What We Can Learn About Domestic Abuse from Shanann Watts

The release of American Murder: The Family Next Door has America buzzing. Like any story of mystery and murder, it has sparked controversy. “The signs were clear”, “She deserved it”, “Wait, why the kids”, and other commentary have filled heated discussions. Despite all the passion and emotion around the case, it is important to remember there are many victims in this picture. Not only were three people killed, but friends and family will forever be haunted and mourning the loss of their loved ones.

Made with Canva

True crime fanatics across the country have flocked around this case since it first became public. Questions of 'Why' have been prominent, as on the surface Shanann and Chris Watts lived an idealistic life. In the beginning of the Netflix special, Chris is shown answering questions from the media on camera— an action that so often leads people to point fingers. What Netflix fails to show is Shanann’s parents proclaiming the innocence of Chris. When Shanann first went missing, her parents believed deeply in Chris’s innocence. Although this faded as more information came to life, it teaches us an important lesson; we can’t always trust what we see at first glance.

open books on a table Photo by Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash

Among photographs, Google searches, and text messages, the evidence that investigators turned up is not as provocative as the spotlight glams it up to be. In reality, the toxicity and abuse Shanann went through is the reality for thousands of women in the US every day. Abuse thrives in conditions like that of the Watts family: a picture-perfect family, one that people could not imagine having any problems. Shanann had reached out to friends and family, yet received support in a reactive manner; rather than exiting the relationship, the goal was to 'mend what was broken'. In cases of small domestic disagreements, counseling may be a beneficial outlet; however, that takes honesty with each other and within one’s self. Like Chris, many abusers are not going to be interested in fixing the problem, but rather ensuring a clean image. Ignoring texts, diminishing affection, or hiding parts of one’s life can all be red flags.


Unfortunately, Shanann was not able to make an escape with her family; however, it is not too late for others. When your gut tells you something is wrong — trust it. Shanann took many steps to improve her situation, but the reality was the efforts were one-sided. Exiting a toxic relationship is never an easy task, but the earlier the signs are recognized the easier it may be to get help and get out.