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'Til death do us part'... literally

Van Zandt: Every year, three-quarters of a million Americans report that they were the victim of some kind of non-fatal domestic violence, while about eight million people report they were involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships.

Kyle Piry, the ex-fiancée of former Illinois police officer Drew Peterson, knew something was wrong with her relationship so she broke off their engagement prior to marriage, she said in an .  She had seen some of the danger signs of an abusive individual, but had chosen to ignore them and push them to the back of her mind.  After all, Peterson said she was an attractive and fun person to be around.

He apparently liked what he saw, and was about to make Piry wife number two when the engagement ended.  Peterson didn’t just take “no” for an answer. When she went to his residence to recover some personal belongings, Piry says “he pushed me over a table and pinned me to the floor.” He later stalked her and used his authority as a police officer to pull her over and write her tickets for things like bald tires.  Piry also accused Peterson of trumping up charges against her for excess parking tickets, tickets she said she never received, and then arrested her for this phony offense.  Her complaints and pleas to Peterson’s police department went unanswered, what some suggest was an inbred policy of giving this police officer a pass on domestic complaints against him.

All of this occurred almost 25 years ago, and Piry is now left to consider the fate of Peterson wife number three, Kathleen Savio, whose 2004 “accidental” death has been called a homicide by at least one noted forensic expert; and wife number four, Stacy Peterson, whose disappearance a month ago has led the Illinois State Police to consider it a possible homicide with ex-police officer Peterson their most viable suspect.

Drew Peterson is accused of stalking and abusing his former fiancée, abusing his second, third and fourth wives, and suspected in the death of Savio and the disappearance of his current wife, a women he met, dated and impregnated when she was a teenager and he was still married to Savio. The danger signs were probably all around, but the women in his life all made the same mistake, perhaps a fatal mistake, by ignoring these signs.

Every year, three-quarters of a million Americans report that they were the victim of some kind of non-fatal domestic violence, while about eight million people report they were involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships.  Some, like Piry, see the danger signs and run from the relationship before marriage or children, while others become emotionally chained to someone who abuses them on a regular basis.  Fully one-third of all women experience one or more physical assaults by a partner and, on the average, four women are murdered by a partner or former partner every day.  While women can and do abuse their male partners, they are 10 times more likely to be assaulted by their partner or spouse, and can bear the emotional and physical scars from an abusive relationship for years afterwards.

While the United States represents about thirty percent of the female population among the 25 highest income countries, these same women represent seventy percent of all female homicide victims, with such women far more likely than their male counterparts to be killed in their home.  Although no one can say with absolute certainty which domestic partner will become physically abusive, there are certain signs, characteristics and indicators that should provide some early warning sign that the relationship will not be without emotional and probably physical trauma.

Early warning signs of an abusive spouse or partner:

  • History of abuse as a child.
  • History of verbal or physical abuse of parents, family, and friends and even pets.
  • History of acts of vandalism or other crimes, especially those of violence against others.
  • Lack of a positive male role model in the home, or the presence of an abusive male or female authority figure in the early or formative years.
  • Exhibits a violent temper along with poor conflict resolution skills.
  • Needs always to be in control of situations and those closest to him.
  • Is usually jealous and may spy on you, your friends and your family.
  • If male, he may view pornographic materials and may spend hours on the Internet without allowing you to see what he is into.
  • Abuses alcohol or exhibits other kinds of substance abuse.                
  • Has a very low or especially high self-image; if male, a “macho” man, possibly connected to his physical stature, or his educational or professional background or occupation.
  • Is unable to talk about or discuss his personal feelings.
  • Insensitive to the feelings of others — does not feel your pain.
  • Lies frequently, many times for no apparent reason.
  • Cannot admit to guilt or responsibility in any situation.

What to do if these signs are noticed
Knowing these and other early warning signs can help you screen out those who could be abusive in a personal relationship.  Non-abusive individuals may also exhibit some of these characteristics at various points in their lives, but with less frequency, severity, and duration than the truly abusive individual.

Indicators of emotional challenges that could lead up to homicidal behavior are usually present to some degree, but are intentionally overlooked, foolishly disregarded, or perhaps simply missed by the victims of spousal homicide.  Who, after all, wants to admit that the person they trust most with their life is the person who may take that same life in a moment of panic, frustration, anger, rage, or calculated stupidity?  No one who marries usually expects to be murdered by the one closest to them.  But for hundreds of women on a yearly basis, the one they trust the most commits the ultimate betrayal.

The end of many marriage vows includes the phrase, “until death do us part.”  Few understand that this vow can sometimes suggest a lethal form of separation, and the most severe statement about your life that someone so close to you could ever make.  If you are considering a new relationship, know the early warning signs of an abuser and avoid him or her like the winter flu.  If you are already in such a relationship, or know someone who is, seek help and assistance.  The abuse will not cure itself.  It will not go away, and it will definitely hurt you emotionally and might even kill you.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His web site, provides readers with security-related information.