By Casey Gwinn, Esq.
As the news is filled with stories of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shooting and killing his girlfriend on Valentine's Day in South Africa, and his long history of domestic violence and guns, a related epidemic of much greater proportion is playing out across the United States. The emerging epidemic is found at the intersection of Valentine's Day, unabated violence, and hopelessness. Since Valentine's Day 2013, hopelessness is rising in this country but no one is paying attention. There have been fourteen murder-suicides in the United States in the last eight days and there has been no national news coverage. Pistorius has enjoyed hundreds of published news accounts in the United States, but no one is even paying attention to the 13 women and 2 children who have died in eight days of murder-suicides. And this count does not even include the two attempted murder-suicides, the killers themselves, or the other 24 women killed by intimate partners in the last eight days where their killers did not take their own lives after killing their partners. The murder-suicides crisscross the country.
Baltimore, Maryland - Ex-boyfriend/girlfriend Victim: Candice Baird
San Antonio, Texas - Boyfriend/Girlfriend Victim: Deanna Tiller
Charleston, South Carolina - Husband/Wife Victim: No name released
Valley Center, California - Husband/Wife Victim: No name released
San Jose, California - Ex-boyfriend/Girlfriend Victim: No name released
Baltimore, Maryland - Intimate partners Victim: No name released
Monument, Colorado - Father/Ex-boyfriend/Children Victims: Scarlett Gallagher (19 months); Ryan Willhite (3) Surviving Mom: Katie Kane
Cincinnati, Ohio - Boyfriend/Girlfriend Victim: Tanika Carter
Omaha, Nebraska - Husband/Wife Victim: Stephony Metzger
Cross Falls, West Virginia - Husband/Wife Victim Victim: Marlise Foster
Kentwood, Louisiana - Boyfriend/Girlfriend Victim: Mallory Ricks
Fort Knox, Kentucky - Husband/Wife Victim: No name released
Adairsville, Georgia - Ex-Husband/Ex-Wife Victim: Angela Player
Atlanta, Georgia - Husband/Wife Victim: Melanie Moultrie
An epidemic is defined as a disease or condition of common cause that exceeds expectations or patterns. In public health terms, epidemics of infectious disease are generally caused by a change in the ecology of the host population (e.g. increased stress or increase in the density of a vector species), a genetic change in the parasite population or the introduction of a new parasite to a host population (by movement of parasites or hosts). Generally, an epidemic occurs when host “immunity” to a parasite population is suddenly reduced below that found in the endemic equilibrium and the transmission threshold is exceeded.
Viewed in light of these definitions, the death of more than 15 people in intimate relationships in eight days certainly fits the definition. All the victims were women or children, all the killers were men with a history of violence against women, all the deaths involved firearms, and the protections, protective factors, or "immunities" to help stop the parasite killer were clearly inadequate.
The ironies should not be lost on anyone. As we debate stricter gun laws in this country, violent men with access to guns have killed 15 people. As the House Republicans refuse to pass the bi-partisan VAWA bill, the epidemic rages. As the media obsesses over a celebrity shooter in South Africa, far more shooters are operating in the United States. And no one is paying attention.
Suicide is at the end of the journey to hopelessness. Violence is the road the journey takes and we are all duplicitous in the crimes that are occurring. The media does not take responsibility to aggregate the murder-suicides and educate the public on the insidious nature of escalating, unchecked domestic violence offenders and the ways to prevent these homicides before they happen. Abusive men are not held accountable for earlier levels of violence including non-fatal strangulation assaults. We don’t proactively take the guns away from DV offenders even when they should not be able to keep possessing guns. We don't get to know our neighbors well enough to know there are violence and abuse issues. And we don't adequately fund and support domestic violence shelters, Family Justice Centers, and other services for victims and their children.
Hopeless women stay with abusive partners because they have given up and see no way out. Hopeless women sometimes take their own lives. Hopeless, abusive men end up choosing power and control as their last desperate act.
My HOPE list as we begin 2013 is simple and clear: Prosecute men who choose violence against their partners even at low levels; Convict them; Require background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun; Proactively take the guns away from convicted domestic violence offenders or those subject to domestic violence restraining orders; Treat every non-fatal strangulation assault as a presumptive felony; Get to know friends and colleagues better and when you find out about abuse – personally help them find the resources they need; Advocate for more funding for community-based domestic violence programs, Family Justice Centers, and other government and non-government agencies that prosecute offenders and provide services to victims and their children.
I hope many will join us in April in Fort Worth for the International Family Justice Center Conference. This year, the theme is fitting for this week: The Power of HOPE. It will be an opportunity to reflect on the epidemic and take aggressive, positive steps to intervene earlier, enhance prevention work, better handle non-fatal strangulation cases, learn more about elder abuse (DV grown old), and fellowship together with co-laborers in this struggle to stop violence against women and girls across the country and around the world.