With her death, a piece of every woman’s dream for a more just society also died

As published on AL.com

Megan Montgomery’s murder at the hands of her estranged husband has left her family, friends, and community heartbroken. Another woman has died because a manipulative, violent man she knew and loved believed he had the right to control her.

The most dangerous time for women trying to escape their abusers is when the abuser believes he’s lost control. Megan had separated from her soon to be ex-husband, Jason McIntosh, had obtained a restraining order, and was seeking a divorce when, after stalking her and sending her text messages saying “I’ll never let you go,” McIntosh shot her in the back and left her to die in the parking lot at Mountain Brook High School, the heart of one of the safest communities in the nation.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women will become a victim of domestic violence while one in three female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner. Despite the staggering and sobering statistics, most of us have a hard time wrapping our mind around faceless numbers until tragedy hits close to home. And regardless of this epidemic, in April this year, the Trump administration quietly narrowed the definition of domestic and sexual abuse, rolling back women’s rights 50 years, another stranglehold on a victim’s ability to live safely and stay alive.

The Trump administration’s archaic definition of domestic violence now includes only physical harm as a felony or misdemeanor. Other forms of domestic abuse, such as psychological control, coercion, and manipulation, all part of an abuser’s grooming arsenal, are no longer considered domestic abuse. Limiting the definition will undoubtedly keep women from accessing the services they need, and also prevent them from protecting themselves and even prosecuting their abusers. Also, equally disturbing is the fact the GOP-controlled Senate, bolstered by the NRA, has recently killed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

By killing this bill, the NRA clearly targeted the gun purchasing restrictions on abusers in VAWA, but de-funding VAWA effectively ends counseling services and support programs for victims. The tragic life and death of Megan Montgomery highlights the need for VAWA and the numerous programs it supported. Under VAWA, her estranged husband would not have been allowed to purchase a gun.

Of course, the law would not have addressed the obvious loophole of his probably owning a gun prior to convictions and restraining orders. What’s so devastating about the Senate’s killing VAWA is the programs which have been de-funded. Many of these programs would have assisted Megan, and countless others like her, in escaping the pattern of violence and abuse which poses an existential threat to them and their children.

In an article about Montgomery, Chief Cook remarks she left “voluntarily” with McIntosh the night he killed her. Cook, of course, was referring to what technically happened that evening, but the reality is Montgomery lived in a prison of fear. Without any context, his remark clouds the complex dynamics of domestic abuse. Montgomery may have appeared to go voluntarily, but she went because abusers teach women in these situations to believe if they just do what they are told, they will defuse his anger. This is never the case, as the abuser continues to rachet up the level of terror.

In fact, a young man with Megan the night McIntosh wondered on Facebook if she left with McIntosh because she was worried McIntosh would commit a public act of mass violence, as he’d threatened to do before.

As police chief, Cook could use his platform to educate the public about the cycle abuse victims are caught in, so our first response isn’t to ask, “Why did she stay?” when we need to ask, “Why do men abuse women and get away with it again and again despite laws against it?”

The media could also frame the problem of domestic abuse more realistically. “Domestic abuse is the leading cause of injury for women annually” is a typical sentence written in passive voice about the issue. No. One million men hitting, shooting, hurting, terrorizing their wives or girlfriends or family members is the leading cause of injury for countless women. Reporting in the passive voice eliminates the offender’s agency and sanitizes the violent reality so many women experience.

It’s certainly a clever PR move when McIntosh’s attorney Tommy Spina makes the comment domestic violence is “gender neutral,” his observation ignoring the fact more men abuse women than women abuse men. According to Don Hennessey, the author of How He Gets in Her Head: The Mind of the Intimate Male Abuser, abusers are clever con men who groom and set up women just like pedophiles. They target kind women like Montgomery who put others needs first. Abusers dictate the conditions of the relationship in order to make women feel responsible for their actions and anger. An abused woman learns to examine her behavior, not his. Just as we do as a society.

The day after her marriage when Megan was shot the first time, she was named as an aggressor because she was trying to wrestle the gun away from McIntosh. After this incident, over the course of the following months she was alive, she took every possible action to break away from McIntosh who, a police officer sworn to protect the public and uphold the law, continued to stalk her.

Which brings us to another disturbing aspect of domestic violence. According to the National Coalition of Women Police Officers, men in blue are more violent than other men. Two studies done in the early nineties by the National Center on Policing and Women found at least 40% of families of police officers have experienced domestic violence compared to 10% of the general population. A more recent study by the National Center for Policing and Women showed police officers handling other officer’s domestic violence complaints do so more informally, and even if they are found guilty, they’re less likely to be fired, arrested or prosecuted. Put simply, officers carry guns, protect each other, understand how to maneuver the system and how to shift the blame to the victim, and know where the domestic shelters are located.

In February this year, the Violence Against Women Act, expired. Signed into law twenty-five years ago in 1994 by President Clinton, the VAWA was, in large part, precipitated by O.J. Simpson’s murder of his wife Nicole, resulting in the public’s greater awareness about domestic violence. To date, Republicans have opposed the reauthorization of this updated bill, objecting to the exclusion of the “boyfriend loophole” which allowed people convicted of stalking or abusing non-spouse partners to continue to buy firearms. Republicans claim the bill is a veiled attempt to restrict gun ownership rights. However, a higher rate of gun ownership correlates with a higher rate of femicide in our country and presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman’s death 500%, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Twenty-three states have banned chaining or tethering dogs as being inhumane. The practice is cruel and dangerous. A look into the eyes of a chained dog reveals the fear and helplessness induced by this soul-crushing practice. Abused women carry the same look, as one of the last men to see Megan as she left with McIntosh attested, “…the look in her eyes I’ll never forget.”

In effect, as long as women live in a world where Republicans attach more value to the right for abusive men to own guns over women’s safety, women like Megan Montgomery will continue to die at the hands of a man she once loved.

Megan Montgomery isn’t a statistic. She’s a friend, a mother, a daughter, a defender against the inhumane treatment of animals. Moreover, she’s OUR friend, mother, daughter, one who was writing a book to help survivors of domestic violence.

She’s Everywoman, and with her died her hopes and dreams. And with her died a piece of every woman’s hopes and dreams for a more just and humane society.

Lanier Isom is a Birmingham area writer.


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