Recently two Long Beach, CA girls decided they needed to meet after school to fight. A couple of hours later one of the girls was rushed to the hospital and later succumbed to unknown injuries. What struck me about this story was the fact that this girl died just weeks before her 11th birthday and that they met to fight over a boy. I was trying to wrap my head around the concept that two fifth grade girls felt they had to meet in an alley to throw down over a guy like guests on episode of The Jerry Springer Show. They only tussled for about a minute, no weapons were involved and no one fell to the ground. When others tried to intervene some boys stopped them because they wanted to watch the girls fight. How does this kind of jealousy and rivalry start so early?
I was beginning to realize since reading Sex at Dawn I’ve become more sensitive to news like this. There seems to be a steady stream of these “Crimes of Passion.” The news serves up stories like the astronaut who drove across the country to kill her rival, to the Orange County woman who cut off her husband’s penis because, as she said, “He deserved it.” There are endless reports about people who suspect infidelity then run off to kill or maim both their spouse and the alleged lover. Up until recently, a man could be considered justified in a case like this and the charges dismissed. It’s the subject of books, movies, television shows and songs. The need to possess and control someone has been strong enough to make people react in ways from the extreme to the petty. It made me wonder what would domestic violence and homicide crime rates look like if people managed their jealousy and possessiveness. Are people in open relationships less likely to let these feelings push them into hurting someone? Are there were fewer instances of homicide and abuse among the non-monogamous?
An extensive online search only proved that there is very little research available on the subject, only some general statistics. The Department of Justice Statistics state women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner or family member than by strangers. Violence resulting in homicide against women was perpetrated by someone they knew intimately 30% of the time. Homicide committed by a stranger was just under 9% with 28% as unknown. Conversely only 5% of men were involved in intimate partner violence. It’s estimated that intimate partner violence claims the lives of three women and one man every day. These reports don’t get into detail other than gender, race and weapon so there were no specific reasons behind these attacks. I had to search elsewhere to find more about what drives people to hurt their partner.
An interesting article on the TLC Family website by Jonathan Strickland tries to tackle the question “Why do we kill?” There is a percentage that has to do with anti-social behavior and a lack of empathy. Then there is the emotional component that leads to the aforementioned crime of passion. Jealousy, revenge, anger and fear could provide sufficient impetus to lead someone to commit an act of violence. The desire to control someone emotionally and physically can also drive people to act before using introspection or dialog to find a passive and proactive solution.
The book Why Do They Kill, Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners by David Abrams found the reasons were less a “crime of passion” and more about long-standing grievances that escalate over time. Substance abuse, distrust and a disdain for women were also factors. Dr. Katherine Van Warner in an online interview pointed out that domestic violence is derived from a patriarchal society. She states, “But there are many other factors such as alcohol and other drug use which removes inhibitions, stress related to global competition as reflected in employment, and psychological factors, which may be the most crucial factor of all. The psychological portrait of the male abuser is of an insecure man, who is possessive of his wife/partner and who isolates her so he can control her. Typically, he has been abused in childhood. This man doesn't know how to love and trust.”
I had hoped to find a few statistics in the context of open marriages and poly relationships but came up empty-handed. I could not pin down whether people in open relationships reacted less violently than those in monogamous relationships. There is little desire in mainstream circles to document these statistics. Whether a couple is open or monogamous is never asked in both statistic reports and in surveys. It seems easy to assume the answers lie only in jealousy and the emotions that go with it. It turns out the triggers for domestic violence and intimate partner homicide are more complicated than that.
Anti-social behavior, substance abuse and mental instability are factors that can’t be dealt with by simply keeping an open mind about relationships. Domestic violence happens even in open relationships. Embracing the open lifestyle doesn’t eliminate the prospect of infidelity, the feelings of jealousy, nor does it eliminate other factors in abuse. The only thing it may provide is better tools and understanding to deal with it. More research on the subject may tell us if there is any decrease in the likelihood of violence in non-monogamous relationships. Monogamous couples can learn a lot from open and poly folk. Taking the time to rethink their reactions, taking responsibility for their own emotions and not to forcing others to change to accommodate their insecurities could help people when making life-altering decisions. It won’t save everyone but it could save a few relationships and might save a few lives in the process.