‘Florida Man Disembowelled Girlfriend for Calling Out Ex’s Name During Sex’. It’s the kind of headline none of us hope to read while scrolling through our lunchtime al-desko reading material, but it’s been splashed across national newspapers – not to mention entertainment sites like People and Perez Hilton – this week as one horrific crime emerged. A man has been charged with first degree murder in the US after telling police he disembowelled his girlfriend. Maria Nemeth was found dead at the scene after her boyfriend called emergency services in the early hours of Saturday morning.
If Fidel Lopez really did do what he says he did, was it really because his girlfriend called out an ex’s name during ‘rough sex’ (something else that was widely reported, as though Maria might have been less deserving of death if gentle sex was her thing)? Of course not. Her murder was not due to a slip-up with an ex’s name; it was due to an aggressive and violent man.
The sexual element of this story may be a perfect headline-grabber, lending a salacious element to an already almost-unbelievable story. But the more ‘sex and the ex’ is focused on, the more it diminishes the awful crime. The supposedly straightforward reporting of ‘rough sex’ and the calling out of the name of an ex-boyfriend suggests an underlying social prejudice. This prejudice demands an explanation from women when they are victims, and offers up excuses to men when they are perpetrators. Raped, you say? Well, were you wearing a short skirt? Murdered, really? Were you having deviant sex? Did you disrespect your boyfriend by screaming the name of another man?
Endless voyeuristic reports that dig into the dirty details of women’s lives after they’re murdered – and print pictures of them in bikinis on front pages – work to minimise the impact of violence against women. No one is outwardly stating that what Lopez confessed to doing was justified, but several news outlets have reported the crime with the fact that she ‘screamed’ out her ex’s name as central to the story, when in fact they should be reporting on the fact that yet another young woman has died as the result of domestic violence.
Domestic abusers have no reason for their actions. They want to have the ultimate control over their partners, and they often achieve that. Lopez stated that he ‘turned into a monster’ when he heard what Nemeth said, as though her actions were the turning point in the crime - but the truth of the matter is that if he murdered Maria Nemeth he was a monster already.
There are plenty of healthy reactions to your girlfriend mentioning her ex during sex, and murder is not one of them. Feeling angry, sad, betrayed: these would all be valid reactions. Leaving her, even, or never speaking to her again. No one wants to hear their lover call out someone else’s name, but when a woman calls out a man’s name in front of her boyfriend it’s seen as such an insult precisely because it upsets society’s idea that she is his property. A domestic abuser would see this as an attack on his power – one punishable by any means possible.
If the attack on Nemeth had happened on the street, outside of Nemeth’s apartment, then nobody would care about the pathetic excuses of her attacker. But because this murder seems to have the added aspect of domestic violence, everything changes.
So how many more times do we have to hear the phrase ‘she was asking for it’? How many more women have to die simply because they are female? And how many times do we have to see their deaths downplayed by commentators? Nemeth was a victim in the purest form, and speculation about what might have driven someone to strike the final blow is nothing more than sexist diatribe.