“He loved her so much. He was never a violent person.” “They were inseparable, I can’t believe this happened.” “He was such a kind person, he would never harm a soul.” We hear these refrains every time someone falls victim to domestic violence. There’s always someone available to claim they know the accused and the situation well enough to know that some sort of demonic possession would have to come into play to lead to such a tragedy.
Half the time the media follows this story line. It would seem the perpetrator is just as much a victim as the victim is. One of the most egregious examples of this in my recent memory is the man who killed his fiancee in Plymouth, Minn., in February of this past year. Even though the man’s guilt was never a question, the initial stories seemed to paint him as, at the very least, a victim of circumstance. It was a complete surprise to all who knew him that something might drive him to such behavior.
But, even the lines written in his defense belie something sinister if you bother to look beyond the surface.
Of course this is coming from his attorney (though what stake he had in the scenario given the fact that the abuser/murderer had been killed at this point, I have no idea), but look at that language. Some outside, unforeseen force caused this. Caused him to chase down, shoot and kill the woman he supposedly loved. Caused him.
Any reasonable person would look at this statement immediately understand that this was not some freak incident. That this man had an evil in him long before any argument or alcoholic drink. Because reasonable people know that nothing would drive them to this. And reasonable people know that a “nice man” doesn’t go from being a loving fiancee to a murderer because of some misunderstanding with a valet.
Weird is not the word you use to describe behavior like this. It’s not weird. It’s evil. And to suggest that it’s such a strange phenomenon just because not everyone on the outside knew he was capable of such acts does a disservice to victims everywhere.
Even the worst of people have friends and family. And these worst of people likely don’t wear their worst on their sleeves with everyone they encounter. That would undermine the power they have over their victims. Being kind to some people in life is an act of survival, so even the basest of beings can present themselves as human from time to time.
In scenarios like this there’s undoubtedly a level of crazymaking and gaslighting going on. And when people come out of the woodwork to express their utter surprise or disbelief that the person they supposedly knew so well would behave so appallingly, it plays into uncertainties the abuser has already chipped into the victim's sanity. Despite the fact that they know the abuser is capable of heinous acts, because they lived them, a constant barrage of cheers from his personal pep squad can cause the victim to doubt the severity of the acts as well as the likelihood that they’ll be committed again.
He’s never done anything like this before. He has no history of violence. Well, that’s likely bullshit. Abusers are insidious. They break down victims and then promise them the world. Factor in the shame that comes along with abuse, and it’s unlikely the abused will ever report the acts of violence. And, even if they do, it’s uncommon for victims to press charges or cooperate with further investigation. This cycle makes it easy for abusers to fly under the radar. To escape the system. To keep victims quiet. If you dig deep enough, you’ll likely find “he’s never done anything like this before” to be one of the greatest lies ever told.
In this article, which explores the spiral of tragedy in the life of a Minnesota filmmaker, we find more of the common talk tracks that accompany these horrific situations.
We hear this one all too often. This and the “they were inseparable” line. Read further down and you find that the husband was controlling and overbearing, cutting his wife off from family and friends. Constant togetherness isn’t necessarily a sign of magnetic love. In abusive relationship it’s a sign of a tight grip and inescapable control.
Another cry from the pep squad. It’s hard to make peace with the idea that someone you know and care about could do something horrible and violent to people they love. In most cases the victim herself has a terrible time reconciling the abuser's behavior with the idea that they love this person. So, for those who didn’t experience the abuse first hand, it can be natural to dig your heels in and refuse to admit that this individual could carry out these crimes.
Because, admitting the person you care about is capable of evil can cause a whole slew of psychological and self-reflective questions that most people can’t process without the help of a mental health professional. So, it’s easier and safer to attribute the accusations to crazy ex girlfriends or conspiracy theories.
The entire piece from the title to up until the last paragraph, which is the most straightforward, honest part of the article, paints the abuser/murderer as a victim of circumstance. A MacBeth, a tragic hero. He had drive and all he wanted was to make a better life for his family while maintaining his creative integrity as he exposed truth through film.
Once you get to that one nugget of honesty at the end, you realize drive and creative integrity are just euphemisms for narcissism and control.
Of course, they immediately fall back into the tragic hero narrative, blaming everything from the weather and the generic “hard truths of life” for the actions of a murderer.
And then there’s this romantic tale of the man who hijacks an airplane to impress his ex wife. The media was quick to say the man is not a terrorist that he is simply an idiot in love with his ex. My first thought was of course he is a terrorist. He had undoubtedly been terrorizing her. And, sure enough, two days later the ex wife is allowed to tell her side of the story. The side that reveals an unmitigated abusive asshole.
We need to change the narrative. These are not tales of romance and intense passion. They are tales of criminals. Abusers. Violent offenders. Murderers. They may have had tragic circumstances in their lives that led to some bad decisions. Most broken people do, but they lose the right to have that part of their story told when they end someone else’s.
And then there's this from a story that ran in the wake of the horrible events in Pennsylvania earlier this month.
Good people. Good men. Men who actually love their partners “more than anything in the world.” Those people find a way to rise above their circumstances. They do not find ways to make excuses for their horrifying behavior. Those people are not “good men” and we need to stop telling stories that suggest they are.