We Need To Talk: The Link Between Sexual Violence And Gun Violence

Perhaps the proximity of these two horrifying American tragedies will finally be a wake-up call for our soul-weary nation.

Co-authored by Rabbi Sharon Brous and Valarie Kaur

As we mourn the loss of the twenty-six souls murdered in cold blood; as we pray for the 20 recovering from gun-shot wounds, 10 in critical condition, we are outraged at the circumstances. A man dishonorably discharged from the military for abusing his wife and child; a man who nonetheless passes a background check and purchases an AR-556 rifle—that man sprays the church where his wife’s mother and grandmother attend and kills 26 people and wounds 20 more.

This set of circumstances calls for more than praying for the victims. This set of circumstances causes us to look squarely at the connection between domestic violence and gun violence.

Last month, our nation was whipsawed by mass murder in Las Vegas and mass predations in Hollywood.

The proximity of the Harvey Weinstein revelations to the Vegas massacre was certainly opportune for the NRA, a welcomed distraction from the heightened post-tragedy scrutiny on gun legislation. For a fleeting moment, Congress had seemed poised to take at least minimal action to address the absurdity of our country’s gun laws.

But within days, with salacious revelations of Weinstein’s predatory behavior toward women, sexual harassment and sexual assault took the news cycle. For too long, powerful men have abused their power to degrade and harass women not only in Hollywood but in schools and workplaces across the nation, in politics, in academia and even in seminary, for God’s sake.

The Weinstein story awakened a tsunami of personal revelations about sexual harassment and abuse ― a reality so deeply entrenched in our culture that few women have been spared (#metoo and us, too). The problem transcends geography, class, age and race. We are black, brown and white, Christian, Sikh and Jewish. All three of us have experienced repeated sexual harassment and/or abuse, and we have all witnessed gender-based violence in our immediate communities. One of us survived assault with a gun.

These days we’re used to racing from one outrage to the next, daily if not hourly. But these two man-made disasters—gun violence and sexual violence—must not divert our attention from one to the other. They are fundamentally linked and must be addressed with the same moral clarity and commitment.

Sexual violence and gun violence are twin cancerous growths from the same abhorrent root – a culture that fetishizes violence and power, ignores sexual harassment and lionizes sexual abusers, elevating repeat offenders and unrepentant predators to the heads of corporations and universities, to the Supreme Court and the Oval Office. None of this would be possible without the silence and complicity that has made our country unsafe for women and girls, non-binary folks, and many men and boys, too.

To be sure, the victims in Las Vegas were not targeted because they were women, nor, does it seem, were the victims in Sutherland Springs, Texas. But was anyone surprised to hear reports that the Las Vegas shooter was known to publicly shame and humiliate his girlfriend? And are we surprised to hear the violent history of this shooter?

We are long overdue for a national conversation about the prevalence of sexual and domestic abusers.

The Orlando Pulse Club shooter abused his ex-wife before gunning down 29 people.

The Virginia Tech shooter was known to harass female students before he shot and killed 32 people.

The Sandy Hook shooter murdered his mother before gunning down a kindergarten classroom of 20 children and 6 adults.

And there’s more. Every 16 hours, a woman in America is fatally shot by her partner. Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun, and research shows simply living in a state with high gun ownership increases a woman’s risk of being fatally shot in a domestic violence incident.

It’s time we name the connection between intimidation, humiliation and harassment of women and violence against women and other people. We need to talk about the ways that our culture’s sanctification of male power leads inexorably to violence, including domestic abuse and murder.

Perhaps the proximity of these three horrifying American tragedies will finally be a wake-up call for our soul-weary nation. It’s up to us to ignite a national conversation now, to ensure that when the next moral outrage strikes—no doubt any hour now—both gun violence and sexual violence will remain at the forefront of the public consciousness until we’ve built a truly safe, dignified and just society for all.

About my co-authors:

Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of IKAR (www.ikar-la.org); Auburn Senior Fellow, Los Angeles, CA

Valarie Kaur, Sikh activist, lawyer, filmmaker, founder of the Groundswell Movement, and Revolutionary Love Project at the University of Southern California-ORL; Auburn Senior Fellow, Los Angeles, CA