Unintentional victim blaming reveals more about society than the speaker
Police Commissioner's comments about domestic violence raise eyebrows and ire Ð but let's not misplace blame
Sometimes, when political officials claim to have simply misspoken, they’re not just covering their tracks, but just telling the truth.
Nonetheless, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda’s comments about last week’s murder-suicide in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood reveal the deeply rooted and problematic nature of societal discourse surrounding domestic violence.
When asked about the events surrounding the crime, in which a man killed his wife and then himself, Derenda referenced the couple’s long history of domestic violence. He explained that the records of domestic violence issues involving the couple existed in both Tennessee and Florida. In fact, Buffalo police responded to a call from the home the previous night – they filed a report and left, because the male suspect was no longer at the residence.
Knowing this – and that there were seven domestic violence homicides in Erie County last year, and 650 throughout New York – it’s completely understandable – and to be honest –fairly expected, that Derenda would be frustrated.
His comments, and the lack of foresight apparent in them, reflect that.
When discussing the crime, and the recent spike in domestic violence in the Allentown area, Derenda stated that, “I can say that you really can't control domestics. We have a history here. A long history. If she would have left him a while back, maybe we wouldn't be where we are.”
Derenda’s statements reveal his anger at the situation, at the helplessness felt by a leader of a police force rendered useless by the sequence of events leading up to the murder-suicide, a police force struggling to help victims of domestic violence and feeling like they’re not doing enough.
Yes, his comments are problematic. They do place blame on the victim, which is never acceptable. A woman recently murdered by her husband does not deserve to be criticized or implicated. And statements like Derenda’s can exacerbate the suffering of other victims, who may feel as though they’re to blame for their own predicament.
Domestic violence is the fault of those committing the crime.
It’s as simple as that – the guilt of the perpetrators of domestic violence is one of the few aspects of this type of crime that is simple.
What occurred in Allentown last week exemplifies that.
The violence reportedly occurred after the man’s wife told him that she was leaving him and returning to Florida. This woman, it seems, had decided to liberate herself, to move on from what police reports suggest was a long-term, violent relationship.
She was making the right choice – a brave choice that shows strength of character and determination, and her courage got her killed.
Situations like this demonstrate why domestic violence is such a pervasive problem, and why it’s so difficult for victims to escape, despite the many members of society aching to help them do just that.
And yet, with all the awareness and all the resources, with hotlines and underground railroads and police forces at the ready, victims are still dying.
Given the nature of domestic violence – the complexity of romantic and familial relationships, with emotional connection and dependence intertwined with abuse and hardship makes this form of violence more difficult to prevent, and its victims more difficult to rescue than those of other crimes. It’s tragic, it’s frustrating and it’s not getting any better.
Perhaps that is what Derenda was really trying to say.