In Orlando, as Usual, Domestic Violence Was Ignored Red Flag
Intimate partner violence and the toxic masculinity that fuels it are the canaries in the coal mine for understanding public terror, and yet this connection continues largely to be ignored, to everyone’s endangerment. It is essential to understand religious extremism (of all stripes), racism, homophobia, mental illness and gun use, but all of these factors are on ugly quotidian display in one place before all others: at home. If experts in countering violent extremism are looking for an obvious precursor to public massacres, this is where they should focus their attentions.
There are major problems to overcome before we’ll see real change, though. First, we need to fundamentally shift how we think about and assess “terror.” Just as the public’s consciousness has been raised in regards to race, ethnicity and the framing of only some agents of violence as “terrorists,” so too should we consider domestic violence a form of daily terror. Three women a day are killed by intimate partners in the United States, and the majority of women murdered are murdered by men they know. There needs to be a dissolution between what we think of as “domestic” violence, traditionally protected by patriarchal privacy norms and perpetrated by men against “their” women, and “public” violence, traditionally understood as male-on-male. Acts of public terrorism such as the one in Orlando Sunday would be less unpredictable if intimate partner violence were understood as a public health and safety issue, instead of as a private problem.
Second, we must address the reasons why many victims of domestic violence are not comfortable going to the police — for instance, the fact that sexual “misconduct” is the second most prevalent form of police misconduct, after excessive force. Additionally, high rates of police brutality, particularly in communities of color, constitute a form of terror. This fact should be inseparable from tolerance for high rates of intimate partner violence in police ranks. Women, and perhaps especially women of color, who might otherwise be able to alert law enforcement about the early signs of violence or radicalization do not currently feel safe or comfortable going to the police.
The third major issue to address is that of violent men and their access to guns. In households where an abusive spouse has access to a gun, women are five times more likely to be killed. And yet, men who violently abuse women they are related to are not barred from owning or buying guns if their domestic violence is never reported to the police or prosecuted. What’s more, gun-rights activists are trying to overturn a 1996 amendment to a federal law that says it’s illegal for a person who’s been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor to buy or own a gun. And currently people with restraining orders associated with intimate partner violence are only prohibited from owning or buying guns in fewer than half of U.S. states.
Fourth, it’s time to correlate the known risk factors for intimate partner killing, determined in what is known as a lethality assessment, to other factors that might help predict who will engage in acts of mass shooting and killing. Given the ridiculous pace of intimate partner and mass shootings, there’s no shortage of data to study. We know what behaviors presage men’s murdering women and children and then, often, turning guns on themselves. What if those metrics were integrated into models designed to understand and counter what is traditionally thought of as violence extremism? If, as Jelsten pointed out, experts believe that domestic homicides are “the most predictable and preventable of all homicides” then, given what we know about the inciting incidents in most mass shootings, so too are the majority of acts of public terror.
It does not take intensive analysis or complicated transnational databases to conclude that men who feel entitled to act violently, with impunity, against those they care for will, in all probability, feel greater entitlement to act violently toward those they hate or are scared of.
The sooner we start recognizing this fact, the safer not just women, but all of us, will become.