Opinion

The Great Debate

Time to block gun violence against women

If October is like every other month, 46 women in the United States will be murdered with a gun by an intimate partner.

Public attention was gripped by the most recent mass shooting, at the Navy Yard in Washington, but during Domestic Violence Awareness month, we need to focus on the fact that women face a heightened risk of gun violence.

Women are more than three-and-a-half times as likely to be killed by an intimate partner as men. A gun in a household with a history of domestic violence increases by 20 times the risk that a woman will be killed there, compared to households without guns. Similarly, more than 75 percent of stalking victims are women — and stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten their victims in 1 out of 5 cases. The statistics show: Guns plus a history of domestic violence or stalking equals increased risk of death to women.

Tragically, there are numerous stories that bear this out. Zina Daniel obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband after he made numerous threats against her.  Teri Lee sought police protection and obtained a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend after he broke into her home and threatened her with butcher knives.  Stacey Sutera notified police when an acquaintance began stalking her, and ultimately helped secure a criminal conviction against him. Laura Acevez sought police protection from an abusive ex-boyfriend and told police that he owned guns. These women were all shot and killed by the men who abused them, even after seeking help from the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, there are so many others.

Congress recognized the risks posed by domestic abusers with guns by passing legislation in the 1990s prohibiting people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or subject to certain restraining orders from possessing guns. These laws have been effective in preventing some dangerous individuals from obtaining guns: Since November 1998, more than 104,000 gun sales to convicted domestic abusers have been prevented by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, as well as an additional 44,000 sales to abusers subject to restraining orders.

How the West should treat ‘honor’ killings

It took the jury in Kingston, Ontario some 15 hours to return a guilty verdict against three members of the Afghan-Canadian Shafia family in a case that shocked Canada and North America. Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their 21-year-old son, Hamed, were sentenced to life imprisonment on Jan. 29 for the premeditated killing in 2009 of the couple’s three teenage daughters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and that of Mohammad Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad. The Shafia girls wanted to live like ordinary Canadian teenagers, but their father viewed this lifestyle as a violation of his own interpretation of “honor.”

Honor-related crimes, often wrongly labeled an Islamic practice, take place in patriarchal communities where gender roles remain strictly divided and the interests of the community prevail over those of individuals, particularly women. A radical interpretation of Islam does at times provide religious cover for violence against women, and many of the 5,000 honor killings committed each year, according to United Nations estimates, take place in Muslim countries. But such practices persist in Sikh and Hindu communities as well, and only a few decades ago, crimes were still committed in the name of honor in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain and Greece.

In patriarchal communities, women are seen to embody the family’s honor, and thus are expected to be modest and obedient. But if honor-based violence goes back to the dawn of time in some parts of the world, tradition today often blends with modern factors — social, political or even economic — to create a potent, and at times lethal, mix. The murders that hit the headlines occur against a broader backdrop of honor-inspired coercion and domestic abuse. Identifying the warning signs and taking appropriate steps in time can protect lives. The Shafia girls, it appears, had reached out for help on several occasions, only to retreat when the authorities interviewed them in front of their parents.

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