Each day in the United States, three women are murdered by intimate partners — husbands, boyfriends and exes.
America has the highest rate of domestic violence homicide of any industrialized country. In one year, 12.7 million people are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners. That’s approximately the population of New York and Los Angeles combined — or 24 people every minute.
We know this all too well in Pierce County, where any person on the street can likely recall a publicized case of a domestic violence homicide. What we don’t know is how to call this epidemic what it is, every single time.
In May alone, people died in our communities as a result of domestic violence. One woman escaped this certain fate with the help of a convenience store clerk — four others did not. One woman was severely injured; one perpetrator took his own life, leaving his two children orphaned and scarred unimaginably.
On the heels of yet another mass shooting specifically linked to misogyny, it is inexplicable to think that there is still minimizing or justifying of gender-based violence. While many people of all genders, orientations and walks of life experience domestic violence, the single largest risk factor is being female or perceived as effeminate.
And yet none of the stories this past month were initially reported as what they are — domestic violence. When the language we use to describe these crimes focuses on the assailant’s height, the notorious neighborhood or the perpetrator’s audacity to kick the police dog (he did, after all, just set another human being on fire), then we are really missing the point.
This matters because it is easy to distance ourselves from things we think don’t impact us personally.
Believing that mental illness causes such violence leads us to think we don’t have to worry if we don’t associate with the mentally ill. Believing that it’s just another crime in a historically high-crime area leads us to think that we can avoid harm if we don’t live in that kind of neighborhood, or that it’s a problem that only affects “those people.”
Believing that domestic violence is not preventable leads us to believe that we are powerless to change this problem whose repercussions reach into future generations and cost us all billions of dollars annually.
In each case reported in May, there was a pattern, a history and knowledge that someone’s safety was at risk. Each report is an opportunity to name domestic violence for what it is, to share resources, and have conversations that create space for thought and action.
In the time it took to read this, 100 more people were abused. You will very likely encounter one of those people, or be one yourself. Naming what’s happening and knowing how to get help could literally be the difference between life and death.
Karin White is deputy director of the YWCA Pierce County and has worked in the field of victims’ services for 15 years.