Last month we experienced one of the most grievous tragedies in memory as 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six women in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Politicians, media and the public have since debated possible causes as diverse as access to guns, video games and mental health.
But two of the most significant factors — his race and his gender — are not widely discussed, even though about 71 percent of mass murders since 1982 were committed by white men. Instead of examining cultural factors in the motive, the refrain since the attack has been, “How can this happen here?”
In another quiet town — Steubenville, Ohio — high school football players tweeted about abducting and subsequently sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Protestors have since descended on the small town, which was widely criticized for protecting the athletes. The town was, like Newtown, as American as Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.
Last semester, UNC sophomore Landen Gambill and another female student, who did not reveal her name for safety reasons, came forward with stories of mistreatment in how administrators handled their cases of sexual violence.
My reaction when I first heard these stories of mistreatment was familiar: How can this happen here?
What unites the massacre in Newtown, the case of rape in Steubenville and the stories of mistreatment of survivors of sexual violence here at UNC is that our culture enables them to happen by denying that they can and do occur.
It isn’t that we don’t believe violent acts happen; rather, we believe they cannot happen here. We convince ourselves that those who commit acts of violence — especially rape and violence against women and children — are “sociopaths,” monsters, evil. Anyone besides our friend or neighbor. Anything to keep us from examining critically the culture in which we are all implicated.
Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violent acts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, men are 10 times more likely than women to commit murder. And nearly 99 percent of rapists in single-victim incidents are men.
Sexual violence and violence against children and women happens here. If we are to meaningfully reduce violence, we must first acknowledge its existence. And we must rewrite the narratives telling men that being a man means being aggressive and dominating.