Murderous Excuses

(Anson Stevens-Bollen)

Last month, the Violence Policy Center released a report that opened with the following information: According to the US Department of Justice, “women are more likely to be victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially when a weapon is involved.” Furthermore, women are “more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.”

Such statements about how women experience violence challenge two basic assumptions about safety and security in our society. The first is that we can expect some measure of safety with those who love us and whom we love. The second is that homes are supposed to be havens or retreats to safety. These shattered assumptions are tough to take for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that these facts are a national absurdity.

But even worse is the fact that violent offenses suffered by women, at the hands of men, result in death. This national report, "When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2013 Homicide Data," is an irrefutable statement on the fatal nature of gendered violence in American society.

And, as we've come to expect even as we cringe, New Mexico is near the top of this terrible list. New Mexico ranked third in the national state-by-state ranking for women murdered by their intimate partners, following South Carolina and Alaska.

Twenty-one women were murdered by their male spouses in New Mexico in 2013. That's out of 1,615 women who died in single-assailant, single-victim homicides reported to the FBI in America. These women included every racial and ethnic group, and they comprised a range of ages. Seven percent of the victims were under the age of 18, while 9 percent were 65 or older. Their average age was 40.

While there are those among us who know about the high rates of domestic violence and murder in this country, the report's opening statement verifies the hideous conditions under which many women in this country live. It attests to the fact that violence against women is an enduring crisis—not only in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, places where our government seems eager to denounce these acts as human rights violations, but right here at home.

These statistics are proof that what's being done to end domestic violence, and the murder of women in the US, is insufficient to address a systemic and structural problem. The fact that nonprofit organizations—often relying on insufficient private donations and pinched federal resources—have been increasingly responsible for the direct service functions, such as shelters and safe houses that deal with this widespread social and human rights problem, reveals the awful truth about our national priorities.

Also troubling is that few resources and services are directed at addressing the men who commit violence against women. While jail offers some measure of short-term protection to the women, it doesn't end the cycle of violence. In our national culture, there is little questioning and no constructive critique in our discourse about male aggression and misogyny.

This is the root of the problem. Our society has yet to conceive of a broader vision of masculinity, one where male identity is not perceived through domination and violence: Violent masculinity in our society has been normalized along with abusive and destructive intimate relationships.

Here's the Thing: Male violence and aggression toward women are not private problems. This behavior is manifest at every level of our social life: from classrooms and playgrounds to popular culture and presidential campaigns. While we, as a nation, have done much to placate it and excuse it away in gendered terms with phrases like, "Boys will be boys," there is simply no excuse for it.

Andrea L Mays is an American Studies scholar and Santa Fean. Got an idea for how New Mexico can address fatal domestic violence? Write the author:

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