Domestic Violence: When do the excuses stop?

Domestic Violence

This weekend a domestic violence issue in Texas transitioned into an assault on the Dallas Police Department. Early reports give every impression of a man, out of control in every way imaginable, extending his personal sense of outrage to his local law enforcement authorities.  “After the shootout at police headquarters, the suspect called 911 and gave a four- to five-minute rant, accusing of police of being to blame for him losing custody of a child,…” [CNN]

There was an incident in Montana last week that barely attracted much attention at all.  Augustine Bournes killed his wife and three children, June 11, 2015.  The children were all under the age of 6.  He set fire to their home, and then took his own life. [NYDN]   He was “anti-government and unhappy with his life.”  There’s a term for this pathology: Family Annihilators.  Pehaps the most tragic comment about the incident came from a relative: “People tried to tell him he needed to get help,” 35-year-old Starla Shannon said Wednesday. “He said he’d rather go to a vet than a doctor.”

There’s no question the Family Annihilators and the Public Attack Perpetrators are a distinct minority subset of those who commit or are involved in domestic violence.  However, they do set the peg for the extreme end of the spectrum.

The Excuses

Unfortunately for any rational discussion, the peg is inserted in swampy terrain, territory in which men are supposedly victimized by a culture that no longer provides Hollywood staple John Wayne-esque characters as role models (as if that were a model to be emulated), or fears of the expressions of male sexuality (as if ‘a little groping just happens naturally’ down at the garage), or Big Government obscures the origins of the “true source of oppression, (whatever in the world that might mean), or men’s natural expression of free speech is truncated by feminine criticism of those who don’t understand that ‘privilege’ begets a perspective which doesn’t necessarily include the lives of women or minorities.   There are other supposedly “pro male” excuses for male disaffection, such as the “lie” about equal pay; because it is said men work at more dangerous jobs? (Missing the point that the call is for equal pay for equal work, the last portion being conveniently omitted.

And then we get to the domestic arrangements – wherein women falsely accused men of rape, and women get the benefit of the doubt in court in terms of child custody and alimony or child support payments.

The Delusions

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present and invoke the security of a comfortable past, which in fact, never existed.” [Robert Kennedy, Chicago, 1963]

Okay, in 763 BC the Romans adopted the Law of Chastisement, allowing husbands to beat their wives, and in the 14th century the Church advised a little spousal abuse for her “spiritual improvement.”  However,  we also know that by 1600 there were shelters for women – they called them convents.  In 1871 both Alabama and Massachusetts declared wife beating a crime. [StM]   Thus, if a wife abuser is seeking a “comfortable past” be advised it hasn’t exists in the last 144 years.

Another useless excuse is that “they – meaning women – do it too!” The misogynists among us are fond of providing statistics which “prove” women are also engaged in spousal and domestic abuse.  The stuffing comes out of this straw man quickly.  No one is saying all spousal abuse is done by men – but a sizable proportion of it certainly is.

A study of the reports of intimate partner violence between 1994 and 2010 found that 4 out of 5 victims were female. [NDVH]  The American Bar Association’s study of domestic violence found that:

(1) “Access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse, according to a recent study, suggesting that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners.”

(2) “Of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner was more than three times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents in 2002.”

Therefore, we should rid ourselves of the delusions that (1) slapping the little lady around is good for them because the Romans did it; (2) it’s just as bad for men; and (3) a gun in the home will make things safer.

Home Not So Sweet Home

Nevada could do a much better job of preventing the instances of domestic and intimate partner violence, and violence against women and families in general. Our current statistics could use some improvement. The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence reported that for 2014 there were 65,026 contacts; 40,927 were for the first time; 15,534 were repeats; and 8,565 were follow ups. 1,091 adults needed shelter for 22,040 ‘bednights.’ 1,178 children were sheltered for 26,390 bednights. Most of the adults sheltered were between the ages of 30 and 44. Among those sheltered 12,096 were Caucasian, 3,396 were African American, and 7,725 were Hispanic.  Those numbers provide some context for the trauma.  Other numbers illustrate the strain on the system

Law enforcement was contacted 12,999 times, arrests were made 6,830 times. In 5,589 incidents arrests were not made. Police reports were made 481 times, temporary orders of protection were issued 11,354 times.  There were 4,520 court appointments, and 18,540 individual counseling sessions.

