A tragedy occurred in the Sacramento Valley on Sept. 3, 2018.
Brad Wheat, a father and off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, reportedly killed his former partner, Mary Wheat, a mother and CrossFit coach. After wounding her boyfriend, Trae Debeaubien, Brad Wheat died by suicide. This was a devastating loss for the Wheat family and the close-knit Amador County community.
Heartbreaking events like this are not spur-of-the-moment. They are domestic violence: an abusive pattern taking away someone’s autonomy, controlling their behavior, chipping away at their self-esteem and limiting access to family and friends. Domestic violence affects an estimated 3.3 million Californians yearly as well as countless friends, family and community members.
Firearms are deadly in an abusive relationship. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns are responsible for 54% of homicides whose victims are women. Black women are the most likely to be killed by a firearm.
Despite being so common, domestic violence can and should be prevented. We must first refuse to accept it as normal.
The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence is focused on creating social change by listening to victims, survivors and advocates and by supporting domestic violence programs. One-size-fits-all solutions don’t exist.
In Amador County, Operation Care addresses the stresses of living in a rural community with few resources. Households are often isolated among large swaths of land, kids have nowhere to go other than school, cell service is unreliable, housing is scarce and many face homelessness.
The pandemic forced survivors to spend more time in dangerous conditions at home. This isolation and financial stress increased the risk of domestic violence. Communities throughout the nation are struggling with the ways COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities. It’s no wonder domestic violence calls increased more than 7% in a study of 14 major U.S. cities.
Organizations like Operation Care adapt to the unique needs of survivors and families. By supplying walkie-talkies, the team builds a connection with survivors who have no cell service. With its mediation program, the organization provides unconditional support to survivors who choose to stay in their relationship and want the violence to end. Advocates know that if they can reach survivors and create educational opportunities for the community, they can transform stigma and judgment into support and knowledge.
They need adequate funding and broader support for this to be successful.
People with social or political power have a unique responsibility to be active bystanders. It is unconscionable that the CHP returned Wheat’s firearm after discovering that he was a danger to his former partner. For long-term accountability to prevent future violence, peers must question the behavior of the person causing harm, which in turn may require self-reflection. They should have real and consistent conversations and be connected with resources to support behavioral change.
Members of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color take an approach called “healing together.” This includes discussing harmful norms about masculinity, addressing childhood exposure to domestic violence and preventing domestic violence before it occurs. Striving toward prevention has to be at the root because oppressive forces like racism, sexism and economic injustice create violent conditions.
The state’s Partnership to End Domestic Violence and other organizations have urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to make an ongoing $15 million commitment in the state budget to prevent sexual and domestic violence. Hanging in the balance are critical programs that provide young people with social and emotional learning and support.
Every single community has a domestic violence organization, but many lack the resources they need to be successful. Survivors must never forget that they are part of a beloved community and help is always available. To honor the memory of Mary Wheat and all victims of domestic violence, more Californians — including legislators — need to get involved.
Jessica Merrill is communications manager for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.