“Individual batterers or rapists or sexual harassers don’t just emerge out of a swamp; they act out larger systemic forces,” said Jackson Katz, an author and co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention. “For us to dramatically reduce domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, we have to change the social norms that underlie those behaviors.”
David J. H. Garvin, chair of the Batterer Intervention Services Coalition of Michigan describes these forces like this:
“For a period of time, it appeared to be, in some segments of society, somewhat tempered or restricted and based on motivations to fit in or not draw too much attention, the attitudes of intolerance, misogyny, self indulgence and viewing women as “consumable goods” were somewhat tempered and restricted to a code of silence within male privilege. These attitudes never went away and are now being given new life.“
Unfortunately, these awakening words and supporting actions are not hard to find. One need only look at recent media headlines. That new life comes from the words and actions of certain leaders.
It’s there in a column titled “From Evil Men Boys Born,” published by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. Women should be proud of their bruises, the author suggests, as those men who beat them are more likely to father boys. The next week, Vladimir Putin signed a law that decriminalized domestic violence in Russia.
It’s there in the words of Donald Trump, who won the presidency of the United States in spite of saying in a video about women: “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” Then, in one of his first acts as president, he proposed the emulation of 25 grant programs that fund help for women who are the victims of domestic violence.
It’s there in the words of Gary Naeyaert, the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) a group founded by Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, who testified before the Michigan Senate Education Committee: “I wanted to shake her, like I like to shake my wife……..”
GLEP, rather then firing Naeyaert, allowed him to resign without condemnation. Their press release praised him and his work saying: “(He) is taking some time to reorganize to best continue the advocacy of quality school choice options for all Michigan K-12 students.”
Words have power. They give permission. When supported by actions they drive people’s behaviors. You can see it in the increasing number of murders of Americans who either are or are mistaken for being Muslim. And now it appears women are once again increasingly likely to be killed by the men they love or loved.
Domestic murder, after declining for nearly twenty years, appears to be on an upswing.
The homicide rate for women rose five percent between 2014 and 2015, the latest year that statistics were available from the FBI.
Preliminary numbers for 2016 suggest the murder rate for women will go even higher. Chicago, the city with the largest increase in murders last year, also saw a 32-percent rise in women killed. Other cities facing increased rates — including as Houston, Denver, Charlotte and Memphis — also experienced a spike in wives killed by their spouses.
This is not just a national trend. Oakland County saw a 33-percent increase in domestic homicides in 2014-15. Worse, unlike Chicago, these killings constituted almost 60 percent of the total number of deaths.
Words have consequences. They shape opinion and motivate actions. When societal leaders use words that suggest permission, dormant attitudes may be stirred. When words are supported by actions they may become a wake up call.
As citizens of a free country we may not be able to oppose the actions of a Russian dictator, but we can condemn them. We can raise our own voices to demand that we continue to fund grants to prevent domestic violence and we can condemn GLEP for failing in their duty to denounce the words of their executive director.
We have this power, and if we use it we can stem this tide.
This story was first published in Deadline Detroit. Reprinted with permission.