We have both survived unimaginable violence. In fact, we met through our shared passion for gun control activism. In the many years we fought together to tighten our nation’s gun laws, an unbreakable bond between us formed. We see this happen often among gun violence survivors — on the surface our stories appear very different — but as we become closer, we find comfort, friendship, and sisterhood in our many similarities.
Kate is a survivor of domestic and gun violence. Her abusive ex-husband shot her and her father in 2012. Kate’s then four-year-old son witnessed the shooting. Miraculously, everyone survived, and Kate’s ex was sentenced to 60 years in prison. She wrote a book, Killing Kate, about her experience. Kate is a public figure in advocacy and activism against domestic violence. She has been through hell, but she has worked to put her life back together and continues to speak truth to power about violence against womxn.
Rachael is a survivor of childhood sexual assault and gun violence. She survived multiple sexual assaults at age five. No arrests were ever made. When Rachael was 25 years old, her aunt Shelley was murdered in a courthouse shooting at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, MN. Shelley’s attorney was also shot in the neck at point-blank range that day and survived with a paralyzed vocal cord. Rachael became a gun control activist following her aunt Shelley’s murder. As she spent more time with other victim-survivors in the gun control movement, she discovered the vast gap in services for gun violence survivors, especially those fresh in their trauma. In 2018, Rachael founded Survivors Lead to assist victim-survivors of gun violence in navigating the bureaucracy and aftermath of surviving a shooting or having someone you love stolen by gun violence.
One thing we were surprised to find were the similarities between the shooters who’d inflicted this hell upon our families. The woman who murdered Rachael’s aunt Shelley was a distant cousin with a history of bizarre behavior. She harassed and stalked individuals and organizations her entire life. She used the legal system to file over 200 pieces of frivolous legal action against Shelley until she was finally banned from filing by Ramsey County Courts and declared a frivolous litigant. That didn’t stop Shelley’s shooter from traveling to neighboring Hennepin County to file another frivolous claim. She utilized the gun show loophole to purchase a firearm without a background check. She was later diagnosed a psychopath with schizoid tendencies.
Kate also described escalating anger, lack of emotions and empathy, and compulsive lying as characteristics of her shooter. He used his history of military service to manipulate systems, if Kate ever tried to defend herself. He continued isolating her from her family and friends…demanding all of her time and attention. Because of lax Florida gun laws, Kate’s violent ex was able to legally purchase the firearm he used to shoot her and her father. We learned that both individuals were psychopaths — completely lacking conscience.
We felt it was important during the global COVID-19 pandemic to share our stories. The fact is, for many individuals under stay-at-home orders, home is the most terrifying, unsafe place to be right now. We recognize that these orders are absolutely necessary to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. However, many individuals are now trapped in their homes with an abusive partner or an abusive family member.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stated last week, “I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plan to COVID-19.” Unfortunately, the United States has not. The Senate won’t even consider renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) under Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s “leadership.”
Shelter-in-place orders and widespread business closures are likely to go on for an extended period. This means that many risk factors for violence within families such as unemployment, financial stressors, and reduced community resources will have a devastating impact on families experiencing violence in their homes. This risk will extend outside of the home as well — 20% of victims in domestic violence-related homicides are not the intimate partner but rather a neighbor, family member, friend, bystander, or first responder.
In addition, many governors have failed to prevent access to lethal means by issuing executive orders to close gun stores as non-essential during this already dangerous time. There is also a serious and potentially lethal lack of shelter space for those experiencing violence. Even general shelter options for those experiencing homelessness are full, so if you are able to escape a violent home life, you will likely have nowhere to go. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted devastating gaps in services for victim-survivors and exacerbated the strain on already overloaded systems.
Even as longtime advocates who know these systems personally (and all too well), we are having difficulty predicting just how survivors will experience COVID-19 — and that is a pandemic in itself.
If you are experiencing violence in your home, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline via text or call at 1–800–799–7233. If you have experienced sexual assault, please reach out to RAINN at 1–800–656–4673 and for those experiencing human trafficking, please contact Polaris at 1–888–373–7888. If you are a gun violence victim-survivor who would like to connect with other survivors, please visit Survivors Lead.
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