Last week, a 17 year old in Maryland took a gun to school, where he shot two classmates before eventually killing himself. One of his victims, a 16 year old girl, died this week after being taken off of life support. The other, a 14 year old boy, was treated and released from the hospital for a gunshot wound to the thigh.
The media has described the shooter as a “lovesick teen,” devastated by a recent breakup with his 16 year old victim. Describing a person who committed a heinous act of violence as being motivated by love is far too common. In reality, this 17 year old is not some heartbroken kid who acted out in a moment of sadness — he is a murderer.
The actions of the shooter in this case describe an attitude that is prevalent among domestic abusers: a feeling of ownership or possession over his victim. He felt entitled to this young woman, and was unable to cope with rejection in any way other than violence. This mentality is often described as “if I can’t have her, then nobody else can.” The shooter was not lovesick, but angry and violent; he killed a 16 year old girl because he wanted her and could not have her. In the process, he also hurt another student, and put countless others in danger. That is not romantic; it’s abusive.
When the media rationalizes violence by providing excuses for an abuser’s behavior, it normalizes domestic abuse. While it may be relevant to the overall story (in that the shooting was not random), ending a relationship is not justification for murdering your former partner. Putting it in the headline makes it seem as though the shooter had good cause to shoot his ex — when nothing could be further from the truth. These headlines also serve to romanticize domestic violence. This narrative of justifying assault and even murder “because he loved her” is dangerous, giving life to the idea that it is acceptable to harm or control the ones that you love. Beyond that, it is simply false: as anyone who has been through a teenage breakup can attest, “lovesick” teens don’t go on shooting sprees. They might cry, listen to moody music, talk to their best friends, or cope in any number of ways. We cannot allow the media to drive the narrative that resorting to violence is an acceptable way to deal with heartbreak.
Domestic violence is a serious crime, and one that is far too common in our society. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be victims of some sort of physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetimes. For teens, dating violence is more common than all other types of violence. 1 in 3 adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.
Given the prevalence of domestic violence in our society, we cannot afford to allow the media to romanticize domestic violence. We must call it out each and every time. Join us in holding the media accountable. You can learn how to be a conscious consumer of media, or simply take the time to comment on social media whenever you see these harmful articles. We have the power to make change — let’s put it to work!