Darrell Brooks — the man charged with driving his Ford SUV into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin with no clear motivation and killed six people — had a documented history of domestic violence. He was a registered sex offender and, according to court documents, was out on bond for charges related to domestic abuse when the Waukesha tragedy happened. He allegedly ran over a woman who says she is the mother of his child with his car.
To me, that’s not surprising. What is surprising — or at least galling — is that we still do not take violence against women seriously when the correlation between domestic abuse and other violent crime seems so clear. That means that ultimately, everybody else is less safe. If the allegations against Brooks — that he had already used a vehicle to attempt to seriously injure a woman he’d been formerly in a relationship with — were considered more seriously, then perhaps five families wouldn’t be mourning the deaths of their loved ones today.
I would hope that society would take violence against women seriously simply because women are human. But if that is still not a reasonable thing to ask, do women really matter so little that we can continue to overlook domestic violence as a serious crime even if it could be a predictor of future mass murder?
Despite a strong, well-documented statistical correlation between perpetrators of domestic abuse and those who go on to commit murders and other violent crime, gender-based and intimate partner violence is still seen mostly as a private, family matter — both by the justice system and the public at large. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, and so many others have more in common than their gender — they all had a history of violence against women. In fact, one study analyzing data from the Gun Violence Archive between 2014 and 2019 found that two-thirds of mass shootings were either domestic violence-related or the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence. Another study found that at least 54 percent of mass shootings between the years of 2009 and 2018 were domestic violence-related. Also well-documented is the fact that most intimate partner murders, generally a man who murders a female partner, begin with domestic violence. And intimate partner violence accounts for 17 percent of violent crime.
So why then is violence against women so rarely taken as a warning sign of potential future violence? Why are domestic violence cases prosecuted at lower rates than other crimes? Why have we not enacted federal legislation that would ban people with a history of domestic violence from accessing firearms?
Perhaps it could be because domestic abuse is rampant within the police force itself. A 2014 article in The Atlantic cited several studies indicating that not only is domestic violence two to four times more likely in police families than in the national average, but police tend to take an informal approach to disciplining colleagues found to have committed some kind of domestic violence. Officers may be immediately fired for failing a marijuana test, but are rarely punished for abusing a partner or spouse.
We’re used to seeing this kind of thin-blue-line thinking within their own ranks, but statistics would indicate that law enforcement and state prosecutors take a similarly lax view of most domestic and gender-based violence cases. Take the recent case out of New York, in which a man admitted to raping and sexually assaulting four teen girls, and the judge determined that jail time would be “inappropriate”. In another recent case, a Baltimore police officer convicted of rape was sentenced to home detention because the judge found no “evidence of any psychological injury to the victim.”
These are not isolated incidents. An Associated Press report in 2019 found that one Louisiana prosecutor’s office had dropped 90 percent of misdemeanor domestic violence cases since 2018. In fact, misdemeanor domestic violence cases are dropped often across the western world. The Guardian reported in 2019 that domestic abuse prosecutions in the UK fell by nearly a quarter that year.
Additionally, whatever data we do have is skewed by the fact that most victims of domestic violence never report their assaults to the police. And we wonder why. We live in a deeply patriarchal society that is mired in toxic masculinity. The truth is we are still teaching our boys to show strength through violence and we are still teaching our girls that abuse is an unfortunate fact of women’s lives, like menstrual cramps or childbirth. When do we teach them that women’s rights are human rights, and that violence against women begets violence against everyone?