Dec 10, 2013
House of Horrors
Posted on Apr 18, 2013
By Erika Eichelberger, TomDispatch
This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Rebecca Solnit’s introduction here.
Since the Newtown massacre, visions of unfathomable crazy mass killers and armed strangers in the night have colonized the American mind. Proposed laws have been drawn up that would keep potential mass murderers from getting their hands on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, or that would stop hardened criminals from buying guns. But the danger out there is both more mundane and more terrible: you’re more likely to be hurt or killed by someone you know or love. And you’ll probably be at home when it happens.
Between 2005 and 2010, 60% of all violent injuries in this country were inflicted by loved ones or acquaintances. And 60% of the time those victimizations happened in the home. In 2011, 79% of murders reported to the FBI (in which the victim-offender relationship was known) were committed by friends, loved ones, or acquaintances. Of the 3.5 million assaults and murders against family members between 1998 and 2002 (the last time such a study was done), almost half were crimes against spouses. Eleven percent were against children. But the majority of violent deaths are self-imposed. Suicide is the leading cause of violent death in the U.S., and most of those self-killings happen at home.
Violence Against Women
Vanette has plastic, rose-tinted glasses on and cowrie shells weaved into her braids. Her nails are long and thick and painted purple-brown. She has ample gaps in her teeth, and she’s sitting at the communal dining table at a “transitional home” in Washington, D.C., telling me about the time her boyfriend broke her knee.
Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women. The incidents add up to more than all the rapes, muggings, and car accidents women experience each year. One out of every four women in the U.S. will be physically injured by a lover in her lifetime. That translates into a woman being assaulted every nine seconds in America. Immigrant women are beaten at higher rates than U.S. citizens, and African-American women are subjected to the most severe forms of violence. Not surprisingly, a shaky economy just makes these numbers worse.
And then there are the rapes. Over a lifetime, one out of every six American women is raped. For Native Americans, that number is one in three. For Native Alaskans, it can be up to 12 times the national rate.
And don’t forget the killings. Sixty-four percent of the women killed every year are murdered by family members or lovers. There are more than 1,000 homicides of that kind annually, or approximately three a day. If there’s a gun in a home where domestic abuse is a common thing, a woman is eight times more likely to be killed.
Faced with this grim pile of data, the American home begins to look less like a “castle” and more like a slaughterhouse.
At the same time, these numbers actually represent a vast improvement in domestic violence rates compared with a decade and a half ago. Since 1994, the rate of violence against women in the home is down 64%.
That percentage isn’t quite as dramatic as it looks, because it coincides with a parallel decline in overall violence during the same period, and excludes the homeless, up to 40% of whom report going to the streets or someone’s couch because of violence in the home. Still, the drop is significant and is likely due to, among other things, a public coming to terms with the reality of domestic violence, relatively recent federal laws meant to protect victims in the home, and the training of police and prosecutors to treat such violence as a crime, not a private affair.
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