I’ve been thinking a lot about this article. I’ve no idea who the Last Psychiatrist is, but they wrote this back in 2010. They aren’t Australian, but it doesn’t much matter because Australia has a really, really bad Domestic Violence problem. Rosie Battie illuminates this; she began an awareness/sort of political career after her psychotic ex-partner murdered her son. Battie does excellent work and she deserves ever commendation she gets, but I sort of wish she didn’t have to do it? like maybe if the police had have taken her more seriously, maybe if our mental health systems weren’t shit.. etc etc.
What strikes me the most, though, in the Battie case, is how false it proves misogynistic underlying thoughts and feelings about how a battered woman should behave, the inner psychology of these men, and so on. Lundy Bancroft talks about this extensive in Why Does He Do That. In particular there’s a bit where Bancroft talks about the ‘uncontrollable’ rage these men supposedly have:
‘I was interviewing a woman named Sheila by telephone. She was describing the rages that my client Michael would periodically have: “He just goes absolutely berserk, and you never know when he’s going to go off like that. He’ll just start grabbing whatever is around and throwing it…two questions. The first was, when things got broken, were they Michael’s, or hers, or things that belonged to both of them? She left a considerable silence while she thought. Then she said, “You know what? I’m amazed that I’ve never thought of this, but he only breaks my stuff. I can’t think of one thing he’s smashed that belonged to him.’
What Lundy is intimating here, of course, is that there’s nothing uncontrollable about his rage. One old fashioned piece of advice that battered women get is to stay out of the way of their partners when they are behaving this way. The fact is that the rage is only for her. He’s not incapable of controlling his anger; he wants her to see it that way so she’ll walk on eggshells. So Battie, i’d bet on, was told not to make him angry; to reason with him. She blatantly tried to. She attempted to make their relationship work several times, she let him have access to their son. She tried to stay out of the courts.
What I am trying to say is that abused women are always blamed for setting them off in some way. In reality Battie could never have won, because western society blames Women for men’s anger even when they haven’t done anything. Battie couldn’t win. The game is rigged because the rules you’re supposed to follow to keep you safe (don’t be a bitch, don’t take his kids away, be nice, don’t dress like that) don’t work, in fact they do nothing of the sort and are just supposed to control you.The men that kill their families ‘altruistically’ only do it for control. How is it that our number one unspoken law- don’t kill anybody- can be invalidated, only in this one specific circumstance? which in actually happens disturbingly often. The one factor I would argue that- in Media terms- affects the level of sympathy shown- is the death of the killer. One famous Australian case last year involved a man who planned the deaths of his wife and Two children and then killed them and himself with poison gas. Because he left no note, the media blamed, variously, the two children’s disabilities (they were autistic) money trouble, and the wife. How they did this was pretty subtle. I am linking the headline here. It says, boldly:
Davidson deaths: Mother Maria Pena was part of suicide pact to end children’s lives, family friend says
the issue here is twofold. Number one, it says ‘Davidson Deaths.’ No mention of murder or suicide at all. Second, there’s no evidence for the headline whatsoever. The family friend in actuality speculates that Pena must have known about the plot because the Father had been installing the gas pipes in the roof for weeks. The problem, of course, is that many people saw him working on the pipes, including the neighbors. By that omission, it leaves Pena looking either delusional or complicit, even though working on the roof is a thing that happens often. Because in this case Maria Pena’s life seemed to be relatively happy- she was a pillar of the community, she loved her children and had plenty of good friends- for the Altruistic angle to work, she has to have been in on it.For obvious reasons ‘Altruistic man kindly kills his suffering children and wife’ sounds better, fits better into our cultural narrative than ‘Emotionally Abusive man kills wife and children because he feels he has a right to.’ I mean, hell, why wouldn’t he think that? the posthumous response to his actions seems to indicate everybody is fine with this situation. ‘His’ family after all. He was even buried with the woman who wanted a separation!
I watched a British Documentary about family killers, and there was a line in it I thought was a bit weird, the presenter said something like ‘their argument tipped him over the edge.’ I have been around abusive men. One thing about them I can say, assuredly, is that they are already over the edge. They are always prepared to use violence. That’s why sometimes when women rolls their eyes and complain about how ‘grumpy’ their partner gets, there is a tinge of fear. Because a a man who throws about his anger in that fashion will let you know it. The murder of women by their partners (a singleton killing) is often framed as an escalation.
A family murder involves time, planning. The decision has already been made in this case, and the wants and needs of other family members become superfluous. I could compare the treatment of the Pena case to that of Christy Sheats, a woman in Texas who shot and killed her two daughters and was then shot dead by police. Absolutely no one attempted to justify this killing. It was impossible, after all. Christy was a Mother who shot dead her children. The media claimed Sheats did it to ‘punish’ her husband. In actuality it was more likely that Christy was a psychotic racist who didn’t want her elder daughter to marry her long time boyfriend, a man of Mexican descent. Don’t get me wrong, the Media still gives excuses- that she was mentally ill, for one- but there’s no trace of the suggestion of understanding, of the desire to extend sympathy to the murderer. We’re still seeing distortion, just of a different sort. Just like ‘Altruism’ is more palatable than outright murder, a sudden outburst of mental illness (despite Sheats obviously needing help; she had attempted suicide three times before this incident) is more easily digestible than a story of racism, of a broken mental health system and a society that places a disturbing emphasis on ‘The Perfect Marriage.’
To try and wrap this up:
Murdering somebody is never an act of altruism (bar a few cases involving terminal illness.) The moment you begin to believe somebody cannot survive without you is the moment you have lost respect for them. Children are never better off dead than alive. Next time somebody claims Domestic Violence statistics are overblown, ask them about Rosie Battie.