Domestic violence or domestic terrorism?

Former RCMP officer and hostage negotiator, Dave Franklin, who worked for many years as an educator on the topic of violence against women, did not use the term domestic violence. Instead, he used the terms domestic terrorism and relationship terrorism. Why? Because, he said, that was the only way to properly understand the dynamic between the abusive partner and his victim. When we hide the terrorism at the root of the violence women experience in their intimate relationships, according to Franklin, we dismiss its seriousness and react improperly to victims’ strategies to stay alive.

“What’s the difference between the two [being held hostage and intimate partner violence]? None, except this one [relationship terrorism] is disguised as something else. We hear ‘I love you,’ when [the abuser] really means ‘I own you.’ . . . In hostage situations, we say to the victims, ‘Congratulations, you did what you had to do to survive,’ but on the other side of the street [in partner abuse], we say ‘What’s wrong with you? Why did you stay?’’’

Franklin’s analysis is useful to those dealing with intimate partner violence, whether as a friend, colleague, neighbour or family member of someone being subjected to it or as a police officer responding to a “domestic,” a child protection worker involved with a family where there is partner abuse, a Crown Attorney prosecuting a case, a family law lawyer representing a woman who has left an abusive relationship or a judge making a decision in criminal or family law.

Domestic violence and mass killings

But it is also interesting to consider his analysis in the context of increasing evidence that there is a link between the oh-so-private world of intimate partner abuse and the oh-so-public world of mass killings.

Just over a year ago, shortly after the Orlando nightclub shooting in which Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured another 58, Rolling Stone ran an article that looked at the relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings. While Mateen’s adherence to Islam was made much of by the media, exploration of his violence towards his former wife – for which he was never held accountable – was slower to come. As Soraya Chemaly wrote:

“the shooter had no record of previous hate crimes, but that depends on how you categorize domestic violence . . . . Perhaps it’s time our society started to think of physical abuse, possessiveness and men’s entitlement to act in those ways towards women as terroristic, violent and radical.”

According to Chemaly, 64 percent of the victims of mass shootings are women and children. And this statistic is separate and apart from mass shootings that are domestic violence; mass shootings where the primary target is the shooter’s partner or former partner, but other people are also killed. (In the United States, where it seems that almost anyone can buy a gun, between January 2009 and June 2015, 57% of shootings with four or more victims were domestic violence shootings, making men who kill women partners, their children and other relatives, in Chemaly’s words, “the prototypical mass shooters.”)

Making the link

So, what’s the connection between domestic violence and mass killings? According to a 2016 New York Times article by Amanda Taub, both the intimate terrorism of domestic violence and the mass terrorism of public mass attackers are attempts by the attacker to provoke fear in and assert control over his victims.

In June of this year, James Hodgkinson shot House Majority Whip, Steve Scalise and four others. Jane Mayer noted, in her article in The New Yorker, that Hodgkinson had a history of domestic violence (he had been arrested on charges, which were later dropped), while also writing that:

“Obviously, not everyone accused of domestic violence becomes a mass shooter. But it’s clear that an alarming number of those who have been accused of domestic abuse pose serious and often lethal threats, not just to their intimate partners but to society at large.”

What does it mean?

There are at least four things for us to think about in this context:

First, we need to maintain and strengthen gun control legislation in this country. The National Rifle Association in the United States and gun enthusiasts everywhere like to tell us that “guns don’t kill people. People do.” But as comedian and political activist, Eddie Izzard says: “I think the gun helps.”

Second, we need to change up how we understand mass killings and domestic violence. Right now, mass shootings by individuals and so-called terrorist attacks attract more attention and create more fear in the public than does domestic violence, even though women and children are far more likely to be harmed by an act of domestic violence than either a terrorist attack or a mass shooting. We need to see the violence that happens within families, as Dave Franklin has said, as terrorism; terrorism that happens for too many women and children on a daily basis over many years.

Third, we need to understand intimate partner violence as a public health and safety issue rather than as a private problem. Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, did just that in October 2016, declaring family violence to be a serious public health issue when he released his “State of Public Health in Canada” report, which focused on violence within the family.

Fourth, I read over and over about men like Omar Mateen and James Hodgkinson who subjected women to abuse but were not held accountable for their violence and who then engaged in some form of mass killing.

It is long since time to end the impunity that has been enjoyed by men who abuse women.

And, perhaps, by holding men who engage in violence and abuse of individual women accountable in a meaningful way, we will not just provide women and children with the safety they deserve but we just might reduce the level of mass killings, too.

One thought on “Domestic violence or domestic terrorism?

  1. Another amazing article Pamela! You are insightful and poignant in capturing the all too real reality of so many families that live and suffer in silence. Unfortunately, I know too well that reality.
    I saw a documentary on stalking (focusing on mainly strangers). A sad connection I saw was that the post separation process (legal, therapeutic, child issues, housing, social, financial and all other aspects to life) in the context of DV is one of ‘Sanctioned Stalking’! ‘Sanctioned Terrorism’ works too. Thanks!

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