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August 2016
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“just domestic violence”: some thoughts on the VA Tech massacre

By now you’ve probably heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech. Like everyone else, I am horrified. The University of Virginia is deep in mourning for the people who were killed at our sister school. Almost everyone here has people they care about at VT. I send my heartfelt condolences to everyone who lost a loved one, or who had to experience having their life threatened in a place that should be a refuge.

I am noticing a disturbing pattern in the reporting about this incident. One of the main questions being asked is why, when the first killings happened around 7am, people weren’t notified until around 9am, and whether if word had gotten out sooner it would have saved lives. Good question. The reason that is given for not [making a major announcement | cancelling classes | sending the email sooner | calling the press | whatever you think the right course of action might have been] is that the first victim seems to have been the killer’s girlfriend, which turns the murder into “domestic violence,” and therefore apparently not something the rest of us need to worry about.

On NPR this morning I heard a policeman defend the campus’s security actions because they couldn’t have foreseen that the afternoon shooting would follow on the heels of the morning shooting, after all, the morning shooting was “just domestic violence.” Over on my otherwise beloved boingboing, they have posted a comment regarding whether the campus should have been shut down:

Is that an appropriate response in any community that size for what authorities legitimately believed was initially a domestic disturbance call?

Now, I’m not arguing that they should or should not have shut the campus down. I am not a security expert, nor do I claim to know anything about crowd control. But I can recognize when women are being turned into non-people, because I’ve seen it a few times before.

Here is a simple rule to follow: When someone is killed with a gun in a premeditated fashion, it is called MURDER. It is not called “domestic violence.” It is definitely not called “domestic disturbance.”

The first person who was killed was a human being. She had thoughts and interests and joys and concerns. She had parents, and friends, and people who loved her. Her death was in no way less of a crime because she might have been dating the person who killed her.

I am deeply disturbed by the attitude I see that the first two murders were somehow not worth getting alarmed over because there was a relationship between the killer and one of his victims. I wonder whether this attitude might have shaped the security decisions made later in the day, to everyone’s detriment.

Violence against women is everyone’s problem. If you believe that because you are not a woman, or because you have a nice partner, that our society’s attitude toward the beating and murder of women does not affect you, I think VT just proved you wrong.


Comment from LibrarySarah
Time: April 18, 2007, 5:12 pm

Hear, hear! Excellent point. Thank you for making it.

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