From early on, young women are taught behaviors that are supposed to help them avoid being victims of violence: Carry your keys like weapons. Avoid certain bars. Don’t leave your drinks unattended. Parry. Feint. Be prepared to give out fake phone numbers because you can’t trust the reaction if you’re honest. Move in pairs, though a pack is better. Park under the lights and if it’s dark, don’t go there.
And sometimes? That’s still not enough.
The California murderer who left seven dead and 13 wounded last month also left a 137-page document and a chilling video in which he expressed his desire to take revenge on the women who’d ignored him and hadn’t treated him as the gentleman that he insisted he was – right before he went on a killing spree.
When mass public killings like this occur – and they occur with a sickening frequency, as we saw with last week’s Troutdale, Oregon, school shooting — we rush to argue about gun control and access to mental health services.
I’m for tougher laws and improved access, but maybe there’s something we’re missing.
The gun discussion is so deeply entrenched in culture and emotion that it’s difficult to have a sane conversation. Mental health access is important, but activists and others are quick to point out that the vast majority of people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence.
“We have to look at gun control and mental health intervention,” said Laura Cordes, executive director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS). “But in this particular case, with insight into his mind, and his ranting and hatred toward women, it struck a nerve and laid bare his expectation that women owed him attention.”
The California killer operated under a heavy burden of entitlement and the consequence for denying his attention was death. Sadly, he is not the first mass murderer roiled in confusion – or outright hatred – in regard to women. Police in and around Virginia Tech first met the shooter who would ultimately kill 33 in 2007 because female students complained about him harassing them. Connecticut’s Sandy Hook shooter left a document in which he described why he thought women are selfish.
CONNSACS says one in four women are sexual assault survivors. Crimes like that don’t happen in a vacuum. In a global review of violence against women published last year, the World Health Organization said that 35 percent of women worldwide had experienced “either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence,” and as many as 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. WHO called the staggering statistics a public health problem.
Frankly? I’m sick of it. I’m sick of young women like Maren Sanchez getting stabbed to death in her Milford high school hallway. Why? Police aren’t releasing a motive, but classmates say that in April, Sanchez turned down a classmates’ invitation to their prom, and that classmate just pleaded not guilty and will be tried to a three-judge panel. The trial should start in the fall.
I’m sick that for years, we learned and taught our daughters all those female-survival-tips, and ignored the obvious: Women shouldn’t have to learn to avoid violence perpetrated by men. Men shouldn’t perpetrate violence toward women. Violence, humiliation and degradation are not our responsibility to avoid.
The only glimmer of hope is that maybe that California killer may have ignited a spark he didn’t intend. The frontman for a rock band stops mid-song to shout profanities at people in the crowd who are molesting a young woman, and he is applauded. A #YesAllWomen meme goes viral on Twitter. Interest in movements such as No1Nowhere surges.
Maybe, just maybe, we can push forward, says Cordes. “That’s the good news, that we all can do something – and not just give money or volunteer, but what are the conversations you’re having with your boys? People keep saying these are our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, but there’s a lot at stake for men, as well, especially for men who are out there doing this work. They need more partners to change the culture. We need more people doing it, particularly more men.”