But He Only Threatened Women

Once more, I’m going to ask: In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, do you think anyone will want to have a national conversation about institutionalized misogyny, for which there is a demonstrable link between its pervasiveness and the active mistreatment of women, or just stick to blaming video games?

Here’s why I ask:

A court found that Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho was “mentally ill” and potentially dangerous. Then it let him go.

…The evaluation came from a psychiatric hospital near Virginia Tech, where Cho was taken by police in December 2005, after two female schoolmates said they received threatening messages from him, and police and school officials became concerned that he might be suicidal.

After Dr. Crouse’s psychological evaluation of Cho, Special Justice Paul M. Barnett certified the finding, ordering followup treatment on an outpatient basis.

On the form, a box is checked, showing that Cho “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.”

Immediately below it was another box that is not checked: “Presents an imminent danger to others as a result of mental illness.”

Of course not. He’d only threatened women.

He’d only spoken to a woman online, found out where she lived and other details about her, and then went to her residence to introduce himself. He’d only freaked out two women enough that they called the police. What imminent danger could he possibly have been to others?

And while I’m busy noting the huge fucking problem that is indifference to misogyny, I think I’ll also just casually point out to a certain someone who thinks that people who make online threats never act on them that, actually, sometimes they fucking do.

JOHN: He – I walked back to my room one night, and there was a policeman in there. And, apparently, what had happened was, he had gone up – or he had started talking to her online first. He found where she lived, started talking to her on AIM. Then he went over there. He was using the name Question Mark, said, hey, I’m Question Mark. And that really freaked the girl out.

TUCHMAN: So, he was stalking her?

JOHN: Yes. He found out everything about her first.

TUCHMAN: And, like, he told this girl all the things he learned about her?

JOHN: I don’t know if he told her that. But he thought they were playing some kind of game or something.

TUCHMAN: And did you know the girl?

JOHN: No. I…

TUCHMAN: I mean, was she freaked out about it? Did you hear later?

JOHN: The – freaked out enough about it to call the police.

Geez. That cowardly bitch should have quit blogging just moved. I mean, really! If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen already.

I know there are, for various reasons, some guys who just can’t get on the “taking threats against women seriously” bandwagon, but if “Presents an imminent danger to others as a result of mental illness” had been checked because Cho’s stalking of women had been treated seriously, maybe – just maybe – those 32 people in Virginia wouldn’t be dead, including 18 men.

UPDATE: Several people have forwarded Bob Herbert’s column today to me, which is just great. After recounting the story of Charles Whitman – who in 1966 killed his mother, his wife, and then climbed into a 30-story tower on the campus of the University of Texas, from whence he killed 14 people and wounded more than 30 others before being shot to death by the police – Herbert says, “More than four decades later we still … behave as if it was all so inexplicable.”

But a close look at the patterns of murderous violence in the U.S. reveals some remarkable consistencies, wherever the individual atrocities may have occurred. In case after case, decade after decade, the killers have been shown to be young men riddled with shame and humiliation, often bitterly misogynistic and homophobic, who have decided that the way to assert their faltering sense of manhood and get the respect they have been denied is to go out and shoot somebody.

Dr. James Gilligan, who has spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts, and as a professor at Harvard and now at N.Y.U., believes that some debilitating combination of misogyny and homophobia is a “central component” in much, if not most, of the worst forms of violence in this country.

“What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”

…The Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, was reported to have stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate told CNN that Mr. Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.

Charles Whitman was often portrayed as the sunny all-American boy. But he had been court-martialed in the Marines, was struggling as a college student and apparently had been suffering from depression. He told a psychiatrist that he absolutely hated his father, but he started his murderous spree by killing his wife and his mother.

…We’ve learned very little in 40 years.

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “But He Only Threatened Women

  1. I’m not entirely comfortable with Monday Morning Quaterbacking of the Cho case, but I definitely agree with your general observation that a man who threatens or intimidates women is far more likely to be violent.

    If anybody – not just the likes of Cho – does stuff like attacking or killing animals, they get therapy (if children) or arrested (if adults). Cases involving women can’t get the same response?

