Wake Up: Nicole Hill and Institutional Oppression

There was a shooting rampage in PA yesterday. At least that’s what the media is calling it. Shooting spree, mass murder and so forth. And what Bradley William Stone appears to have done is all of those things. But it’s also something else that the media likely won’t focus on, or at least not to the extent that it should.

This was an intimate partner homicide. This was intimate partner abuse, aka domestic violence. The victim, Nicole had been saying that she knew he would kill her. Those of us who do domestic violence work know this is a huge warning sign for lethal abuse. In addition, Nicole Hill was recently engaged, another risk factor. They were in a “custody dispute” which the vast majority of the time is the media and society’s uneducated way of describing the end of an abusive relationship in which children are involved. The end of a relationship is typically the most dangerous for a survivor. This time period usually passes after several months but if kids and the court are involved, it’s anybody’s guess how long the controlling behavior will go on. And of course some controlling people will never stop abusing a particular ex, or perhaps any of their exes, as might be the case in this situation as Bradley William Stone was as remarried and still it is reported that he killed his ex-wife.

Intimate partner abuse is about power and control. It is not about mental health, as PTSD has been mentioned in this situation. What we know about domestic violence is that mental health may exacerbate controlling behaviors but mental health does not cause someone to become entitled to the extent they are controlling and abusive. And since this man killed others beyond his ex is likely indication of some mental health disorder, it does not mean that the mental health is what caused these homicides. People who are abusive are controlling and/or violent because they are entitled. And so my guess is PTSD may have tipped this man to be violent towards others in addition to violent towards his ex-wife, but what caused his violence to begin with is more likely related to entitled beliefs. It is just another variant in this awful tragedy, which had it been addressed may have prevented the homicide but assuming this is what it appears to be, intimate partner abuse, the beliefs that lead someone to control and abuse their partner would still be there. And until those beliefs are assessed for and addressed, this person would likely be abusive to his ex and the extent of his violence may or may not be similar to what we saw from him yesterday.

Comprehensive gun control would be helpful as guns certainly make lethal abuse/lethal threats easier to carry out. However guns are just an instrument in partner abuse, not the cause. But a very scary instrument, at that. Ultimately though increased gun control will not hold an abuser accountable to their entitled beliefs and subsequent actions.

If we just focus on mental health and guns in these tragedies, the amount of violence we see will not decrease. It is possible the amount of lethal violence will decrease because of what I mentioned above about guns as a tool for abuse and the exacerbation of abuse by mental health issues. But power and control, patriarchal beliefs that have been disseminated into heterosexual and same-sex relationships are the root cause here. Entitlement is what makes people think they have the right to kill the mother of their children. Entitlement is what makes people in relationships focus so extensively on their own feelings that they are unable to empathize with their partners and are thus able to terrorize, sometimes kill, them. And institutional oppressions, of all types, I believe are what makes this world so dangerous. Breaking down the beliefs, the systems of oppression and the entitlement that lead people to justify injustice and to see their group as superior to another group, whether the group be based on gender or race or gender/race/gender identity or any other oppressed group – that is what is so crucial here. Without the empathy and without the genuine disbelief that any of us are superior to anyone else I truly worry about this world. And then I worry even more because as many feminists and Civil Rights Advocates and LGBTQ advocates articulately express this concern, it seems to repeatedly fall on unreceptive ears. I’m so tired of explaining this information to others only for them to respond with denial and/or apathy. And more than that I am angry and afraid of the existence and extent of violence in the world and that society seems to stubbornly ignore the root causes of this injustice and violence.

I am so sad for the children who lost their mother. I am sad that their father was likely so focused on his own entitled belief that he should get what he wants that he actually killed their mother. I am sad that society focuses more on mental health that they miss the long history of misogyny that led this man to pick up a gun in the first place and kill his ex and many others. So on this early morning, I implore society to wake up. Wake up to misogyny, wake up to white supremacy, wake up to all forms of institutional oppression and the very real and devastating consequences of their existences. Wake up to these matters and eventually, I believe, we can wake up to peace.

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