Can we change our relationship with violence?

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Aug 23, 2019

A recent New York Times article cited studies showing that one thing many mass shooters in the U.S. and elsewhere have in common is a virulent misogyny, often driven by a sense of grievance against women who have rejected them.

The article, "A Common Trait Among Mass Killers: Hatred Toward Women," published Aug. 10, said, "The motivations of men who commit mass shootings are often muddled, complex or unknown. But one common thread that connects many of them -- other than access to powerful firearms -- is a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends and female family members, or sharing misogynistic views online, researchers say.

"As the nation grapples with last weekend's mass shootings and debates new red-flag laws and tighter background checks, some gun control advocates say the role of misogyny in these attacks should be considered in efforts to prevent them."

I talked with Kelly O'Connor, education and outreach director at New Hope for Women, about the findings cited by the Times. She noted that, according to data compiled in 2017 by Everytown for Gun Safety, of the 156 mass shootings in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016, 54 percent involved domestic or family violence. That is, in more than half of the shootings, the perpetrator injured or killed a partner or other family member(s).

"Firearms play a role in domestic violence relationships and in domestic violence homicides," O'Connor said.

She noted that in Maine, victims of domestic violence have the option, as part of the application for a protection from abuse order, to request that weapons be temporarily removed from the alleged abuser. In some cases, police will take custody of the weapons, she said, while in others, they are surrendered to a friend or relative to keep.

She listed the characteristics of domestic abuse:

• It involves coercive behavior

• It takes place in the context of a relationship

• It is a choice

• It is designed to instill fear and/or to deny liberty

• It is grounded in the abuser's belief that he/she is entitled to power over the victim(s)

I was surprised when O'Connor said experiencing or seeing domestic violence as a child does not necessarily make a person more likely to become either a perpetrator or a victim later in life. She stressed that, regardless of a person's past experiences, abuse is a choice.

That choice, especially when accompanied by access to guns, has a devastating effect on women in this country. According to information compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety earlier this year, women in the U.S. are 21 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. Furthermore, in an average month, 52 American women are shot to death by an intimate partner, and many more are injured.

Access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. And black women are twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner as white women, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Finally, nearly 1 million women alive in the U.S. today have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.

I know there are many factors involved in mass shootings and there is no single answer, but it seems to me that addressing the problem of violence against women -- and the larger societal issue of bias against women -- might be part of a long-term solution to the problem of mass shootings as well. And I wonder whether increasing the accessibility of treatment programs for perpetrators of domestic violence would also help to reduce the incidence of mass killings.

Clearly, if a person with an inclination to violence cannot get hold of a firearm, that makes it harder for them to commit murder on a large scale. But why not address the issue from the other direction as well, and attempt to change the attitudes behind the urge to violence?

Maybe part of the answer lies in changing our culture's relationship with violence -- and our own.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Rebecca M Stephens | Aug 29, 2019 06:27

Of course behavior is a choice but we must not forget statistics which will allow us to offer support to children who have witnessed DV. Especially those who have repeatedly been subjected to its madness. Boys who witness DV are 1000 times more likely to exhibit physically aggressive behavior BEFORE they reach the age of 18. The notion that children are resilient perpetuates this cycle for both makes and females. We need to do better.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 23, 2019 14:26

Food for thought!

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