  2. I’m not entirely comfortable with Monday Morning Quaterbacking of the Cho case

    I’m not really trying to Monday Morning Quarterback about this case specifically, but just use it as an example of how a failure to take seriously threats against women is inevitably a detriment to us all.

  3. That unchecked box really does speak volumes — scream them, even.

    It’s also amazing how one person can be both so contemptible and so terrifying. His NBC statements show a reptilian creep (with apologies to reptiles) who saw women as prey, but whose main complaint was his inability to get a date.

    Burn in hell with Eric and Dylan.

  4. Eh, well

    Hey, as SCOTUS has so recently pointed out – women ain’t shit – so no one will pay attention to the misogyny murder machine.

    It doesn’t exist.

    Pay no attention to the millions of female bodies lining the road – there just broken incubators.

  5. When a man who was harrassing me online (he posted my address and phone number on his blog and other nasty things) began calling my local police accusing me of all kinds of ridiculous crimes, they took it very seriously. They investigated the guy, found out that he’d spent time in a mental hospital in Texas, and informed me of the possible danger.

    Once the guy knew that the police had given me his identity, he left me alone.

    I was somewhat concerned. But, I really didn’t think that it was likely that a man would travel to another state and come to my house to do me harm. Unfortunately, women are much more likely to be victims of stalkers who take it to the next level — personal contact.

  6. BTW, I’m the one who deleted the troll who made the recent disturbing and misogynist comments on this post.

    Most of these trolls are social misfits who have to resort to harrassing women to sublimate their sexual desires.

    Here’s a message for him:

    You’re dealing with a dude this time. So, if you’re simply getting off on harrassing a woman, you’re wasting your time. If you want to call ME your “little cupcake” go right ahead.

  7. for the record, checking that box is difficult to do.

    most states require that threat to others not be documented by general attitudes or such, but specific and credible information.

    true, this is even more difficult when women are the targets, because as we’ve seen recently, threats against women are taken less seriously.

    part of the problem that we’re hitting here is that the mental health care system is so broken that in all but the most extreme cases, it is not possible in terms of logistics or finance to provide in-patient care. More over, this highly confrontational and crisis oriented model of care does little to give long term help those who are brought through it.

    Finally, and importantly, the system at present lacks the moral and ethical basis that we might reasonably *require* individuals to participate in it.

    i’ll blog more on this later, but i tend to get creeped out by the “but he was even hospitalized” cries when the claim seems to be the perceived injury that the memory hole of institutionalization did not sufficiently destroy and hide the individuals who were placed there.

  8. So, if you’re simply getting off on harrassing a woman, you’re wasting your time. If you want to call ME your “little cupcake” go right ahead.

    LOL! Fritz, you rock out loud.

    Btw, I didn’t even see those comments, so mission NOT accomplished.

  9. Thanks, Melissa. This is what I was trying to get to at the central issue for me in all of this.
    How about universities adopt a policy to expel men who stalk women? Hw wrote creepy shit about women and he also threatened their privacy and safety.

  10. DDay

    Cho’s behavior reminds me so much of another recent “college killer.”

    A couple years ago, a student brutally raped and beat a woman to death after she changed her mind about going back to his apartment after a date. The college newspaper looked into his background and it reveals a lot about his attitude towards women, especially the section “Big, thick dude.”

    This is why we need to take women seriously when they feel they are being threatened. Because even if they end up being unharmed, that doesn’t mean that the individual won’t harm anyone else in the future.

  11. CJ_in_VA

    I agree, Kevin. I think that in the wake of a tragedy, a number of different people who had pieces of the Seung-Hui Cho puzzle have had the chance to put it all together and realize – holy shit, why didn’t we see this before he killed all these people?

    No university I have ever worked for has been that organized or had communications that perfect that the whole puzzle comes together before something like this happens. So much plays into what we can share with one another and what we can’t without the student’s permission, I’m not sure that it’s even possible to have the “perfect” system.

  12. Having worked in the state mental health system, sly civilian is right: involuntary civil commitment is very hard to do; you generally need somebody in full schizophrenic bloom or who had actually assaulted someone or themselves.

