Monthly Archives: March 2012

Why “it’s just Domestic Violence” is a Dangerous Phrase

By Becky Owens Bullard

This week, a co-worker of mine sent me a fairly upsetting article about the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007.  While you may be thinking that the upsetting part of the article must have been details of the gruesome mass atrocity itself, it was actually something more subtle. It was the fact that after all these years, people still have dangerously little knowledge of the very real, very serious threat posed by domestic violence.


So how does this lack of knowledge about domestic violence relate to the Virginia Tech shootings?  During a wrongful death suit brought by the families of students gunned down by Seung-Hui Cho, law enforcement testified that they believed the initial incident where two students were killed in their dorm room was domestic in nature and therefore, targeted and contained. Defense witnesses explained that because they determined the dorm shooting a domestic incident, there was no reason to believe that a deranged gunman would subsequently unleash mass violence on innocent bystanders.

Of course, their assessment was incredibly costly as Cho went into a classroom just hours later, shooting and killing 30 students and ultimately himself.  Not only was this assessment factually incorrect as no connection between Cho and the initial victims was ever made, it was also fundamentally false in their assumption that a “domestic incident” is always isolated, targeted and somehow a non-threat to the rest of society.

So here’s the problem with the “it was just domestic violence” mentality:  batterers can be incredibly lethal and a very real threat to the entire community.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to perceive intimate partner abuse as isolated and abusers as individuals with “anger issues” as opposed to individuals who create a complex cycle of violence using power and control.  But of all the criminals to minimize the potential danger they could pose to society, batterers who would kill their partners or family members should not be considered a low-risk group.  To the contrary, their manipulative, often calculated, and frequently lethal behavior should be considered among the most dangerous of criminals to the victims they target as well as the community they inhabit.

When I was Chair of the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we hosted a training where nationally renowned speaker Mark Wynn presented on the lethality of batterers to a room of detectives, attorneys and service providers. The room got very quiet when he showed a video of a batterer who opened fire at a court house after a domestic violence hearing, shooting at his wife, police officers, and anyone that was around. We all worked at the court house on domestic violence cases and the individuals this man had gunned down could have been any one of us. This was an important reminder of the danger that an abuser poses not only to the victims and witnesses we worked with, but also to each of us.

So, as I read the article on the Virginia Tech case, I couldn’t help thinking how frustrating it is that we as a society still struggle to acknowledge the dangerous and serious nature of domestic violence. Even to the extent that a  gunman on a college campus can be downplayed because it is probably “just a domestic incident.”

Then, I saw the great contradiction – below the Virginia Tech article was a news reel of additional breaking stories and wouldn’t you know, there was an article on a shooting at a court house.  The gunman, who was on trial for sexual assault in which both his ex-wife and daughter were testifying against him, opened fire killing one bystander, wounding several others and even taking hostages (neither of which were his ex-wife or daughter).

While we have made great strides in domestic violence awareness and education, this glaring inconsistency with the news story above where a conclusion was made that a domestic shooting poses no greater threat of mass violence to the larger community, was yet another reminder for me of how far we still have to go.

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Filed under Domestic Violence, Familial Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Violence Against Women

International Women’s Day: A Call to Action

By Becky Owens BullardInternational Women's Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a holiday established 101 years ago as a day when people throughout the globe unite around issues that affect women. International Women’s Day is also a time for reflection and recognition, when we celebrate the achievements of women throughout history to move towards greater equality while recognizing there is still much work to be done for women’s rights.

The scope of women’s issues in need of protection and progressive change are vast, including issues of health, education, political access, violence, economic access and many more. At their core, each of these issues represents the continued lack of equality and persistent discrimination against women that exists on every continent and in every community. While the Voices Against Violence Project focuses specifically on issues of abuse and gender-based violence, the central theme of international women’s day is absolutely key to ending violence against women and girls – living in a world where women are equal. Without gender equality, discrimination on the basis of harmful gender-stereotyping will continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence against women that results in abuse, rape, servitude, exploitation, femicide, and numerous other crimes of violence. As long as people believe that women should be the subservient, weaker, meeker sex – violence against women and girls will continue.

Although some may choose to believe that women’s issues are a thing of the past and that things like gender-based discrimination have been resolved, women (and men who advocate alongside them) continue to fight the often grueling battle for equality every single day. Maybe to some it is easy to ignore or choose not to notice, but concerned women and men recognize that gender inequality is still very present…

Every time there is yet another news story involving degrading and harmful language towards women;

Every time a sexist remark finds its’ way into our everyday lives;

Every time that victim blaming perpetuates myths and leads to injustice;

Every time a young girl is denied education based on her sex;

Every time that a woman is denied equal access to economic empowerment or equal pay; and

Every time that a woman’s safety is threatened or she is harmed because she is a woman.

While it is important to recognize that we are making great strides in issues that affect women, these unfortunate realities of the present must keep us moving forward for equality. These are the things that I hope will call you to action to support the women and girls in your life and to help end gender-based violence and discrimination.

Today on International Women’s Day, I would be remiss not to honor the survivors, advocates, family members and friends, law enforcement, attorneys and community members that work tirelessly on issues of women’s rights. I am so fortunate to have been mentored by so many amazing advocates who work long hours for little pay or recognition because they are inspired to make a difference to combat the unacceptably high rate of gender-based violence. I am also incredibly blessed to have learned from and been inspired by so many women who have survived some of life’s most heinous experiences and had unimaginable strength to face their perpetrator in trial, educate their children or others on violence, or work to make our world safer by sharing their story. Thank you to all of you – you are my inspiration.

Happy International Women’s Day!

To learn more about International Women’s Day or Women’s Issues, check out some of the following websites, news stories and press releases:

International Women’s Day Official Website

UN Women

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures

Why International Women’s Day Matters

Evaluating Challenges Women Face

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet on International Women’s Day

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Filed under Gender Equality, Violence Against Women