After two high-profile domestic violence cases have gripped the Morgan community in the past year, efforts to protect victims in abusive relationships are becoming increasingly important.
News of the November 2011 murder-suicide deaths of Grant Wadman and his wife Marilee Clark Wadman in Porterville appeared on television newscasts as well as in many newspapers throughout the state. Morgan County law enforcement had responded to many domestic disturbances at the Wadman home in the two years preceding their deaths.
Family members on both sides warned the couple about the danger of the relationship. After the deaths of their loved ones, both families offered condolences to the other and asked for donations to local domestic violence programs.
Almost a year later, the Franich family has had to deal with a similar situation of putting a loved one to rest after deadly domestic violence.
“I could almost handle losing a child to a brain tumor or car accident,” said Jessie Franich. “It would be easier than this one,” she said of her daughter Marnie.
Marnie Franich Stark, a Morgan native, died Oct. 20 in Ogden. Her live-in boyfriend, Jeffrey Dene White, was arrested five days later, booked for first degree felony murder and two counts of third degree felony charges of commission of domestic violence in the presence of a child.
Rana Franich Aguirre, Marnie’s sister, calls White a “renegade” son of a former Ogden policeman who recently became affiliated with a biker gang.
While the family is bracing for years of court action against White in connection with Marnie’s untimely death, they are also issuing words of advice to families and friends of domestic violence victims.
Both Marnie’s mother said friends and family members of domestic violence victims should never give up.
“Don’t give up. You can’t stop trying,” Aguirre said.
However, those helping victims have a very fine line to walk. Balancing on that tight rope is often very difficult and something Aguirre calls “delicate.”
The more a helper reaches out, the more the victim may push the helper away and grow closer to the perpetrator. Through that cycle, the helper still needs to maintain a level of trust with the victim. Sometimes, that means simply jumping whenever the victim calls out for help.
“If the victim calls, don’t wait. Go right away,” Aguirre said. “Take a cry for help as gospel.”
Although outsiders simply think a victim should leave, they must realize it just isn’t that easy.
“It’s such a twisted, manipulative love,” Aguirre said. “But to the victim, it’s still love. It’s like an addiction.”
And like an addiction, it’s difficult to quit cold turkey. The temptation to return is often too overwhelming.
“If you find the strength to leave, don’t go back,” Aguirre advised victims.
Domestic violence becomes extremely exacerbated when substance abuse is intertwined, Aguirre said. Getting out of a violent relationship is easier before substance abuse is involved, she said.
To those who suspect their loved one is involved in an abusive relationship, Aguirre and Franich say trust your gut and look for warning signs. In their case, Marnie making up excuses why she could not attend family functions, social events or work were some of the first signs.
“It rapidly went downhill,” Aguirre said. “She didn’t want to be with any of her formers. She abandoned childhood friends.”
In such instances, the victim could be trying to hide wounds and bruises. At the same time, the perpetrator wants the victim to feel alienated and increasingly dependent on their abuser.
“The perpetrator wants to keep them away from help,” Aguirre said. “They want to make those who are helpful out to be the bad guys.”
And more often than not, White made Aguirre out to be the enemy.
Marnie’s mother said she would rather have been the bad guy and have her daughter still alive.
“If I had it to do again, I would drag her out by the hair of her head,” Franich said. “I would rather not get along with her for a couple of years and patch it up later.”
The time to act definitively is when the signs of abuse become visible, Franich said.
“If you see the marks and bruises, do an intervention and call the cops, even if you’re not liked for doing it,” she said. “Marks need to be checked out.”
When a victim reassures you they are fine and the abuser is going to change or get help, “just don’t listen,” Franich said. “It is a big lie.”
“A leopard doesn’t change his spots,” Aguirre said.
Victims often believe they are invincible and “tough enough” to evade death at the hands of their abuser, Aguirre said. At the same time, victims like Marnie can suffer from what Aguirre calls a “lack of self love.”
“They need to learn to love themselves again, to see with their own eyes that they need to leave the relationship,” she said.
Aguirre said that loved ones should absolutely not compromise on stepping in when domestic violence begins to involve children.
“If you can’t get the victim out, then get the kids out,” she said.
Aguirre said children can be some of the best informants to confirm suspected abuse.
“Don’t be afraid to ask the kids what is going on,” Aguirre said.
Too many people look the other way, or fail to recognize the impact domestic violence has not only on the victim, but on society, Aguirre said.
“Domestic violence is a very real thing,” Aguirre said. “Follow your instincts and protect your loved ones, even if they push you away.”