Each day in the United States, three women are murdered by a current or former boyfriend or husband. When a woman is murdered, people are shocked, confused, and outraged. People often wonder how her partner, someone who seemed like “such a nice guy,” could commit such a heinous act. And after a tragedy like this occurs, comments on stories and social media are filled with questions such as:
“Why didn’t she leave him?”
“What did she do to upset him?”
“Why was she alone with him?”
These questions are understandable. We’ve all been trained to question and blame the victim, especially in this type of crime. We don’t want to believe that anything like this could happen to us, so we assume that there must be something wrong with her. Of course, that’s not true. Domestic violence can happen to anyone. And at least one in four women will be abused at some point.
Not only are these victim blaming questions not helpful, they distract from the real issue, and the only real questions we should be asking:
Why would a man feel so entitled that he felt justified killing someone he claimed to love?
And how can we stop this from happening again?
These are difficult, but necessary questions. We live in a society that teaches boys to be powerful and in control. We teach boys and young men that the only acceptable emotion is anger. And we fail to teach them how to deal with their emotions in a relationship, especially when the relationship ends. And when these boys grow up, they are often allowed to commit heinous acts of violence against female partners, without ever being held accountable.
We also teach girls that they are responsible for everything that happens to them. So often, victims never reach out for help at all. This type of victim blaming sends a dangerous message to our children. It teaches girls that they are not worthy, and that they will not be believed. And it teaches boys that they are not accountable for their actions.This “boys will be boys” mentality creates a culture of men who feel entitled to treat others – especially girls and women – with complete disrespect.
After working with thousands of victims and perpetrators of domestic and violence, I can tell you that these tragedies happen simply because a man entitled to control his wife or girlfriend. He controls her by telling her who to talk to, what to wear, how to act, how often to check in, and the consequences for violating his rules. When the control starts to slip, he will often use physical or sexual violence to get it back – to keep her “in line.” When the relationships ends, his control is challenged, and he chooses to escalate the violence even more – sometimes to the level of murder.
These abusive men are not monsters. In fact, they usually look and act like regular people – because they are. Friends and family of abusers are often shocked – because these men are usually are not angry or controlling toward anyone other than their partner. Often, the victim is the only person who knows the abuser’s true tendencies. Yet when she tries to tell us, we don’t believe her.
We have to start teaching our children that no one has a right to control them, and they have no right to control anyone else, and that love is about respect, trust, and honesty, not jealousy, anger, and control. And when our child does something to hurt someone else, we need to hold them accountable – not blame it on boys just being boys. Finally, we have to stop blaming victims. Imagine the pain that has already been caused by these acts. Questioning or judging the victim or her family is cruel and unnecessary. We would be much better served by turning our attention toward preventing these crimes – by believing victims, holding abusers accountable, and most of all, by talking to our children – early and often.
If you or someone you know is being abused, help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). All women, children, and men deserve to be safe – including you.