Why Do Some Men Kill Their Wives or Girlfriends? Domestic Violence as Murder
An article published on December 29, 2010 in The Dallas Morning News, reported
that Arlington police officer Jillian Smith was shot to death while trying to protect an
11-year-old girl. The girl's mother was involved in a domestic dispute. Smith, 24,
had been dispatched to take a domestic violence report. When she arrived, she
encountered Kimberly Deshay Carter, 29, and her daughter. Minutes after her
arrival, the suspected murderer, Barnes Samuel Nettles, 38, arrived at the
apartment with a gun. As he began shooting, Officer Smith moved toward the girl
to cover her. Nettles fatally shot Smith. The young girl escaped. Nettles
approached a bedroom and fatally shot Carter. He then went into the living room
and fatally shot himself.
In the literature that provides our current understanding of why perpetration of
domestic abuse occurs, at least three major assumptions are made. First, we
assume Domestic Violence is related to personal factors: Alcoholism is the cause of
violence or batterers are mentally ill. Second, we assume partner abuse occurs
due to family factors: Violence begets violence, via role modeling in the home.
Third, we assume such violence is associated with socio-cultural factors: We have
a patriarchal society in that our society holds traditional male dominated attitudes
and viewpoints and is based on traditional male-dominated practices. Therefore,
patriarchy invites and sustains violence against women. Power and control issues
are too often played out within the relationship through emotional, physical,
psychological and financial abuse. When talking about reasons for the epidemic
of Domestic Violence, we emphasize that power and control issues play out within
the marriage through emotional, physical, and psychological abuse.
In these current assumptions about Domestic Violence, there is A HORSE ON
THE DINING ROOM TABLE. A "horse on the dining room table" refers to any
subject matter that members in a specific group are all aware of to some extent
but for various reasons do not, cannot, or will not discuss it because of
undesirable outcomes or implications to some or all of its members. In
discussions of the reasons husbands or boyfriends kill wives or girlfriends,
financial factors, including financial attitudes and practices, are still largely
ignored. Money is at the heart of our capitalistic society, a society that is still
run by those men and women holding traditional male-dominated (or
Patriarchal) viewpoints about gender and gender-appropriate behavior.
Perpetration of Domestic Violence is allowed to continue precisely because
dysfunctional and harmful financial attitudes and practices (e.g., the failure
to educate girls and women on serious financial issues, the discrepancy in
pay between males and females (unequal pay for equal work) the financial
abuse of women in marriages, unreasonably low monetary consequences
for perpetrators, inequitable distribution of assets in divorce settlements for
women who leave their abusers) on the part of individuals, families, and
societal institutions in this country sustain it. Such social institutions include
the institution of marriage; religious institutions; the judicial system; political
institutions; law enforcement institutions; the economic system at the
national, state, and local levels, both public and private; military institutions;
workplace cultures; the media; and institutions of higher education (in both
academic and athletic domains).
Why do some men kill spouses or girlfriends? Most simply, some men kill
wives and girlfriends because they can. Social institutions overtly or covertly
allow such homicide to continue because biased financial attitudes and
practices at the personal, familial, and institutional levels allow it to continue.
Are all men to be considered potential spouse abusers and/or murderers? No,
men are not natural born killers. Even men who have issues with childhood abuse,
alcohol consumption, and physical aggression with other males (e.g., bar room
brawls, or participation in physically aggressive sports), do not compulsorily turn
such violence-prone tendencies into violence against their spouses and girlfriends,
let alone murder.
Who are the men who do it and what prompts them to do so? Most professionals
would agree that there are at least two types of men who batter their wives.
In the first type, men who batter are more emotionally needy and more difficult
to live with. They are highly sensitive to abandonment by their wives or partners.
They can be described as dysphoric and/or borderline. They often engage their
partners in demand-withdraw patterns of interaction, whereby the man requests
(initially) or demands (later) change from his partner, while the woman avoids
(initially) or withdraws (later). Wives of this type of batterer are more likely to
leave the battering relationship. However, the most vulnerable time for a woman
to experience violence by her spouse or partner is when she attempts to leave
In the second type, batterers are explosive and very dangerous. They are initially
captivating and later frightening to their wives. They are often described as
narcissistic, self-centered, entitled, unemotional, incapable of empathy, cruel,
and sociopathic in the extreme. These traits grow deeper and stronger with time
and, as such, cannot be changed. These men are not able to think about the
implications of their behavior for others and the impact of their behavior on others.
When they do cause harm to their wives, they can only talk about the level of
annoyance and inconvenience to which the situation has subjected them. They
see their partners as unimportant, to the extent that a woman (especially a
vulnerable woman in terms of number of existing children to care for, income
level, etc.) can be won over by jewelry, flowers, and charm, and who can be
used for their own gratification on demand. This second type of batterer is
more likely to have had a chaotic, traumatic childhood, to commit more emotional
abuse, to inflict more severe levels of violence, and to commit violence outside
as well as inside the marriage. This latter type is more likely to have more
severe forms of mental illness (e.g., antisocial personality), substance
abuse/dependence, and criminal histories. This type of batterer is more difficult
for the wife to leave because of the extreme violence they have previously experienced.
Why do men who batter go to the extent of actually murdering the women in their lives?
Two suggestions are proposed. First, they believe they are entitled to control the
existence of another person. Second, they perceive the lack of real, logical, and harsh
consequences, both legal and financial, for perpetrating this extreme form of violence.
Society often provides the feedback that they are right. In any relationship, marital or
otherwise, individuals want to know that they can make a difference, that they have
the power to influence another, at least some of the time. A significant reduction
in the escalating rates of wife/partner abuse and murder will be had when and only
when peer relationships and peer marriages (in terms of equal access to wealth,
power, and prestige within the relationship) becomes the standard by which relationships
are judged as healthy and abuse-free.
On societal and political levels as well, people acquire the ability to influence others
through the acquisition of wealth, power, and prestige. Social and political institutions
are ways that individuals access the ability to influence others on a societal, and thus,
on a more significant and lasting, level. Hence, it is at these levels that we must effect
change if we are to eliminate wife or girlfriend abuse and murder. There is a taboo in
America's institutions against full exposure to the depth and breadth of factors related
to Domestic Violence, and a failure to spend necessary and sufficient money to ensure
its eradication in our lifetime. We must call for change at the institutional level by
eradicating corruption within these institutions. A strong message must be sent. We
will effect change through the wealth, power, and prestige of those working within these
institutions when they condone such violence or fail to hold harshly accountable men
who batter and commit murder against the women in their lives.
In the cases of murdering husbands and boyfriends, we need to look at the financial
context of the murder. What financial factors might have played a role in the alleged
crime? Can we learn more about the role of personal, familial, social, and political
factors, as related to money factors, from women victimized in such a heinous way in
order to prevent future loss of life? If so, the recent loss of the lives of two courageous
women in Arlington, Texas, like so many before them, will not have been in vain.