The double shooting in West Tisbury this past week -- on the otherwise idyllic island of Martha’s Vineyard -- has taken everyone by surprise because things like that don’t ever really happen here. At least they’re not supposed to, except perhaps in a mystery novel by Cynthia Riggs or the late Phillip Craig.
But happen it did.
The reason it happened may never be fully known to us, but one thing is for certain. There is an epidemic of violence against women, not just in this country, but globally. Violence against women is a universal problem. And it must stop.
Some say seventy percent (70%) of women experience violence from men during their lifetime. That’s too many for it to be a considered an aberration. Domestic violence is common. Half of all women who are murdered are killed by a current or former husband or intimate partner. Sexual violence is another form of this widespread abuse of women. Twenty percent (20%), or more, of women are victims of rape or attempted rape, and the numbers may actually be higher, especially if all rapes were reported and rape in war were also included.
Clearly, there is a worldwide bias against women who are treated as chattel in marriage, kidnapped into sexual slavery, physically abused, mutilated and discriminated against in the laws and courts of every land. And men are guilty of this, either directly or indirectly through their ignorance, indifference or indulgence toward a system that condones violence against women.
How does this happen, and how do we stop it from happening?
In the case of the Vineyard double shooting, a couple was estranged, and the woman moved here to their summer house to seek peace in separation. She did feel threatened because both she and her husband were pilots, and he would have the means to show up at her door unannounced at any moment. So she applied for a restraining order, and it was denied by a judge.
I know firsthand about restraining orders.
In the middle of August I was cleaning out my garage and found a rolling backpack with luggage tags and a book bag with the name of my ex wife’s daughter stenciled on it. I knew her daughter would be heading off to school in New York in just a few weeks, so I thought I’d deliver it to her. So, on Monday morning, I dropped the backpack and the book bag on the porch of my ex wife’s friend, where I had been instructed to leave things for her previously, as we were not on speaking terms. I was giving myself brownie points for thinking of someone else for a change.
A few hours later while I was at work on a business report at home, a policeman came to the door with a restraining order for me. He informed me that my wife and her friend had called the police because they thought I’d placed a bomb on her porch. A bomb? The policeman delivering the restraining order couldn’t help but stifle a guffaw. When police arrived to find an empty back pack and book bag, there was embarrassment all around. My ex immediately went to the Edgartown courthouse to take out a restraining order. A week later, a judge ruled in her favor and imposed the restraining order for one year’s time. Two weeks later my ex moved to New York to live with her daughter, as she had been planning to do all along I later learned.
Until I heard she had moved away a few weeks later, I had assumed that my ex really was in fear of what I might do to her. Though I’ve never been physically abusive toward women, I am physically large, and I used to be a very angry guy with a loud voice who drank way too much. I’m quite sure it wasn’t hard for her to imagine me being abusive, and threatening, as she had had abusive experiences earlier in her life. And, I’m not proud of it, but I had raised my voice toward her and slammed a door or two in my time living with her. Mea culpa. So, on the one hand, I accepted the restraining order as a prudent move by a judge who really knew nothing about me, and on the other, I knew that my ex was fighting back against me, and against the men who had abused her earlier in her life, by using the courts to even the balance. No problem there.
But how can it be that a judge did not grant the woman in West Tisbury a restraining order? For one thing, she and her husband were both licensed gun owners. To my way of thinking that should have been enough.
It may seem like an impossible task to reverse the relentless bombardment of our children with media messages condoning violence against women. The language of hiphop is rife with it. TV shows and movies that exploit women sexually and promote male violence are still the norm. Even the Occupy movement last fall had to take deliberate actions to prevent acts of violence against women amid their growing numbers in the encampments.
Nevertheless, Amnesty International, the National Organization for Women, and other organizations are actively engaged in the ongoing campaign to end violence against women. The Republican Party seems not to have gotten the message though, as its candidates running for President and for re-election to Congress seem to have targeted women’s health, sexual and reproductive rights for their personal political vendettas. The gazillionaire radio host Rush Limbaugh recently fulminated -- frothing at the mouth for three straight days -- against a relatively defenseless college girl for her birth control testimony on the Hill. A subsequent grassroots campaign against Limbaugh has resulted in more than fifty sponsors leaving his show, so it is possible to organize against such abusive treatment of women and get results.
If we, as individuals, cannot exert strong influence, in numbers we can have a significant effect. We can hold our politicians accountable, confront abusive media voices, let advertisers know that we do not approve, and influence legislation that makes restraining orders easier to get, routine in marital separations, and especially when both parties are gun owners.
I know this is a potentially heated topic, but I welcome your responses, and expect your respectful comments will add so much more to this discussion. Please let me know how you feel.