The modern criminalization of abused women and the further abuse of women in the first place ultimately leads to a world where women are consistently unsafe and unable to act.

Recent news stories depict female victims of abuse in horrifyingly unbelievable situations: Cortney Irby, who feared for her life, was charged with armed burglary after taking her abusive husband’s guns so she could turn them into the police; In 2018, Marshae Jones, pregnant, was shot by Ebony Jameson, who was initially indicted, but ended up walking free while Jones is being held responsible and has been indicted for manslaughter since she started the confrontation that led to the ‘fetal homicide.’

In current news, Jennifer Dulos is now missing after filing for divorce and moving her five children, ages eight to thirteen, and herself away from her husband, Fitos Dulos, after he threatened her with taking their children away for years. Both the children and himself have Greek passports. As part of the divorce filing, Jennifer Dulos repeatedly indicated that she feared for her life and that her husband had purchased a gun. Both his DNA and her blood were found together at multiple locations where he attempted to hide evidence as the police continue to search for a body they will probably never find. 

Domestic abuse issues faced by Irby and Dulos are all too common and whether the abuse is physical, verbal, or implied, it causes psychological trauma that cannot be explained away with the excuse of time. Irby and Dulos both showed fear of their spouses, yet there was no restraining order placed when fear for their lives was mentioned. In Irby’s case, she was blamed for trying to protect herself, and in Dulos’ case, she was eventually killed. 

The way domestic abuse is treated around the world is inadequate at best, at worst not regarded at all. Society treats women — their pain, their loss, their suffering — as culpable parties in their own abuse. Abuse is a complex, systemic problem and many women are held accountable for their own abuse by either staying in the relationship or in some way instigating their abusers. 

Meanwhile, gun violence, such as what Marshae Jones experienced, reflects the disproportionate effects in marginalized, underrepresented communities. While many are using Jones’ case to raise the issue of the rhetoric and mindset around abortion and a mother’s fetal responsibility, the issues of gun violence are being ignored completely. Regardless, starting a confrontation does not mean that Jones ever expected to be shot and therefore she could not have possibly known that her fetus would not make it out alive. The fact that Jameson, the shooter, gets to walk free while Jones is blamed for the murder of her child sounds absurd, but this seems to be the law in Alabama.

Domestic Violence and Abuse Against Women

As of 2014, the CDC reports that one in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Domestic abuse is one of the biggest threats to women around the world. The international community demands a seismic reaction to violence against women, yet cultural norms still prevent violence against women from being considered a crime in many communities around the world. Programs such as Women, Peace, and Security are aimed at securing the future of women, but hardly any of these organizations focus on preventing gender-based abuse.

Dulos’ husband bought a gun shortly before his wife’s disappearance. While there is nothing yet to connect him directly to Dulos’ death, his guilt is almost certain.  In a court dispute of custody with her husband, there is considerable documentation that indicates she was in distress and felt threatened by her husband and feared for her life. Should the authorities have stepped in and issued a restraining order or taken Dulos’ gun? In an ideal world, if a woman feels threatened and the police find the threat to be credible, whether or not any physical abuse occurred, there should be a thorough investigation. 

The abuse can come from a range of sources, though the abuser will most likely be an intimate partner. Most people experience this sort of violence before the age of twenty-five.  It is hard to admit to the abuse and come forward, especially to the police when there is no response without physical injuries. It is hard to believe that in many instances, nothing can be done to protect women from further abuse if there is no physical evidence. In extreme instances such as Irby’s, a woman who sought to protect herself by removing guns from the situation, her action trying to avoid being a victim of further violence ended with her being criminalized.

This is because the abuse against women is further perpetuated by societies’ belief that women are silent perpetrators of their own abuse. Yet, the psychological effects are far more complex than simply stating “that’s it, I’m done with you.” Abusers are often psychologically manipulative, making their victims not want to come forward against their abusers. 

If someone is known to the rest of society as being kind in public, it is hard for anyone to believe who a person really is once behind closed doors. Many people do not want to ruin the reputation of a person they have known and, in many instances, loved for many years. Perhaps an abused victim will truly believe they are somehow to blame for their abuser’s behavior. Whatever the reason behind a victim refusing to come forward against their abuser, it is unfathomable that laws were written that put the blame on the victim rather than the abuser.

Fetal Homicide

According to Alabama law, Ms. Jones is somehow responsible for the death of her unborn fetus despite the fact that someone else pulled the trigger. It is believed that Ms. Jones put herself in danger thereby endangering her fetus. 

The law ties into the idea of maternal responsibility and abortion rights as they pertain to the definition of what is alive and cognizant versus what is still forming. Considering the emotional toll on the mother to lose a child in such an alarming manner, it is surprising that society would consider punishing Ms. Jones further. Perhaps it is the need to reinforce a woman’s place in society and considering the recent abortion laws in Alabama, Ms. Jones’ indictment does not come as a surprise.

Despite the rise in gun violence advocacy since Parkland, nothing comprehensive is done to prevent domestic abusers from getting their hands on weapons. For women like Jones, the owner of the gun which caused the death of her unborn child should be held accountable.  Without the gun, the fetus may still be viable today. While preventing gun possession may be impossible, it is clear that weapons ultimately endanger the lives of women in conflict situations and in situations of domestic abuse. 

Considering the more modern focus on women’s issues, the arrests of Irby and Jones should be considered outrageous and violence against women should be receiving more prominent focus. While there are hotlines and online resources for women who go through domestic abuse, women need more from public service around the world. If a woman comes forward with a claim of abuse, there needs to be a thorough investigation into the matter: x-rays, DNA, and a comprehensive look at all indicated abuse, those who may be aware of the situation, and any perpetrators.

There should not be a reality where a woman cannot come forward unless she is in a hospital bed, no place where she feels threatened with no protection and no world where a woman is criminalized for either trying to protect herself or indicted for a fetal death she could not have foreseen. Situations like these are unfathomable yet they exist. Reactions need to be different, protections need to be put in place and laws need to be changed to stop domestic abuse and gun violence against women. These are basic rights that women need to be afforded if we are to be equals in society.  

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.