Friday, April 10, 2009

He "Just" Killed His Girlfriend

The following is an op-ed written by Meg Rogers, the Executive Director of the Cherokee Family Violence Center, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response to this article.

Thomas West, the defense lawyer for Frederick Lee Gude – a man accused of killing his girlfriend in 2004 – offered a disturbing but sadly all too familiar view of domestic violence in the article, “Half-decade wait in some capital cases.” He comments, “We contend it was cruel and unusual to seek the death penalty in a case where you are just accused of killing your girlfriend and not something more heinous” [our emphasis]. Setting aside the question of whether it is ever justified to seek the death penalty, the second half of Mr. West's quote is what caught my attention, for it speaks volumes about a very common way in which our society minimizes violence when it is committed against an intimate partner. Apparently, in the minds of some, "just... killing your girlfriend" (by allegedly stabbing her with an ice pick over 30 times) does not constitute a heinous crime. Over 100 people are killed due to domestic violence each year in Georgia . Nationwide, more women are killed by an intimate partner than by all other persons. Domestic violence is an epidemic in our communities. Dismissing the most violent form, homicide, as an inconsequential crime is a dangerous and hateful disservice to all who survive and to all who have lost their lives due to it.

Rape and domestic violence are the only crimes in our society in which the victim is blamed for the perpetrator’s actions. Why is it that these crimes, largely perpetrated by men towards women, are ignored or explained away? Why must these women bear the brunt of their perpetrator’s violence? In modern times, most would scoff at the archaic idea that a man owns his wife (or girlfriend). However, comments such as that by Thomas West remind us that many still hold a misogynistic attitude that justifies violence by men in an intimate relationship. In such a violent world, the home and an intimate relationship should be a safe harbor. How then, do we come to accept or minimize the problem of domestic violence? The fact is that already this year -- just since January 1, 2009 -- 23 people in Georgia have already died due to domestic violence.

Studies show that one out of every three women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Comments like those of West further isolate victims of domestic violence from helpful resources and undermine the gravity of abuse and horror that they experience. As a community, we must stand up to domestic violence. We can end domestic violence, but only when communities choose to come together to state that this type of violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This work requires us to challenge the belief systems that allow us to shrug off "just killing a girlfriend," to stop blaming victims for the abuse, to stop minimizing the life-changing terror and trauma that is being inflicted, to hold batterers accountable for their violence, and to be agents of change rather than silent witnesses to the crime of domestic terrorism. There is help out there for anyone experiencing abuse or for their friends and family who want to help. Call the 24-hour, statewide hotline 1-800-33-HAVEN (800-334-3826) voice/TTY for information and resources.

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