Looking for Solutions

First, and foremost, let’s make an attempt to alleviate the problem of escalating domestic violence by enacting common sense gun laws.

Local law enforcement authorities should have the power to immediately remove firearms from any home in which they have been called to deal with an incident of domestic violence – for their own safety if nothing else. [TCJ] [KMGH]  And, for the safety of the spouses and children the firearms should be locked up in police custody during the period covered by an order of protection.

Background checks should be expanded to private and gun show sales, and should include any records of domestic violence, stalking, or harassment.  No firearms should be sold to any person who is currently under a restraining order – temporary or extended.

Funds should be appropriated to adequately staff those agencies which keep records of criminal behavior, including incidents of domestic violence, the adjudication of mental health status, and the approval of temporary and extended orders of protection.

The state should require that all firearms in a home be kept locked when not in the immediate process of being maintained.

If we can take some small steps to create a safer environment for women and children, then we can better consider how to develop strategies for improving our society.  It would be helpful if we’d think beyond the extreme forms of firearm violence (Columbine, Va Tech, etc. or Montana and Dallas) and improve the way we deliver the message about violence and its results in general terms.  For example, behaviors like bullying are unacceptable, whether it’s bullying members of minority groups, women, or children.  Period.  Every school, public and private alike, should be required to update and upgrade their anti-bullying policies.

Getting a better grip on history wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  Yes, 14th century Europeans were encouraged to “beat the women” but those aren’t the best role models.  Edward I of England was a fearsome warrior with a sound reputation on the battlefield, and a person known for being troublesome if not downright petulant.  However, when it came to his domestic life things were quite different.  His marriage in 1254 to Eleanor of Castile was by all accounts a genuine life-long romance. Her death at Harby in November 1290 left him devastated.  Some of the visible reminders of his love and loss can still be seen in that country – as in Charing Cross (Chere Reine, or Beloved Queen).  There are far better role models available throughout history, even European medieval,  than the thuggish peasant “improving his wife.”

At the extreme, the Montana family annihilator would rather have gone to a veterinarian than a psychiatrist – and that’s a sad tale in itself.  We’ve done a relatively poor job of diminishing the stigma attached to mental illnesses in this country. We could and should do better.  No one would sit around contemplating whether to get treatment for a broken arm – why would or should anyone not seek treatment for a broken mind?  We’d not let a person with a dangerously high fever stay away from a hospital – so why do we not have services immediately available for family members who are coping with a person who is experiencing mental instability?  And, those services should be provided in a setting which isn’t the county jail!

Stop letting the perfect become the enemy of the possible or even the pragmatic.  Opponents of common sense gun regulation, those who don’t wish to make the investment in mental health care services, and even those who have mistakenly analogized boorishness for masculinity, repeat the mantra that “it (whatever solution is proposed) won’t prevent tragedies from happening.  True. However, that doesn’t negate the improvements which could be made if we’d try.  Laws against bank robbery don’t prevent the criminals among us from trying, but they do provide for a place to put them when they are caught.  Increasing the number of mental health care facilities and programs will not provide 100% security – but it would be better than what we have at the moment. And, providing anti-bullying and anger management programs and projects at an early age won’t mean that some erratic person won’t engage in violent behavior – but the incidents prevented before they ever happen will reduce the strain on our educational, police, and health care services.

A productive perspective will do more to accomplish the reduction in domestic violence and related homicides than sitting stone silent wrapped in the fear a solution might not produce 100% success.  Franklin Roosevelt had two sentences for that:

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

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