This seems to be the week for domestic violence issues. Convicted murderer Jodi Arias claims she was abused emotionally and sexually and so was acting in self-defense, while media labeled “hero” Charles Ramsey was all the rage until the Smoking Gun dug up his past with domestic violence.
The truth is that good people do bad things and people who are good to some people are bad to others. Charles Ramsey is a hero for helping to rescue the lost girls in Cleveland, and he apparently is also a criminal who abused a partner. He meant it when he told Anderson Cooper, “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I’m just like you.” Domestic violence perpetrators are often people who also do wonderful things for their community, are heroes of some kind, or just your average guy next-door type. They don’t announce themselves, or they would never be able to get so many victims. People are complex.
Even though he abused his female partner, there is also some honor in Ramsey, who asked that the money people wanted to give to him be sent instead to the victims. He was there at the right time and he did the right thing. He did a tremendous thing. He was not emotionally invested in controlling the lost girls – he was, instead, their savior. The view of an abuser changes based on who you are in their life and what kind of emotional threat you pose to them.
Jodi Arias’ claims of abuse as the reason why she killed Travis never struck me as viable, mostly because while statistics show that there are many serially abused women who finally defend themselves and wrongly end up in jail for it, in her case she traveled to his home with a gun. Her attorney claims Jodi Arias was the victim of a psychologically abusive relationship, and that Alexander considered Arias “his dirty little secret.”
Yes, it seems that Alexander humiliated her, used her and sexually mistreated her. Those things are not okay, but the response is not to kill that person. This is the same argument that male abusers make after killing the woman who left them: She deserved it because she tortured me emotionally by refusing to be with me; she was cheating, she moved on, she doesn’t love me, she used me, she belongs to me.
No. Those are not reasons for killing someone; those are reasons for checking yourself into a mental institution. If you actually kill someone because they are torturing you psychologically, your defense should be mental incapacity, not domestic violence. I’m not suggesting emotional abuse isn’t harmful, but it is not an excuse for murder (feeling like you want to kill someone and actually doing it are obviously two very different things).
Kenneth Peacock got eighteen months for killing his unfaithful wife – what’s the difference between what he did and what Jodi Arias did? Not much. Jealous rage, feeling used – these are not excuses for murder for either gender, though statistically they are treated as a mitigating factor for men, while used to paint the woman as a demonically possessed, jealous nut. In truth, we can all be crazy when we get hurt in love, but most of us don’t even consider harming the person. The leap to harming or killing someone because they hurt you is not normal, and it’s not an excuse or a justification. It’s murder.
The domestic violence defense doesn’t seem to carry much weight for real victims, and it should. Abused women who kill in self-defense are convicted at the same rate as other people on trial for murder. According to the National Collation Against Domestic Violence the average sentence for women who kill their partners is 15 years — for men, it is just 2 to 6.
When a systemic pattern of domestic violence is established, including a genuine fear for one’s life, and the abused partner defends himself or herself in a confrontation with a larger person who may be armed, the history is indicative of the mindset. The history of domestic violence demonstrates the reason for the very real concern that their life is in jeopardy.
The Arias case may have caused further harm to the honest use of the domestic violence defense. Days ago she launched a t-shirt fundraiser ostensibly to raise money for “other survivors”. Really? Jodi Arias is not a “survivor” of domestic violence – there was not a shred of evidence, even in her own diaries, of being abused. She had no self-defense wounds. And while domestic violence victims often keep their abuse hidden, they do not steal a gun and travel across state lines to meet up with their abuser for a sexual tryst. They do not stab someone 27 times. A victim who is terrified and acting in self-defense will take drastic action to defend his or her life, but stabbing a “beloved” 27 times is something only an abuser does.
The bottom line is that just like George Zimmerman went after Trayvon Martin, so Jodi Arias went after Travis Alexander. To claim defense when one sought conflict and came prepared to instigate it is disingenuous. It also undermines the public perception of real domestic violence survivors who rightfully claim self defense.
Approximately 90 percent of women in jail for murdering a man were physically abused before they killed him. With stats like that, women really didn’t need Jodi Arias confirming the pre-existing bias of the mostly male courts.
The lesson from both of these high profile references to domestic violence is that we can’t ID an abuser any easier than the victim can. If it were so easy to see one coming, there wouldn’t be so many people trapped in unsafe relationships. If the entire country thought Ramsey was a hero because he did something heroic, why is it so hard to believe that a woman would fall for him and be shocked when he turned abusive?
So too with Jodi Arias. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes, and while statistically far more men abuse their female partners than the other way around by a long shot, it does happen. No one is asking why Travis didn’t just leave or suggesting that he was messed up emotionally and liked being abused. But those are the first responses when the tables are turned. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the victims. Bad things happen to good people, and people who do bad things are also often good in other ways.
Jodi doesn’t represent domestic violence survivors; she represents a person who prepared to take violent action against someone who hurt her emotionally. Ramsey doesn’t represent what most people think of when they think of an abuser, but the fact that he is one should open some minds. Abusers come in all kinds of packages and rarely do they announce themselves. If Radar Online hadn’t outed Ramsey, how many people today would still be gushing over his everyman-ness? If you were “fooled”, imagine how his victim felt. (Yes, he’s still a hero for what he did with the lost girls. But he is also someone who abused his female partner ten years ago.)
There are no easy answers or failsafe precautions to spare us from a Jodi, nor would we turn down help from a Ramsey. The only people who aren’t easily fooled by abusers are people who have already dealt with one, but of course, they are also not the people denying that abusers come in all shapes and sizes.