Another day, another case of gender-based violence leading to mass murder.
Stephen Paddock, the man who shot down hundreds of people enjoying a music concert from his hotel window in Las Vegas, reportedly liked violent rape fantasies. He paid a woman thousands of dollars to be tied up, scream for help and be subject to an aggressive assault.
Local Starbucks staff also told reporters that Paddock used to talk down to his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, in front of them. He told her: “I’m paying for your drink, just like I’m paying for you.”
The pattern is worryingly predictable: domestic violence and violence against women is ignored, allowing the perpetrator to escape punishment and commit horrendous atrocities.
There are so many examples, yet we are so quick to forget them. Here are just a few.
In January 2017 Esteban Santiago flew from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale airport, pulled out a checked gun at baggage claim and shot 13 people. In January 2016, he was arrested for strangling his girlfriend. He then violated the terms of his release and got off with a deferred prosecution agreement. The focus of the news was not his past violent behaviour. It was whether he sympathised with Isis and whether the US should have gun controls at airports.
Also in Florida, gunman Omar Mateen burst into a gay nightclub in Orlando last June, killing 49 people in what was described as the worst attack since 9/11. (Paddock killed 58 people on the Las Vegas strip.) Mateen had beaten and tortured his ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy. He used to attack her, often while she was asleep, for simple things like not finishing the laundry. Again, the attention was dominated by his apparent “radicalisation”.
In September 2016, Ahmad Khan Rahami detonated bombs in New Jersey and New York City, injuring dozens of people. Nobody died – but they were lucky. The 28-year-old had a history of violence. In 2012 he was arrested on a charge of contempt for allegedly violating a domestic violence restraining order. The charge was downgraded and it is not clear what the final result was. In another case, a jury declined to indict him in January 2015 after he was arrested the previous year with charges of alleged aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.
Why should this pattern be so surprising? If a man is capable of beating, hitting, strangling or even killing his partner, the woman he is supposed to love and who might be the mother of his children, then of course he would be capable of hurting perfect strangers.
The list continues. Robert Dear, the man who opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in 2015, killing three people, had a lengthy violent history with women, according to interviews with the women and court documents. He was also charged with rape in 1992, dragging a woman he met at a mall into his house at knifepoint. There is no record of a conviction, so it is possible the case was dismissed.
One of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, admitted to “slapping" his girlfriend in the face in 2009. He was a golden gloves boxer. He was arrested for domestic assault and battery, but the charge was dismissed by a jury trial in 2010. He and his brother went on to kill three people and injure several hundred with two homemade bombs.
In the aftermath of a terrorist explosion or mass shooting, it’s easy for the panel of “experts” on prime time television to speculate the motive. A lone wolf, a radical extremist, the immigrant with "un-American values", or as some newspapers described Stephen Paddock, a man who “kept to himself” and who enjoyed country music. But it’s not so easy to recognise or deal with the fact that for most men who turn out to be labelled as “terrorists”, their path of violence and extremism started out much closer to home.
And that’s part of the problem. Violence in the home, behind closed doors, is often dismissed and seen as the problem for that particular couple, or that man and that sex worker, and not of society at large. One misguided journalist, reporting on the case of a man who murdered his pregnant girlfriend in Washington DC, wrote in 2012 that the neighbour “didn’t know the troubled young couple and had no idea of their alleged problems […]”
The woman is complicit in her own death, and the wife or girlfriend of a terrorist murderer, if she is still alive afterwards, is too often a focus for blame. That attitude still exists now. Just take a look at the swarm of media headlines when Marilou Danley flew from the Philippines back to the US last week. The news that her “plane had landed” became the top trending item on Twitter.
It is beyond time to take domestic violence more seriously. Every single day, three or more women are murdered by their current or former partners, according to the American Psychology Association. There might be hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who would be capable enough to carry out the next attack.
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