Worlds Collide: The legality and psychology of intimate partner violence

A man in Minnesota, Long Vang, has been charged with third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and stalking after his ex-girlfriend, Jessica Haban, committed suicide. These charges are unprecedented both in Minnesota and across the country. As a Clinical Psychologist with a Forensic sub-specialty and Director of Domestic Violence, Research and Education at a FQHC, I will be following this case with a close eye and heavy heart.

This couple was ‘culturally married’ in 2010 and shared two children. One of Mr. Vang’s assaults on Ms. Haban resulted in a traumatic brain injury; on another occasion he physically restrained her. Ms. Haban had obtained a domestic abuse no contact order approximately four months prior to her eventual suicide; Mr. Vang continued to contact her.

Shortly before her death Ms. Haban was hospitalized for mental health treatment; she was released three days before she killed herself.

The worlds of mental health clinicians and domestic violence advocates often collide – and we all strive to provide best practice. This mandates special attention to care coordination, as we must consider all factors affecting the patients and clients we serve. Having not read the supporting documentation in this case, it is unknown whether this was provided for Ms. Haban.

At this juncture the necessary coordination will be between the prosecutor and providers who worked with Ms. Haban, in an effort to provide her justice now that she is gone. What strikes me most about this case is the hopelessness that often plagues victims of domestic violence, and the despondency Ms. Haban must have felt to move forward with her suicide as if she had no other options.

When discussing this case with Dr. Kate Patterson, a colleague and fellow psychologist, she stated “the hopelessness that is too often associated with intimate partner violence further proliferates the unspoken secrecy around this topic.” It is this secrecy that I am trying to combat with raising awareness, coordinating with providers and educating the community.
Part of my work is helping people in the midst of intimate partner violence situations realize that they aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to, that given the opportunity, we can all work together to prevent tragedies from occurring.

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