Control and Fear: What Mass Killings and Domestic Violence Have in Common
Amanda Taub writes in the NY Times:
One of the first things we learned about Omar Mateen, the gunman in the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., was that his ex-wife said he had beaten her severely until she left him in 2009.
If it sounds familiar that a gunman in a mass shooting would have a history of domestic violence, it should.
In February, Cedric Ford shot 17 people at his Kansas workplace, killing three, only 90 minutes after being served with a restraining orderagainst his ex-girlfriend, who said he had abused her. And Man Haron Monis, who carried out a 17-hour siege at a cafe in Sydney, Australia, in 2014, in which two people were killed and four were wounded, had terrorized his ex-wife. He had threatened to harm her if she left him, and was eventually charged with organizing her brutal murder.
When Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analyzed F.B.I. data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, it found that 57 percent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.
Social scientists have not settled on an explanation for this correlation, but their research reveals striking parallels between what drives the two phenomena.
There are, of course, a tangle of factors behind every murder, especially terrorism inspired by foreign groups. But research on domestic violence hints at a question that often surrounds seemingly inexplicable events like Mr. Mateen’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub — what drives individuals to commit such mass attacks? — and sheds light on the psychology of violence.
‘Intimate Terrorism,’ International Terrorism
Domestic violence often follows a pattern in which an abuser seeks to control every aspect of a victim’s life. The scope and intent of this are hinted at in one name experts use for it: “intimate terrorism.”
“The perpetrator is engaging in a general pattern of control over the victim — her finances, her social contacts, the clothes she wears,” said Deborah Epstein, who runs Georgetown University Law Center’s domestic violence clinic.
Violence is the perpetrator’s means of enforcing that control — and of punishing any attempts to break it.
Mr. Mateen’s brief marriage to Sitora Yusufiy seems to fit this model. She has said that he forced her to hand over her paychecks to him, forbade her to leave the house except to go to work, and prevented her from contacting her parents. Even small perceived infractions were met with a violent response.
Take this dynamic of coercive violence to intimidate and control to its most horrible extreme, and it looks an awful lot like how the Islamic State treats women in its self-proclaimed caliphate. As my Times colleague Rukmini Callimachi has reported, the group has created a vast infrastructure of rape and slavery in which women are held captive and bought and sold by its fighters. It is intimate violence on an industrial scale.
Domestic violence, experts say, is also often a way for . . .