Thursday, July 27, 2017

Love, Murder, Suicide

Yesterday a friend of mine was murdered.

There are so many things that are happening in the world that some 63-year-old man bashing in the head of his middle aged girlfriend in an out-of-the way West Virginia home barely claws its way into local news. There is a family bereft of their flame-haired matriarch, and scores of people who have suddenly lost a good friend. Not just an acquaintance that is so cordial that they earn the title “friend”, but an honest-to-goodness good friend. She was a close friend of my younger sister. I was not a close friend of hers, but a couple years ago I reached out for help with a complex emotionally-charged issue that I needed to handle remotely, and she answered the phone and honestly tried to help; many people I called wouldn't even answer the phone.  She was not my close friend, but she was a good friend, and I will miss her. 

Her death, for those who did not know her, will quickly fade into the overwhelming statistical cloud of intimate partner violence (IPV) data. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women under the age of 44; she was older than that, but the impact of homicide on the mortality of older women is still shockingly high. Nearly half of all female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner. This is a blog post, not an intimate recollection of her life, so it will wade into these inhuman statistics about human society. 

 My friend, the victim, went on her first date with her murderer around the time of his 60th birthday, and shortly thereafter they would become a couple. Shockingly close to three years later he would kill her. My friend posted many of those annoyingly cute love memes on his facebook timeline over those three years. I’m sure she meant them in the most profound way, but some now appear creepy:

“Anyone that really gets to know me either falls in love with me or wants to murder me. Sometimes both.” Text from a meme posted on murderer’s timeline by victim on 18 October 2016

This morning the murderer was found dead in his jail cell. I don’t know if this snuffs out the possibility of justice with additional tragedy. My feeling is that this is so awful a situation that it will remain a festering wound until all those touched by it are gone. Before his death the murderer confessed to a three day yelling match that only ended when he shoved her into a wall.  The case is essentially closed, and there is no reason to exhaustively determine what additional physical abuse preceded the killing blow.  The case may be closed, but the profound wounds are fresh and open.  Closure is not an option anywhere this side of the horizon.

About a week ago (21 July 2017 MMWR 66(28); 741–746) the CDC published a report on female homicide rates. The list of statistics it presented is a black hole of despair carved out of the heart of our society. 18.3% of female victims were part of a homicide-suicide incident. By race/ethnicity, non-Hispanic black women had the highest rate of dying by homicide (4.4 per 100,000), followed by AI/AN (4.3), Hispanic (1.8), non-Hispanic white (1.5), and A/PI women (1.2). Firearms were used in 53.9% of female homicides; sharp instrument (19.8%); hanging, suffocation, or strangulation (10.5%); and blunt instrument (7.9%). Approximately 15% of victims of reproductive age (18–44 years) were pregnant or ≤6 weeks postpartum.

My friend will not be a part of these statistics unless there is another study in the future and she becomes part of the random sample set. We do not track this information as a normal course of maintaining our society. I think it is something we should demand to know, and force ourselves to be aware of.

IPV is a worldwide problem. The USA is not at the top in terms of overall IPV, but we rank near the top for IPV homicides. There are –unsurprisingly- reporting problems, but clearly the impact of IPV as defined by the WHO is a major damaging influence on our social structure everywhere.

“One of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or intimate male partner. Although women can be violent in relationships with men, and violence is also found in same-sex partnerships, the overwhelming health burden of partner violence is borne by women at the hands of men.
Intimate partner violence includes acts of physical aggression, psychological abuse, forced intercourse and other forms of sexual coercion, and various controlling behaviours such as isolating a person from family and friends or restricting access to information and assistance.” -- 2002 WHO fact sheet

Knowledge about IPV has become somewhat devalued in the USA. Men’s right’s advocates have seized upon a questionable CDC telephone poll published in 2011 that suggests that men are “made to penetrate” by women at rates similar to women being raped by men; this poll is questionable as it is not verified by independent studies. Victim advocates have sought to sensitize the justice system to the type of sexual harassment that leads to IPV by lowering the bar of stalking to transmitting two or more unwanted emails without a requirement for them to be threatening, intimidating or violent. This means that there is a grey area of interpretation where IPV can be more easily dismissed as being like the simply unfortunate interactions that are lumped into its definition. The fact is that the vast majority of interpersonal relationships do not include any of what any reasonable person would call IPV.

My friend’s murder did not precipitate out of a social data set that includes some guy’s uncomfortable intercourse and another person’s two uncomfortable emails. She should not be used as an anecdote to amplify the queasy feeling common with the termination of an unfortunate relationship. She is dead, and her death is an unambiguous tragedy.

This does not mean that legal tools are not critical in addressing IPV. In many parts of the world domestic violence is not criminalized at all. Limiting access to firearms and increasing offerings of group-format counseling sessions for abusers are both considered worthwhile policies. Perhaps more useful policies could be developed by understanding the causal link between statistically correlated traits of abusers like: low income, low academic achievement, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Even if you don’t have the faintest idea who my friend was you will be impacted by IPV. I hope you are not a victim. I hope even more that you are not an abuser.


Anonymous said...

Kat Jones said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend, and the ripples this loss is causing. Thank you very much for this post.