The disheartening outcomes and tragedies that result from episodes of domestic violence are often the result of family and friends members enabling the behavior involved in the situation by engaging in minimization and denial of the circumstances and surrounding facts. Consequently, by their actions and words, family and friends of the victims enable the perpetrated violence. These strategies seem to be demonstrated in the case that involved the death of Daniel Kerrigan, the father of the well-known Olympic ice skater and medalist, Nancy Kerrigan.
On Jan. 24, Nancy s brother, Mark Kerrigan, 45, also the son of Daniel Kerrigan, 70, allegedly became combative toward his father when he refused to allow him to use the telephone. With apparent anger, Mark allegedly put his hands around his father s neck and reportedly engaged in an aggressive physical confrontation. During the struggle, Mr. Kerrigan fell to the floor.
Mr. Kerrigan s injuries resulted in neck compression so severe that his windpipe was damaged, and he subsequently died. When police arrived at the family home in Massachusetts, they discovered Mr. Kerrigan passed out on a kitchen floor marred by bloodstains. Mark claimed to police officers on scene that his father was faking his unresponsive condition. Seemingly intoxicated, Mark was pepper sprayed by police when he became pugnacious.
It is not uncommon for police officers to encounter resistant individuals following an incident but especially one of domestic violence when emotions are running high. Oftentimes, the suspect of a crime will try to divert attention, sway opinion, and manipulate the situation in order to avoid arrest. Such actions may be enhanced when the individual is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Law enforcement officers must be particularly vigilant under these circumstances and instantaneously ready to react because the risk to their personal safety is significantly heightened. Domestic violence incidents are one of the most dangerous types of police calls for service.
Prior to his death, it was a known fact that Mr. Kerrigan had several health conditions including hypertension and cardiac dysrthythmia. An autopsy report from the Massachusetts chief medical examiner ruled Mr. Kerrigan s death a homicide and indicated the assault that occurred caused the victim to go into cardiac arrest resulting in his death. Mark has a criminal history that includes domestic assault coupled with a period of incarceration and previous substance abuse problems.
Following Mr. Kerrigan s sudden death, both the victim s wife, Brenda, and his daughter, Nancy, rejected the notion that Mark s actions were criminal in nature to the point of contributing to his father s death. Amidst their initial shock and subsequent grief over their loved one s death, they rallied to support Mark in an effort to dissuade any suggestion that a crime had been committed. Their efforts to stand behind Mark with an apparent goal of protecting him are an illustration of common tactics employed in domestic violence situations. For law enforcement officers who observe this behavior repeatedly, it becomes easy for them to develop cynical attitudes about domestic violence calls.
Both Brenda and Nancy refuted the authoritative finding of the medical examiner and contended that Mr. Kerrigan s death was the result of his underlying health conditions. Their demonstration of support was an obvious effort to dissuade any accusatory finger pointing that could lead to potentially serious legal charges for their family member. By failing to acknowledge or hold Mark accountable for his behavior, their actions were an attempt to protect him and defray any potential harmful consequences that could ensue.
Typically, in situations similar to this, there has been a history of problems within the family that may include alcohol and/or drug issues and/or anger issues that lead to abusive and assaultive behaviors. It s not uncommon for this behavior to be confined within the family realm without reporting it and without seeking outside assistance. It s not unusual for problems within the family sphere to remain hidden by a code of silence due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, humiliation and the need for outside respect and admiration. By maintaining a cloak of secrecy, the reality of what is transpiring within the family arena isn t depicted, and a false sense of normalcy is presented to others. However, like a time bomb waiting to go off, internal problems build over time. If not properly acknowledged and combined with a realization that immediate and vital intervention of some sort must occur, the dysfunction explodes with pernicious consequences.
The love concept becomes entwined in the complexity of issues that arise within a family circle embraced with abusive behavior and violence. For many, the valid definition of love becomes blurred to the point that its meaning is lost when the maintenance of dysfunction takes precedence over the tough choice of taking a position to hold the abuser accountable.
In the multi-faced aspects of their role as law enforcement officers, they strive for accountability. Consequently, it can be extremely frustrating for them to be at the scene of a crime or conducting an interview in the aftermath to discover that witnesses, family members, or other close associations choose to disengage and not do their part to hold the suspect accountable.
The emotional tug of war that challenges each individual within the family unit can place tremendous pressure on each one of them to conform to other family members desires. As a result, preservation of the status quo only serves to reinforce the violent behavior that may already exist within the family. The pressure to step outside the box and advocate alternatives for the family unit before the violent tendencies explode into a crisis and potentially deadly situation -- similar to the Kerrigan incident -- can be overwhelmingly difficult for some to even attempt. Rather than risk blame and disapproval by other family members, it s easier to enable the behavior by adhering to other family members wishes and to seal tight uniformity within the family unit.
Individual family members may, in their own way, repress any doubts they may have, suppress their confused state of emotions, and proceed to survive the best they can within an abnormal situation. For those on the outside looking in, the family appears to be, for the most part, intact. Friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others may have no inclination that problems exist within the family. They assume that everything is under control based on the public fa ade that is maintained. Thus, when an event of family violence erupts and results in a devastating outcome, the shock can be tremendous.
The death of Mr. Kerrigan is a tragedy and one that has great impact due to its sudden and violent nature, the involvement of the victim s own son, and the lasting repercussions that affect his wife and daughter. Though Mrs. Kerrigan and her daughter, Nancy, sprang to the defense of Mark in the aftermath of this horrible event and dispute the finding that a homicide occurred, their actions reflect the tendencies of abusive families. The minimization, denial and subsequent enabling behavior they have seemingly employed will only serve to enhance the difficulties they confront in dealing with the genuine significance and reality of their loss.