Our Quest for a Safer World: Taking Every Instance of Violence Seriously

On February 14, a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and carried out a mass shooting that left 17 people dead and more than 14 hospitalized. Soon after, reports began to emerge by those who knew the murderer – Nikolas Cruz – stating that he had been stalking a girl at the school. Another student said that Cruz had been abusive to his girlfriend and was expelled from the high school after fighting with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. And another student said that he ended his friendship with Cruz more than a year ago, when the latter started “going after” and threatening one of his female friends.

But it’s not just Parkland—Cruz’s violence against women and his history of dating violence are not isolated incidents merely unique to him. According to Everytown for Gun Safety’s analysis of FBI data on mass shootings between 2009 and 2015, the majority of mass shootings in the United States—57% of them—involved the perpetrator shooting an intimate partner or family member, and in at least 16% of the cases, the perpetrator had a prior charge of domestic violence.

In the past three years since 2015, this trend has only continued, as exemplified in the following incidents, just to name a couple:

While the connection between intimate partner violence and mass shootings seems clear to many of us, responses to the issue have been troublesome. Similar to those who have been arguing that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers, some people claim that arming survivors of intimate partner violence will prevent them from being assaulted or killed. This train of thought, however, is problematic for a few reasons.

According to data found by Futures Without Violence, “access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide more than five times more than in instances where there are no weapons, according to a recent study.” In fact, according to data found from a July 2014 testimony before the US Senate, gun access was found to be the strongest risk factor for victims of domestic violence to be killed by an intimate partner. Regardless of who owns the weapon, adding firearms to situations of intimate partner violence only increases the likelihood of fatalities.

Instead of putting the responsibility of prevention in the wrong place by expecting victims to arm themselves – which additionally puts survivors of intimate partner violence at a high risk for being sentenced to long prison terms when they defend their lives using a firearm – it is important to focus on preventing perpetration and holding offenders accountable.

Victim safety

Source: Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

As we think about those who lost their lives last month in Florida—and the dozens more who have suffered mass shootings in the two weeks since – it is important that we work to change unhealthy societal norms, end the belittlement of sexual and domestic violence survivors, and take every incident of violence seriously.

“…perhaps it’s time our society started to think of physical abuse, possessiveness and men’s entitlement to act in those ways toward women as terroristic, violent and radical,” wrote the Rolling Stone’s Soraya Chemaly, in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. “…so too should we consider domestic violence a form of daily terror. Three women a day are killed by intimate partners in the United States, and the majority of women murdered are murdered by men they know. There needs to be a dissolution between what we think of athes “domestic” violence, traditionally protected by patriarchal privacy norms and perpetrated by men against “their” women, and “public” violence, traditionally understood as male-on-male. Acts of public terrorism such as the one in Orlando would be less unpredictable if intimate partner violence were understood as a public health and safety issue, instead of as a private problem.”

“…Acts of public terrorism such as the one in Orlando would be less unpredictable if intimate partner violence were understood as a public health and safety issue, instead of as a private problem.”

In doing so, we will further our quest not only for a world free of sexual and domestic violence, but for a world where fewer families will grieve the losses of their loved ones to senseless killing.

Featured image: Candlelight vigil for the victims of the Parkland shooting. Gerald Herbert/AP: https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/The-Latest-Florida-school-shooting-suspect-12615831.php


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change. 

Two young women lost their lives to domestic violence in Prince William County last weekend.

Crystal Hamilton was doing what many of us do on Saturdays—she was at home with her family and making plans for her evening. She will never see her son become a teenager, graduate from high school, find the love of his life or perhaps even start a family. Her 11 year-old son has lost his mother and has endured a trauma that will forever change his relationship to his father, will forever leave him feeling unsure and unsafe. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Crystal, his wife.

Officer Ashley Guindon was doing what law enforcement officers do on Saturdays and every day of the week—responding to a 911 call indicating possible domestic violence. Having just started on the force, she will never know the feeling that comes with making a positive contribution to public safety. Whatever dreams she may have had for her future will never become a reality. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Officer Guindon as she approached his home and with shooting two other law enforcement officers who responded with her.

