Sisterhood Blog

When Domestic Abuse Leads to Murder

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

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Less than a year after she was married, Inbal Chen, a 29-year old woman from Kiryat Motzkin, Israel, was killed last week — and her husband is the prime suspect.

If Inbal’s husband is found to have committed the crime, and it’s still very much a matter of if, it would be the third case of uxoricide, or wife-murder, in Israel since February. In this case, like in so many others, neighbors said they saw no external signs that something like this would take place. In fact, the couple’s wedding video was circulating on the Internet before the murder took place, and afterwards was used as further “proof” that the couple seemed perfectly “normal.”

Wife-murder is the most extreme form of spousal abuse, and almost always comes as an escalation, not as a first abusive event, according to Jewish Women International, a wonderful organization that runs domestic abuse education programs for community leaders, clergy and the general public. Abuse tends to build up gradually, beginning with verbal and emotional abuse, and only afterward physical violence. It is not entirely unheard of, however, for the first act of physical abuse to be a murder attempt.

I will never forget the story of a woman I knew, Etti, who had lived with her partner for five years before getting married. It was only after the wedding that he became emotionally abusive — depriving her of contact with friends and family, forbidding her from spending money even on food, yelling at her and putting her down. Still, he was never physically violent until the day that she told him she wanted a divorce. On that day, he threw her against the wall and held a knife to her neck and tried to kill her. Thankfully, she lived to tell about it and move on. But her story remains a frightening reminder about the connection between emotional and physical abuse, and how quickly abuse can escalate.

There are 23 signs that a relationship is abusive, according to the Crisis Center for Religious Women, an organization that does domestic violence education in Israel. A combination of any five signs in a person’s relationship should signal a red light; at 10 the person should seek professional help, according to the Crisis Center. Those signs are:

•Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (charismatic and seductive but cruel)

•Exaggerates problems

•Jealous

•Aggressive

•Minimizes, denies, and/or lies

•Blaming and accusatory

•Shifts responsibilities away from self

•Controlling

•Depressive and/or suicidal

•Unable to display intimacy on a regular basis

•Resolves problems physically

•Lacks compassion and empathy

•Makes unrealistic demands

•Compulsive

•Uses drugs and/or alcohol

•Unable to handle stress

•Manipulative

•Puts down another gender

•Insulting

•Breaks boundaries

•Past history of violence

•Low tolerance for pressure

•Extremely possessive

After Inbal Chen’s murder, her mother told Ynet that her husband showed some of these signs before they were married, but when she asked her daughter, “Are you sure you want to marry him?” Inbal said that everything would be okay and that she loved him.

In the wedding video, the husband’s behavior, while it certainly doesn’t prove guilt, is distressing: His language is extremely aggressive and extremely competitive. He describes his wedding over and over not as an act of love and intimacy, but as “one of the best events in the country… the best food, the best music.” Inbal, by contrast, speaks only about how much she loves her new husband. My Sisterhood colleague Allison Sommer Kaplan pointed out a particularly chilling moment when she says, “Ani meta alecha”, a slang way of saying that she’s crazy about him, but which literally means “I am dying for you”.

My deepest condolences go out to Inbal’s family. And I hope that all those who are in relationships that show troubling signs find help before it is too late.


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