After The Santa Barbara Shootings It’s Time to Talk About The Culture of Violence Against Women

Last updated on June 6th, 2014 at 12:43 am

shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, CNN screen

shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, CNN screen

I’ve been covering politics since 2009, and some portion of that is always devoted to covering the half of the citizenry that is female. In America, 3 women will be murdered every day on average by a “jealous” ex or current intimate partner. The perception of rejection can be lethal for women, thus “women who leave their batterers are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who stay.”

So today, on this tragic Saturday when a very disturbed young man allegedly went on a murdering rampage against the “beautiful” women archetype he felt rejected by, I’m wondering if we can finally talk about the systemic problem of violence against women in the United States.

Since studies indicate that the majority of violence against women is committed by a small percentage of men, this is not a treatise against men at all. Men are not the problem. Our culture is the problem, and together, men and women can help heal it.

But first we need to face it.

We need to stop assuming a person is lying when they tell us something so ugly that we don’t want to believe it. We need to stop standing with the empowered instead of hearing out the vulnerable. This includes our heroes, too.

Many years ago, an intimate partner of mine tried to murder me while under a criminal restraining order for prior violence. I actually died and came back to life. I was lucky. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and didn’t even serve a day in jail. They let him keep his “hunting” guns, which he used later in order to threaten me and my family in order to get me to return to him.

He was a well liked businessman, who did a lot for the community. He was kind to other people’s children. He was an all-American college football hero, beloved by many. He had a sweet side to him. His counselor told him that he felt insecure, and that’s why he was so violent. He believed himself to the victim of his own violence, and he told me that he was abused as a child. He was 6’5″ and 240 pounds to my 5’2″ 93 pounds.

I’ve never written about this before because the stories I write are not about me. But today, my past is relevant because the one thing I learned is that no one wants to believe that evil like that exists. Even when the person admits that they overpowered a much smaller person, and looked this person in the eye and told them they would kill them, and then proceeded to watch them die, and when they woke up, tried to kill them again.

No one wants to hear these things. The lucky and the naïve take refuge in the idea that the victim is lying, even after the perpetrator has confessed in a court of law and police photos have been shared. People will do anything to avoid facing the fact that this threat could get them or their daughter or sister or wife next. It’s not reserved for the “bad” people. You don’t earn it somehow, unless by merely existing and exercising our freedom of will we “earn” having our lives stolen.

Meanwhile, three women a day are murdered. The danger goes up when women are pregnant. But we always think it can’t be the people we know. Statistically, this is unlikely.

He told me that he had been accused of rape twice in college and questioned in the murder of a man. Later, an attorney sought me out to testify against him after he allegedly assaulted a female customer of his. While this is anecdotal, it reinforces the studies that suggest that a small percentage of men commit the majority of violence. It’s repeat offenders — which is why it’s so important that we learn to listen when someone tells us something awful has happened to them.

So, I know it’s ugly. I know it’s hard to hear. But we are teaching susceptible young men and boys the wrong things about women. These angry men commit horrible acts against women because they feel rejected and feel entitled to a beautiful woman of their own. A desirable object. A trophy. The Stop Violence Against Women lethality assessment finds a relationship between this sense of entitlement and lethality of violence, “Some men who batter believe that their wives or partners belong to them. A batterer who believes he is absolutely entitled to his female partner, her services, her obedience and her loyalty is likely to be life endangering.”

A woman’s beauty is a thing to cherish, not own. Every woman is beautiful.

We need to teach our boys to cherish, honor and respect women; that their manhood is expressed in many ways and one of them is in how they treat women and children.

But instead, as a culture, we will try to take fake solace in the idea that this killer was mentally “disturbed”. As if his line of thinking is not acted upon three times a day in this country, snuffing out young mothers and precious daughters. As if he is the first to act on his hatred of women. Studies indicate that common characteristics between many incarcerated and undetected rapists are “high levels of anger at women.” Maybe hatred of women is a mental illness. Maybe not. But if that’s the route we choose, then displays of misogyny ought to disqualify a person from jobs requiring sound mental health, like Congress, police officers, judges, doctors… Yeah. I don’t see that flying.

However we classify it, it’s a problem and it’s killing women in this country every day.

We like to pretend that women aren’t vulnerable. We fetishize women with guns, and we teach women that bad things won’t happen to them if they have a gun. But that is sadly not true. Law enforcement tells women that her gun will often be used against her. So while I am personally in favor of a gun for protection in certain situations (learn how to use it), it is not going to save us from the systemic violence against women. It’s not the answer.

In fact, access to firearms leads to a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide, according to studies. Indeed, abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners. Almost two-thirds of the women killed with firearms were killed by their intimate partners. So the very folks blaming women for being murdered because they didn’t protect themselves are also the folks advocating for a no rules, free for all when it comes to gun ownership that clearly and directly endangers women.

As long as we pretend that women can defend themselves if only they wanted to, we can ignore that somehow they are not able to, or they would not be dying at the rate of three a day due to intimate partner violence. Buying into this frame that she could defend herself if she wanted to, if she wasn’t a “victim” (as if it were her fault that she is/was), lets us off of the hook for the systemic murder of women in this country.

There are so many men who are already on board and want to change this culture . Anonymous stepped up in Steubenville and in other places where an alleged rape victim was being denied justice. There’s the Good Men Project and all of the aware men – the men working hard to be a good father, husband, partner – they are all working to change this.

But before we can change it, we have to face it.

This culture enables hatred of women, fortified by the idea that women are not human beings but objects. A woman leaving a man reflects upon his ego as if she were property instead of the pain and heartbreak of loss of companionship. Vulnerable boys, angry men, lonely young men are susceptible to the messages of women as object they are entitled to, and if only they had, all would be well. It would prove their “alpha” status. Misogyny isn’t aimed only at women – all men and boys who aren’t the alpha type eventually get hit with it. They are called names that suggest they are feminine, as if this is the ultimate insult, and no one bats an eye.

What does this teach boys? We know we shouldn’t use “gay” as an insult, but we think it’s perfectly fine to use female anatomy or just the suggestion of being a girl as the ultimate insult for a man. Sure, this seems small, but it’s not. It’s part of how we enable a rape culture. A culture of violence against the vulnerable. This time it was women, but it can be any vulnerable group.

And then we blame the targeted group for being “weak”, so as to excuse our refusal to acknowledge our own part in it.

If we don’t want our children to face the ugly face of evil, then we must.

Sarah Jones

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