Crystal Hamilton is one of an estimated 50 people who will die in Virginia at the hands of their intimate partner this year. Like Crystal, most of those victims will be women killed by a current or former partner who uses a firearm.

Ashley Guindon is one of an estimated 50 law enforcement officers who will die responding to domestic violence in the United States this year. The majority of those deaths will occur as officers approach the scene…before they even have the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned for responding to domestic violence.

The media coverage and the response to these two deaths has caused me to pause and reflect in my work. Initial reports focused almost exclusively on the shootings of 3 police officers. There was immediate and heartbreaking coverage about the death of Officer Ashley Guindon and the fact that it was her first day on the job. Crystal Hamilton then became visible as coverage continued; she was often referred to as “his wife” or as “the victim” of domestic violence.

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picture credit: Fox5DC

The law enforcement community across the Commonwealth responded swiftly and viscerally to the killing of a fellow officer. Rituals reserved for this specific tragedy were there as a support and as a public statement in the wake of this trauma. These rituals gave language to the grief felt by colleagues. And as the posts from law enforcement officers past and present appeared on my Facebook page, as the articles appeared in the news, as policy leaders spoke in the media about Officer Guindon’s tragic death, I was keenly aware that those of us in the domestic violence victim advocacy community are nearly as invisible in the public conversations that follow domestic violence homicides as Crystal Hamilton was in the coverage of this event. Perhaps because we sadly witness these horrible deaths nearly once a week across the state. Maybe we are immobilized by the weight of all of the violence and trauma and death.

I can not help but wonder what might happen if we were no longer quiet in the wake of each domestic violence homicide. What might happen if we created public and powerful rituals around each death—to bring strength to the survivors, to help us through our fear and grief, to offer hope to our communities?

Two 29-year old women lost their lives on Saturday. They lost their lives to domestic violence–to a public safety and public health scourge that is preventable. Let us all remember both of these women as we continue to work together for safe and respectful relationships for all. ALL.

Links:

“Why Crystal Hamilton’s Life Matters Too”

#CrystalHamilton

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

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Working Together to Empower the Survivor.

Years in the making, Governor Terry McAuliffe recently signed into law a layer of safety for those who seek relief from the fear, intimidation and threat of lethal violence. This measure will enable individuals and families to begin rebuilding their lives outside of abusive relationships without firearms looming in the background.

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, center, with survivor and advocate Lisette Johnson, and Del. Kathleen J. Murphy, D-Fairfax,, after signing her bill relating to removal of guns owned by persons who have a restraining order against them during a news conference at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Va. Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Behind him are Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, and Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Picture credit: The Action Alliance

 

This is as a significant improvement in the protective order process; celebrated by and for those who advocate for and who are survivors of intimate partner violence. Empowered by measures beyond that of possessing a piece of paper, more women will seek and follow through to make their protective orders permanent now that the law gives it bones by requiring respondents to surrender firearms within 24 hours.Police now have the leverage to seek search warrants to find and seize guns of those who do not comply, and carries with it a Class 6 Felony charge with up to five years in prison.

As a survivor, after it is all said and done, I am brought back to the simple fact I just wanted a divorce. That is all. I did not want to speak out against domestic violence. I did not dream my life’s calling was helping women make tough decisions about their futures, their safety and that of their children. I never saw myself as an activist who would be a public voice, or represent those silenced by abuse and lethal violence.

I just wanted to move forward with my life and give my children a peaceful home.

In that simple statement is the heart of what every person leaving an abusive relationship wants; to leave without event and rebuild a life without violence. This legislation provides a needed protection and is the first step in letting survivors of abuse know they are not alone now that they have backup in the legal system, and that they can move from victim to survivor, with a much lower risk of being a statistic.

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picture taken by the Action Alliance

The journey of a thousand miles has only just begun. There remains much work still to be done. We need funding for prevention and awareness. We must continue to look for new ways to keep families safe. When they are not safe, we need to have funding for adequate shelter, resources and support for survivors. Just for today, though, let us stop to rest and enjoy this victory.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness. You can read her first post on this issue published on January 25th here

 

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

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Note from the Action Alliance: The Action Alliance is proud to stand with Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, as he signs historic bipartisan legislation that will increase safety for victims/survivors of ‪#‎domesticviolence‬ by prohibiting the possession of firearms for persons subject to “permanent” (max 2 year) Protective Orders.

