If you’re not in an abusive relationship and you don’t know of anyone who is, you may think domestic violence is something that has little impact on you. And in some ways, you’re right. People who are abusive don’t usually commit violence or abuse outside of their homes. But what about when they do? What does that look like and what does it mean for the rest of us?
While details are still emerging about the school shooting that happened in Washington state on Friday, a consistent detail that keeps popping up is that this shooting may have been tied to a break up. And while we don’t know if this is an instance of domestic/teen dating violence spilling into the community, it would not at all surprise me if it was.
I was at the gym on Friday evening when I first learned about this shooting. The TV screen attached to my elliptical started showing images of the alleged shooter (is he still considered legally alleged in a case like this??) and I saw quotes from those who knew him that he was “popular” and “well-liked,” not like those other school shooters were “social outcasts”, or whatever. And in my gut I immediately felt this has to be connected to a relationship and sure enough the next reporting was about a recent break up and/or rejection that Jaylen Fryburg had gone through. And I hate being right about that. But more than that, I am bothered by our society’s complete and persistent ignorance to the fact that many people who are likeable are also abusive to their partners. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, until we stop thinking our friends, families, neighborhoods and communities are immune to domestic violence, it is going to be very, very hard to appropriately address this issue.
Furthermore, we need to realize that there is a connection between domestic violence and other types of violence, including community violence and even terrorism. If we look at the Boston Marathon bombings of last year, we have heard that the older brother had been arrested for domestic violence. The sniper shootings in 2002 were supposedly perpetrated by a batterer who was trying to distract law enforcement from his intentions to kill his ex-wife. These are just two examples when we are aware of a link. Whenever I hear about violence in our communities, I think about the likelihood that the perpetrators got certain messages and are now themselves abusers. Why do I think it’s likely that the people who commit terrorism and community violence are batterers? Because batterers have received messages that they are more important than others and they have the right to treat others as they see fit. This belief becomes ingrained in them and distorts how they see their relationships. And for most batterers, these beliefs only apply to their relationships. But for some the beliefs extend beyond their home lives. Because if you go around shooting people or setting off bombs, you must believe you’re justified to do this. And if you honestly think you’re justified and have the right to harm others, that’s entitled and dangerously self-centered. Again we also must remember that people who commit public, horrific acts can also be well-liked. The perpetrators who commit violence outside their homes may be charming or they may be loners. Abusive, entitled beliefs can be held by anyone, even people we really admire.
It would be an oversimplification to say that all violence is caused by domestic violence. I don’t think that’s true. I think violence, like most things in this world, is complex. But I do believe that eliminating the entitled beliefs that lead to domestic violence would make not only our homes safer but would also make our neighborhoods, communities and world significantly safer.