Domestic Violence in the Suburbs

Domestic Violence in the Suburbs

“…Domestic abuse affects people across all socioeconomic lines.” - Janee' Hanzlick

The situation: A man shot and killed his wife – and then he shot himself. It happened on July 31, 2017 in their Prairie Brook neighborhood home in the wealthy Kansas City suburb of Olathe City in Johnson County, Kansas. In the domestic violence and sexual assault world, we recognize this situation as a classic case of intimate partner violence, which (in a heterosexual relationship) is when one partner, usually the man, uses tactics and physical and sexual violence to gain power and control over his partner, the woman. The tactics and violence by the man, the perpetrator, can culminate in serious injury and murder (homicide) of the woman. The period of time in which a perpetrator is most likely to murder their partner (committing homicide) is when the partner tries to separate from him or after the separation occurs. So, when this homicide-suicide in the affluent, or very wealthy, neighborhood of Prairie Brook, Olathe, went public, it had many people in the community, including the perpetrator (the man’s) and the partner’s (the woman’s) families asking questions. How could this happen in a wealthy neighborhood? To the community, the couple seemed happy.

To address these questions, CEO and President of SAFEHOME KS (SAFEHOME) Janee’ Hanzlick wrote the following article, which was published as an op-ed in the Kansas City Star newspaper on August 15, 2017. SAFEHOME is one of 27 Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) coalition member organizations across the state of Kansas. SAFEHOME directly serves victims and survivors in the northeastern Kansas counties, Johnson County and Miami County.

Although we highlight this wealthy, suburban demographic and area in this particular blog post, domestic abuse can happen to people regardless of race, gender, sex, ethnicity, geography, appearance, relationship, status, or stature. And that idea (that domestic violence can happen to anyone) reinforces our mention of this suburban homicide-suicide and Janee’ Hanzlick’s writing addressing it, because when some people think of domestic violence and sexual assault, they do not often think of victims who have a lot of money, wealth or means. In the words of KCSDV Rural Sexual Assault Project Manager Shirley Fessler, “Domestic violence doesn’t care where you live.”

Domestic abuse lives in the suburbs, too

By Janee' Hanzlick, President and CEO of SAFEHOME, Inc., Special to The Star

AUGUST 15, 2017 8:30 PM

As our community struggles to comprehend the recent murder-suicide in Olathe that took the life of Amy Shaffer Mabion and shattered the lives of her three children, one of the questions people often ask is, “How can something like this happen in Johnson County with its lovely suburban homes, treed parks, award-winning schools and upper middle-class families?”

As the President and CEO of SAFEHOME, Johnson County’s domestic violence agency, I frequently encounter the misunderstanding that domestic violence happens only to people who are underprivileged, homeless or uneducated. In reality, domestic abuse affects people across all socioeconomic lines, including upper middle-class families in surburbia.

Wealth, education and status don’t inoculate people against abuse. SAFEHOME has served victims from Leawood to Gardner, and Shawnee to Mission Hills. We’ve had clients who arrive in luxury cars and have six-figure salaries, as well clients who have been living in cars and have no income.

They all come for the same reason — to stop domestic violence in their lives.

Dr. Susan Weitzman, founder of the Weitzman Center, an advocacy organization that raises awareness about what she calls “upscale abuse,” points out that upscale victims are often reluctant to seek help. They are ashamed and embarrassed and fear being shunned and blamed. They have been taught that it is inappropriate to involve the police and others in their “personal problems.”

Sprawling homes on large lots make it less likely that neighbors or friends will witness or report the abuse. The victim’s partner may have the financial means to hire a skilled attorney to defend the abusive actions. In addition, family, friends and even educated professionals may take the abuse lightly and minimize the victim’s concerns.

The hallmark of upscale abuse is silence. Upscale victims may feel pressure to maintain the charade of the perfect family and fear that people won’t believe them. They may go to great pains to hide the abuse and, as a result, may experience a deep sense of aloneness.

They want to protect the financial well-being of their children, but they may decide to leave if the children are threatened. Even when the victim leaves, the abuse may continue through financial deprivation, expensive legal action and ongoing custody issues.

If someone you know is in an abusive situation, upscale or not, there are ways to help. You can:

  • believe them,
  • express your concerns about their safety,
  • encourage them to call SAFEHOME's 24-hour confidential crisis line (913-262-2868) or the metro area domestic violence hotline (816-HOTLINE/468-5463), and
  • stand by them, even if you may not understand or agree with their decisions.

All of SAFEHOME's services are completely confidential and at no charge. You don’t have to provide your name or contact information to receive help.

Understanding that domestic violence happens even in upscale homes is the first step to stopping the violence in our community. More information can be found at www.safehome-ks.org.

Janee’ M. Hanzlick is President and CEO of SAFEHOME in Johnson County, Kansas.


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call a domestic violence or sexual assault organization in Kansas near you or contact national resources that are available to you.

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