The connection between guns and lethal domestic violence in Virginia is clear: over a 10 year period, firearms were used in more than half of all intimate partner homicides in Virginia.

We applaud the Governor’s willingness to reach across the aisle to enact common sense gun legislation to reduce lethal gun violence.

 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Just Released: Our 2016 General Assembly Crossover Report

THE GOOD NEWS

Many of the Action Alliance legislative priorities have crossed over, including:
–comprehensive statewide protocols for physical evidence collection (PERKs);
–strengthening laws on age of consent to marry;
–prohibiting firearm possession when subject to a “permanent” Protective Order;
–ensuring fair and equal treatment in housing and employment, and;
–strengthening/clarifying responses to campus sexual assault.

THE BAD NEWS

Several potentially very harmful bills that we strongly oppose have also crossed over, such as:
–circumventing existing concealed weapons protocols that could potentially add more firearms to volatile domestic violence situations, which evidence links with greater risks for lethality, and;
–policies that endorse discrimination and erode/block access to economic security, safety, and equality for LGBTQ communities.

Find full details in our 2016 General Assembly Crossover Report.

There’s still time to make an impact on legislation, whether you support or oppose.
Reach out to your representatives and let them know what you think! Find your legislators here.

Kristine Hall is the Policy Director of the Action Alliance. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

The Cost of Freedom

Lisette D. Johnson – Survivor

Every day the price for loving the wrong person is paid with lives. Once you know this, it is impossible to ignore the news. For every one woman killed, there are eight to nine who survive an attempt. Survivors share emotional scars that intertwine with the very fiber of who we are, who we’ve become, and who our children have become. It ripples into families and communities.

The price is high. Beyond the emotional toll there is another cost of freedom; the dollar price tag not calibrated by studies. It is increased health care costs for victims of IPV (intimate partner violence) which can extend as much as 15 years after an abusive relationship is exited. Compound the extraordinary costs of survival from gun violence and the profound associated residual physical challenges. I personally know women left paralyzed, blind, brain and neurologically impaired who will require lifelong intensive medical interventions, some lifelong caregivers.

Guns and abuse are proven to be far and away the most lethal combination; not knives, bats or hammers as naysayers insist. Bullets are quick, they’re clean and shooting can be accomplished from a distance.
The cost of my freedom continued long past the initial trauma surgery and hospital stay in ICU. It includes two subsequent surgeries, periodic cardiac monitoring, extensive psychotherapy for the children and me, at one point with five therapists between the three of us, plus hospitalizations for a suicidal child. Inching close to $200,000; some, but not all of which was covered by insurance, my bills are minimal as compared to the bills of others I know.

Nothing could have prepared me for the fallout from the shooting. Recovering from the physical injuries and my trauma while navigating the solo parenting of two traumatized children proved emotionally impossible when combined with running a business with employees. I closed a business I had owned for sixteen years within months.

Some days I wonder if I’ll be done paying for someone else’s choice to shoot me. Beyond the abuse, beyond the end, beyond my children’s suffering, beyond difficult days, I failed to take into account my recovery was going to plateau. I had no way of knowing that I would continue to struggle with focus and memory, and be continually exhausted. I expected to bounce back. I took for granted that I’d be on top of things again, be sharp, have the energy and mental acuity to go out and create a living like I enjoyed before it happened. I could not have imagined how I would struggle with simple things that are so every day you don’t even know you are doing them. Acknowledging that others have challenges far greater than mine does not negate my own.

I am eternally grateful to wake up every day to another sunrise. Even my worst day now is better than my best day in my marriage. Still, there is no denying the layers of damage when I add it all up.

Lisette Johnson is a survivor of an attempted partner homicide/suicide. She is an advocate for those experiencing domestic and sexual violence and collaborates for violence prevention education and awareness.  

*Statistics: Jacquelyn Campbell PhD RN FAAN Anna D. Wolf Chair & Professor Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing Multi City Intimate Partner Femicide Study and CDC Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org