I can’t count the number of times I’ve told my students that humans are pattern-making (and -breaking) and pattern-finding animals. A huge proportion of the accomplishments of humanity in both the sciences and the arts has to do with those skills. We’re very, very good at it.
Except when we’re not. In this op-ed from the Tampa Tribune, Casey Gwinn, founder of the San Diego Family Justice Center, points out how very bad we–or at least some of us–are at finding patterns in social data connecting domestic violence incidents to further, often lethal, crimes.
There have been 13 mass killings in the past two months in the United States. In 12 of the 13, the killer had a history of abuse against women or the cases were directly related to or defined as domestic violence.
Now, I’m not sure how we, as a country, have ignored that there have been 13 mass killings (Gwinn seems to define “mass” as “ending in two or more deaths”) in two months. But as I read through the list Gwinn includes in his editorial, I realized that I (who spend an absurd amount of time reading and sifting through media of all sorts) hadn’t heard of at least half of the cases he cites. That could be because not many of them happened terribly close to where I live, or because the media is more concerned about what condiments President Obama prefers, or who may or may not have a baby bump. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because many of these crimes happened in private residences, and the victims were intimates (spouses, children, or siblings) of the perpetrators. Because such crimes technically fall under the banner of “domestic violence,” they are often considered “private matters” (as we have seen with the Rihanna-Chris Brown affair) or freakish tragedies. We see these crimes as horrifying exceptions to the peace that many of us take for granted. We don’t see the pattern.
Gwinn is asking us to think about them in a different way: as the logical extension of a society that ignores, excuses, or downplays the realities of domestic violence. Gwinn asks us not only to raise our voices and votes to create legislation and social programs that keep guns away from violent men, and provide services to women and children in need of protection, but even to revise our language:
We must call it what it is. It is not violence against women. It is most often violence by men against women.
That violence by men against women is a serious problem is probably no surprise to our regular readers, but we’re used to seeing patterns that non-feminists miss, or choose to ignore. I’m gratified that Gwinn is speaking out, even as I despair that it might take a man’s opinion on the matter to make the papers, and a measurable difference. Go read the whole thing.
P.S. Not that we want it, but the shooting death of college student Johanna Justin-Jinich by her stalker, Stephen Morgan, might serve as another grisly data point on the subject.