Newsflash: Domestic Violence and the Gun Control Crisis Are Killing Women

What can be said about the loss of a woman’s life? A woman with talents, and athletic strength, a woman who filled so many lives with laughter. A woman with a life of possibility and promise ahead of her. And what injustice that this life was not merely lost, but taken, because of the selfish, vile, and violent act of an entitled coward of a man.

I would like to say I am enraged, but truly I am so, so tired. Because as horrific a story it is, a young woman being murdered by an ex with a bruised ego, it is a common one. With each death of a woman by domestic and intimate partner abuse, it is a reminder that our lives are unimportant to those making and enforcing the laws.

Lauren McCluskey did many spectacular things in her 21 years. She ran track for the University of Utah, specializing in jumps, she majored in communications and expected to graduate in May 2019, she maintained a 3.75 GPA, and had many close friends and family. Her life promised wonderful things to come until a  man took her life and future then killed himself. 

McCluskey dated 37 year old Melvin Rowland for a month during which he lied about his age, name, and criminal history (he was a convicted sex offender on parole). When made aware of his criminal status she ended the relationship, blocked his and his friends’ numbers, and contacted police to aid in retrieving her car which Rowland borrowed. When he began to harass her, McCluskey reported the harassment to campus police. So why on the evening of October 22 was Lauren McCluskey left vulnerable? She did everything right, she followed all the rules of safety given to women, and she died. Nobody protected her. As women, how should we interpret this?

Even when we do report, our fears are not taken with the seriousness they should be. In the instance of Lauren, the University of Utah police did not report the harassment to the Department of Corrections who were in charge of Rowland’s parole. As women raise our voices when fearful of an intimate or ex partner we act courageously, to then be met with silence is a terrible blow. But women’s fears particularly in relation to domestic and dating violence are valid and sound.

The CDC recently reported 55 percent of all female homicides were in relation to intimate partner violence. Many cases reported instances of violence prior to the killing where intervention was possible. But research has shown police are more likely to respond to reports of violence or harassment quickly, and are more likely to make arrests, when the assailant is a stranger, despite the highest amount of female homicide being committed by domestic partners. In Utah, first time offenders often only serve a few months, if they serve at all. And because domestic violence has a high probability of recurrence, many of these offenders continue the abuse. Even men who murder their spouses or partners receive lighter sentences than those who kill strangers.

What is going on? Do women’s lives matter less when the abuse is enacted by a husband or boyfriend? Are these statistics, perhaps in relation to high rates of domestic violence in police communities? Why are the justice system and police force sending the message if you’d like to beat a woman, well then beat the one you’re in a relationship with? These matters may occur in privacy, but they are a public crisis. Women’s lives and safety should matter regardless of who is hurting them. Punish abusers. All abusers.

Police reports do not show how Rowland came to possess a firearm, but in Utah, he would legally be able to purchase one. Utah’s gun restrictions are some of the loosest in the country. Representatives have gone so far as to argue in recent years that less gun control protects women by allowing them to arm themselves. In reality, more than 60 percent of all gun owners are men. And when abusers possess a firearm their victims are five times more likely to die.

Rowland, a registered sex offender on parole, was prohibited under Utah law to receive a concealed carry permit, however Utah doesn't require permits for private purchase of guns, or to keep a loaded gun in a vehicle. By allowing sex offenders, and intimate partner abusers to own guns at all, we are putting women at risk. Mandatory background checks with each gun purchase could easily prevent men who pose risks to women from getting firearms. Stricter gun laws could save women’s lives.

Both lawmakers and the law enforcers need to be paying more attention to violence against women. Punishments for abusers need harshening, access to guns cut off, and women’s fears and reports addressed. When women are dismissed, when our reports are ignored, when our abusers are not punished, when help is delayed, and lives are lost, we are given the message that our lives don't matter. That we don't matter. As a society we need to do better. Lawmakers need to do better. Police need to do better. Women are being murdered. Women are dying. Women are dying. Show us that our lives matter.

Utah Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 897-5465

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