Tennessee Third in the Nation for Men Killing Women They've Been Involved With

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In all of the election hullabaloo, I didn't want you all to miss this story from The Tennessean about how our state is third in the nation for intimate-partner murders.

Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said repeat showings in the top 5 and 10 indicate real problems, though it's unclear exactly why that's the case.
"It tells you that it's not a fluke, that there's definitely a problem," she said. "If you're in the top 10 repeatedly, it shows the absolute need to prioritize and identify what can be effective prevention strategies."

Gov. Bill Haslam cited last year's Violence Policy Center report, which ranked Tennessee fifth in the nation, as part of the impetus for his public safety plan. A part of that plan included mandatory jail sentences of at least 30 days for a second conviction of domestic assault and at least 90 days for three or more convictions.

I'd like to commend the governor for attempting to address this. It's not an easy problem, especially because abusive men often kill their partners after their partners have left them. It's not enough to end a relationship with someone who is violent in order to end his violence toward you.

Back in 2007, David Adams published Why Do They Kill?: Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners. (I work for the publisher of that book, which is how i know about it.) It is the first in-depth American study of domestic homicides that includes interviews with the killers.

What Adams found out is pretty depressing, and shows the difficulty of addressing this phenomenon in general and in our state in particular. These murderers share common traits. The most common one is that they distrust women, often shading into outright dislike, so they view their female loved ones as inherently needing to be monitored and controlled in order to prevent or mitigate inevitable "betrayals." Breakups are often seen as the ultimate betrayal that must be punished by death.

Adams writes, "Already having failed in their primary goal of maintaining the relationship, many concluded 'the next best thing' was to kill their estranged partner. As several killers stated, killing at least ensured that 'no one else would have her.' Killing one's partner communicates not only the ultimate act of control but also of ownership since one prerogative of ownership is to destroy that which is no longer of use to us."

This is obviously not an attitude you can change in unwilling people (I would say it's not an attitude that's easy to change even in willing people), which means if we want to stop intimate-partner violence against women, we need to work as a state to change the attitudes of men like these before they get it into their heads that violence is the solution. And yet, a lot of men are raised in abusive homes and never become abusive, let alone murderous. So, how would you identify men like these before they've become violent? It's not like most men, even abusive ones, would just answer "yes" when asked outright if they think they own their wives or girlfriends.

And perhaps the scarier question is whether we'd get the wholehearted support of the religious and civic organizations we needed to buy in, or whether there's still enough of an attitude that a little violence in the house is a private matter and the state should butt out.

And the thing Adams identifies as making the biggest difference in these cases is taking away these guys' guns and finding real ways of keeping them from getting other guns. Adams says that men who end up killing their intimate partners have usually terrorized them with the prospect of murdering them or killing themselves — using their guns as props in their violent outbursts — for a long time before they use their guns to kill their partners. Guns are an important tool in the arsenal of the eventually murderous abuser. Waving a gun around and pointing it at themselves or their victims repeatedly is one way they work up the guts to actually do the killing. (Adams found that even though the killers sometimes explained these killings as spontaneous acts of passion, it was clear the killers had been thinking about the possibility of killing for months, sometimes years.)

I love you, Tennessee, but it's hard for me to imagine that a statewide effort to disarm men who may not yet be charged with any crime would be popular, let alone possible.

So, like I said, it's depressing. And I have no good answers. But I am glad that the gGovernor is taking a closer look at this issue.

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