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Help is available Victims of domestic violence shouldn't continue to suffer in silence

If only.

If only any of a dozen circumstances had played out differently, maybe Jackie Wisniewski would still be alive.

If only she hadn't stepped into the stairwell at Erie County Medical Center with her estranged boyfriend, Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr. – a man who had threatened and abused her – maybe he would not have summoned the nerve to gun her down in front of witnesses.

If only others, who had witnessed or heard about Jorden's conduct – sometimes violent, sometimes merely inappropriate – had done something more, pushed Wisniewski to get help, maybe matters would have taken a different course.

If only, on the day that Wisniewski spoke to West Seneca police, she had asked to have him arrested, or sought an order of protection, she might not have died last week.

If only Jorden were not the violent, controlling man that he was ...

"If only" means nothing. They are undertakers' words, and they are spoken too often in cases of domestic violence. Death or serious injury remains among the predictable consequences of intimate relationships in which one partner – usually a man – demands control over another, almost always a woman.

That is especially true when the controlling partner is obsessive and determined to resort to violence, and when the victim goes it alone rather than seeking the protection of a system that, whatever its flaws, can improve her chances of safely leaving an abusive relationship. Both factors were fatally at play in this case.

Jorden, who killed himself after murdering Wisniewski, was clearly obsessed and didn't care about the consequences. Wisniewski went to police earlier this year, but didn't swear out a complaint.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for women in dangerous and abusive relationships to stop short of taking that step. They are too fearful of their partner's reaction, or too entangled in a dysfunctional relationship or too dependent on him for financial support. But filing the complaint is a critical step, and only more so when dealing with a man like Jorden or Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan, who decapitated his wife, Aasiya, three years ago.

Not just police, but advocacy organizations like the Family Justice Center of Orchard Park can help direct abused women – or men – toward safety. The center will help draw up a safety plan specific to any client's needs while providing critical support, both practical and emotional.

Other such organizations are available to help victims of domestic violence, and if no one else has suggested that course, it will happen automatically once someone engages the legal system for protection.

But first, victims of domestic abuse need to seek help, and government and advocacy groups are getting better at providing it. Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III began a program three years ago requiring his new prosecutors to spend four months handling domestic violence cases in Buffalo City Court before they can move up in that office. He wants them to understand the issues.

It is not Jackie Wisniewski's fault that she was murdered. Jorden bears sole responsibility. But Wisniewski could have improved her chances by taking action after his violent streak became apparent. It's not love when someone hurts you or threatens your safety.

Would the help that was available to Wisniewski have saved her life from this obsessive man? Maybe not. But the price of not trying couldn't have been higher.

Erie County has a 24-hour domestic violence hot line. The numbers are 862-HELP (4357) and 884-6000. In Niagara Falls and Western Niagara County, call 285-6984, and in Lockport and the eastern part of the county, call 433-6716.