the arts, our smart and capable college interns, with oversight by our editors, call, email and search online to double check the facts. We’ll miss some, to be sure, and typos here and there are inevitable, but the goal is always to maintain high standards because what are we without our reputation? Just another glossy, overpriced rag on the newsstands, and that’s just not our style.

Every now and then, we publish stories that require editors themselves to take on the duties of fact-checking. It’s certainly not that we lack trust in our interns; it’s that the nature of the information is such that we feel it’s in the best interest of the reader, as well as the people, places and ideas profiled in the piece, to handle with great care. Interns need experience, but they certainly don’t need egg on their face—at least not giant eggs. For example, I elected to fact-check last May’s story on state politics (“The Walker Effect”) by Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz. That the story was controversial—and the topics covered sensitive—is an understatement. With stakes as high as they were last spring, and with the whole world watching, it simply demanded the attention of a paid professional. (And, boy, did I earn my paycheck on that one.)

A similar scenario unfolded in this month’s issue. This time the issue we cover is domestic violence—because October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and because it’s a serious and sensitive topic affecting the lives of one in four women here in Dane County and in every other county in the country. Once again, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz offers up a poignant and insightful piece on why women in abusive relationships have trouble leaving their abuser. It turns out a key reason is because when they attempt to separate, they—or their children and pets—are more likely to be harmed, even killed. And it’s not simply a supposition, it’s a fact. I know this, because I checked it, along with every other detail large and small in Ginsberg-Schutz’s remarkable portrait of two women who were abused by their partners, one who made it out alive and one who didn’t.

It’s a difficult story to read, and to fact-check, but an even more difficult story to tell if you are Lisa Judd Blanchard, who recounted the events that led to the evening of December 3, 2009, when she discovered that her sister Tracy and her niece Deja had been murdered that morning, as well as her exhaustive search for clues to help her understand how and why. The other voice in our story, “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” is Julie Rook Schebig, who answers that question for us in excruciating detail right down to the moments she was strangled, beaten and left for dead on August 19, 2009.

Thankfully, both Blanchard and Schebig have become highly sought-after community resources and advocates for battered women, survivors and their loved ones as well as law enforcement, legislators and you and me. They have chosen to share their stories with new police recruits, victims’ rights advocates, law students, school-age kids, magazine readers and more to, among other things, belabor the important point that this problem is not a “woman’s issue.” It is an epidemic (remember the one-in-four statistic), not to mention a huge burden (financial and otherwise) on our legal system. It’s also a unique problem in that it can only be solved by heightened awareness of the signs of abuse and scrutiny of the perpetrators, who thrive on fear, isolation, misperceptions and anonymity to silence their victims.

This wasn’t the only time I’ve cried in the middle of fact-checking an article. The first was years ago while speaking with a woman who’d been shot in the head and survived to go on to speak out about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. Talking to breast cancer survivors always brings me to tears. It’s a little embarrassing but I’ve come to think of my emotional reaction to the more painful facts of life as a reminder to myself to be thankful, hug my dear ones, and to find ways large and small to be part of the solution.

 Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

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