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'It hits home for us': The Women's Center of Waukesha executive director addresses connection between domestic abuse and acts of mass violence

WAUKESHA, WI - NOVEMBER 23: Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha Wisconsin left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street in downtown November 22, 2021 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Five people were left dead after a person driving an S.U.V. entered the parade route and proceeded to strike dozens of people. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)
Jim Vondruska
Getty Images North America
Memorials placed along Main Street in downtown Waukesha left in areas where people were hit by a driver plowing into the Christmas parade on Main Street in downtown Waukesha, Wis., on Nov. 21, 2021.

On Nov. 21, a driver careened through the Waukesha Christmas parade, killing six people and wounding more than 60 — many of them children.

Darrell Brooks Jr., the man arrested and charged in the incident, was leaving the scene of a domestic dispute that had taken place just minutes before he drove into the parade route, according to Waukesha Police. Brooks also has a pending case against him alleging that he deliberately hit the mother of his child with a car in early November after a fight.

The connection between people who use violence against current and former partners and those who commit acts of mass violence, like mass shootings or what took place in Waukesha, is well-documented. One analysis found that 60% of mass shootings that took place over a six year period were domestic violence attacks or committed by men with histories of domestic abuse.

Given the suspect’s history, this event has particularly impacted The Women’s Center of Waukesha, which serves people impacted by domestic abuse and much more. Executive Director Angela Mancuso says that she and her staff are devastated and grieving right along with their community.

"It's hard when a mass tragedy happens in your community, and then of course for us at The Women's Center... we're the only agency providing services and advocacy to the extent that we do with our comprehensive programs to survivors of domestic violence. It, of course, literally hits home for us," Mancuso says.

"As an agency we are grieving and we are mourning and we have also recognized we have a lot of work that we have to continue to do."

When Mancuso found out the details about the suspect's history with domestic abuse, she said she felt more frustration than surprise.

"Of course, any time someone's going to work to exact conscious harm on numerous individuals is surprising. But again, what we know about domestic violence offenders and abusers, it becomes pretty frustrating," Mancuso says.

"At what point are we going to take domestic violence — intimate partner violence — seriously when the correlation between domestic abuse and other violent crimes can be so clear?"
Angela Mancuso, executive director of The Women's Center

An event like the Waukesha parade unfortunately only cements that partner violence is a community issue, not a private one.

"This is another area where there needs to be a lot more conversations around ... we need to have appropriate interventions for domestic violence abusers and offenders," Mancuso says.

Mancuso says everyone should follow the simple rule of, "if you see something, say something."

During the pandemic, many people were isolated at home, which caused reports of domestic abuse to rise from neighbors who noticed domestic violence situations in their community.

>>: Listen MKE: Exploring Why Domestic Abuse Is On The Rise Since The Pandemic Began

"That's what we want all the time, not just when you're remanded to your house because of a global pandemic," notes Mancuso. "Domestic violence is still very much considered a private matter, but it has been proven time and time again that it can easily spill into other areas of society. It's abusers taking their power and control issues to the streets."

She notes the psychology of linking U.S. mass shooters to domestic violence would not be different from the psychology of what happened in Waukesha. "There's strong, well-documented, statistical correlation between perpetrators of domestic violence and those who go on to commit murders and other violent crime, gender-based crime, intimate partner violence," Mancuso says.

Research has not confirmed a causal relationship of domestic violence perpetrators going on to commit acts of mass violence, but there is one key common characteristic according to Mancuso: a history of violence against women.

In Wisconsin, the fatal shooting at the Azana Spa in Brookfield 2012 was another incident tied to repeated domestic disputes. Other mass shootings such as Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Pulse Nightclub were all committed by men with a history of violence against women.

Domestic violence is still very much considered a private matter, but it has been proven time and time again that it can easily spill into other areas of society. It's abusers taking their power and control issues to the streets.
Angela Mancuso, executive director of The Women's Center

"One thing, though, is that domestic violence is a predictable crime, and domestic violence can predict other kinds of behaviors. But what is unpredictable is not every abuser is going to be a mass killer, and that's the hard part," Mancuso says.

She says this is where the community needs to actively address both parts of the domestic violence equation to make sure that there are appropriate interventions for abusers and perpetrators.

"We tend to focus always on the victim, but let's not forget that for every victim that The Women's Center is working with there's an abuser... For domestic violence abuser and offenders, it's not a light switch that you can turn on and off," Mancuso notes. "Just as victims need help and support and resources, the same can be said for abusers and offenders. There needs to be interventions and resources and services available to abusers and offenders long before they get to this point."

Since the deadly parade attack, The Women's Center has been working with clients to talk through what's happened and work on safety planning in their own lives. Mancuso says with the holidays coming up there's a lot of emotions and stressors added to victims of domestic and intimate partner violence in general.

"Then you throw in COVID-19 and a mass tragedy — it is weighing a lot. So we're doing everything that we can with our clients with our resources and then we're gonna have to bring in some outside resources for our staff to be able to continue to have the resolve and the strength to keep at this," Mancuso says.

Right now, Mancuso says the biggest thing The Women's Center needs from the greater community is awareness and to spread the word that there are resources available for victims and abusers.

"We have to start talking about this. Domestic violence happens every single day ... this is the reality. Everyone knows someone who's been affected by domestic violence — everyone. And domestic violence is going to continue unless it's interrupted in some way," Mancuso says.


Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. If you or someone you know is facing domestic abuse, please use these resources:

For more information on batterers treatment and intervention programs in the Milwaukee-area, you can visit the Alma Center & Nevermore Batterers Treatment from the Milwaukee Women's Center.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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