When will we prioritize the response to male violence?

Kyle Rittenhouse was recently found not guilty by a Wisconsin jury. (Youtube screenshot).

We never talk about it, yet it undergirds nearly every headline from politics to mass casualty events. Male violence. When will we prioritize responding to the harm it does in this country?

On Sunday, Darrell Brooks sped through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, killing five people, including four elderly women, and injuring 48, including 18 children.

Brooks shouldn’t have been on the street. He had run over the mother of his child on Nov. 2 in a domestic violence incident, leaving tire marks on her body. She was hospitalized for her injuries, yet Brooks was given nominal bail, despite having jumped bail on a previous violent assault charge in late 2020. 

When Brooks ran into the parade on November 21, he was fleeing still another domestic violence assault. 

But this isn’t a story about Brooks, nor the horror in Waukesha. The Brooks case is merely — and tragically — illustrative of how endemic male violence is, how lax law enforcement and the criminal justice system are in addressing male violence and how the consequences of that laxity continues to be deadly. 

FBI statistics show that men account for 80.4 percent of persons arrested for violent crimes overall, 90.7 percent of murders and manslaughters, 99.1 percent of forcible rapes, 87 percent of robberies and 82 percent of arsons.

And a Department of Justice report on non-fatal domestic violence found that 76 percent of domestic violence was committed against women and 24 percent was committed against men, but that men are the primary perpetrators of domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence. 

According to the Violence Policy Center of the U.S., which tracks gun violence deaths, 91 percent of female homicide victims are murdered by a man they know.

This paper has also reported regularly on the impact of male violence on the queer and trans communities. As I reported previously, hate crimes against LGBTQ people are disproportionate to the LGBTQ demographic. The perpetrators are nearly all young men. And men are also responsible for the epidemic of murders of trans people in the U.S.

As I reported here in September, America is failing rape victims daily. One in five women is a rape victim, with the rates far higher among LGBT and disabled women. Yet only 5 of every 1,000 rapists who are arrested will be prosecuted. In the most incarceral country in the world, rapists go free every day.  

Exemplifying this, on November 16, New York state Judge Matthew J. Murphy declined a prison sentence for Christopher Belter, who pleaded guilty to raping four teenage girls. Murphy told Belter at sentencing, “There was great harm. There were multiple crimes committed in the case.” 

Yet Murphy said, “It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate, so I am going to sentence you to probation.” Murphy’s decision brought outrage from the victims and from advocates for rape victims. No jail time for a serial rapist? Wouldn’t this embolden him to rape again, since no punishment was attached to his first four reported crimes?

As disturbing as the Belter reprieve was, mere days later a Kenosha jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of all charges in the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz during Black Lives Matter protests in August 2020 over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. 

It was easy to attribute political motivations to the Rittenhouse verdict as Rittenhouse had become a folk hero to the anti-BLM right. But in many respects the verdict was just another in which male violence was not only not punished, but rewarded. Rittenhouse was immediately offered internships with GOP Congressmen Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) upon his acquittal. 

Unironically, both Cawthorn and Gaetz are exemplars of male violence. Cawthorn has been accused of sexual misconduct and Gaetz is under investigation for sex trafficking of minors. 

Those job offers to Rittenhouse prompted Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who is Black, to call for Cawthorn’s and Gaetz’s expulsion, saying, “Just being real: every day it feels more and more dangerous coming to work. Not only do these members fuel violence. Now they’re actively recruiting someone whose sole qualification is killing people standing up for Black lives and getting away with it,” Bush tweeted. “They must be expelled.”

Bush is hardly being hyperbolic. On November 17, the House voted 223-207 to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), after he posted an anime video edited to depict him violently killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). In the video Gosar also brandished weapons at President Biden. 

“We cannot have members joking about murdering each other, as well as threatening the president of the United States,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the media. Pelosi had called for the censure, which was not supported by either GOP leadership or GOP House members. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) broke ranks to vote with the Democrats.

As Americans have witnessed over the past few years, the GOP has not only ignored male violence from its ranks, whether from Donald Trump, an accused rapist, or from his followers who fomented the attack on the Capitol and attempted coup on January 6. 

All these statistics and stories should be harrowing. They should represent a crisis in this country that requires a call to some sort of governmental and societal response. And yet they are not. As recent political and social events suggest — not to mention America’s ongoing gun violence epidemic — there is a growing atmosphere in the U.S. that champions male violence as “manly.”

Toxic masculinity does not exemplify strength, but rather its obverse. If you need to rape another person to meet your sexual needs or carry an assault weapon into the streets or respond to colleagues with whom you have ideological differences with death threats, you are breaking every social contract. You are not a hero, but a villain.

In 2001 Richard Reid attempted to detonate a bomb planted in his shoes on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. As a consequence, for the past 20 years shoes have been checked at U.S. airports. Active shooter drills have been a commonplace at K-12 schools since Columbine in 1999. 

Maybe it’s time to address male violence not piece by violent piece, but as an epidemic that harms women, children and men themselves. Hold congressional hearings. Listen to victims’ testimony as well as that of experts. Stop minimizing violence and terrorism by putting the word “domestic” in front of it. Acknowledge the breadth of the problem, that it is endemic and that some members of our society are more vulnerable to victimization and more likely to be targets.

Unless and until we hold men accountable for their violent acts, nothing will change. There are laws to stop violent men like Darrell Brooks, Kyle Rittenhouse, Christopher Belter, and Donald Trump. But men themselves, who comprise the majority of those working within law enforcement and the criminal justice system, must have the will — and the courage — to enforce them.    

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.