    As for Whitman, did they ever discover whether the brain tumor was a contributing factor?

  13. I’ve wondered whether Prof. Nikki Giovanni’s concerns would have been taken more seriously if she had been male. You’d think her stature would have given her sufficient credibility.

    I know it’s hard to get someone committed, but how hard is it to get someone with this history removed from the school? Could VT have given him an ultimatum — go to counseling or be expelled? I’m asking seriously because I don’t know.

  14. you generally need somebody in full schizophrenic bloom or who had actually assaulted someone or themselves

    I understand that. That’s essentially my complaint–that stalking multiple women isn’t regarded as seriously as actually assaulting someone, in spite of the near-inevitability that it will lead to that nonetheless.

    The rules are rooted in not taking threats against women seriously. I’m not blaming the people who followed the rules as they exist.

  15. I have a million things to say… but it’d clutter up this thread and anyway … I need to get back to work.

    For me, it just brings up all the times I’ve had to deal with the bullshit of institutions which turn a blind eye to assaults against women … like its totally normal.

    I’m flummoxed.

  16. CJ_in_VA

    I’m not sure what Tech’s mental health policy is. I know our judicial system can not sanction someone to counseling any more than they can sanction someone to take their medication. If the person isn’t an active participant, it’s pointless. Once we invoke the mental health policy, though, we can require them to establish a relationship with a counselor and sign a release that lets us talk with that counselor to ensure that the person has the support necessary to remain in the high stress higher ed environment.

    In my experience, it’s difficult to get people with unresolved mental health issues removed from school. (My experience is almost exclusively in public higher education. It’s a different story in private universities.) It’s easier to remove them from the residential community but once you move into keeping them from pursuing their education, you had better have incredibly solid evidence that the person is a danger to others. If it’s not a sanction you would apply to a student without mental health issues, it can not be used as a reason to eject a student with mental health issues. And I’m willing to bet that stalking is not something they expel people for.

    Just my experience – YMMV.

  17. burnt toast

    the problem is totally systemic, institutionalized and pervades almost all parts of our social structure and culture. Many of us just do not know where to start as part of an effective plan to change the reality.

    I would point to socialist structures that purportedly attempted to address the issue head-on in recent times. It appeared to me that even though superficially triumphant, there wasn’t any real attempt to instill equality between the sexes… it was mostly for show value than for anything else. I don’t remember many women who were at the top of the chain, nor do I see many now, since those structures have failed.

    Imagine then, the difficulty in attempting to initiate serious dialogs in political systems that have been built upon gender inequality, and whose strong discriminatory foundations continue to support those who have used sexual subservience to their advantage… and systematically exclude those who would institute change.

    Gender bias is in everything around us… and designed to be difficult to detect at times, and almost impossible to frame within a context that produces any change in behavior. It is one of the major driving forces of the US economy. It plays a dominant role in most religious belief systems. It is directly rewarded as a part of our educational system and reinforced as a result of most traditional family values.

    AND… many women support it and practice it. It is so pervasive, that even those who are most fervent in their belief that changes should have been instituted years ago, still do not know how to effectively define the debate nor lead the discussion on any real productive level.

    The problem is that it is fully pervasive within the system that drives everything around us. The problem is systemic and functionally… near absolute. Yes, a little positive change has occurred since the 1950’s… but for every victory, a staunchly entrenched powerbase attempts to subvert any real change… lose any reproductive control lately?

  18. Jersey

    Please don’t take this wrong but I haven’t heard that he threatened these two women. I understand that they were conserned by his comments and inappropriate attention but even in the video he sent his anger seems to have been aimed at everyone, not women. Not that he didn’t threaten these women I just haven’t heard any concrete and won’t jump to that conclusion. The fact that he was interested in women doesn’t make him in my view a misogynist. He was clearly seriously f–ked up but nowhere in his rantings were they specifically aimed against women. He didn’t focus on women in his attack (or on race for that matter). This guy was a different animal than those who specifically express anger towards women. I think assuming he was simply a misogenist, in a way, confuses the response lawmakers should have regarding real perpetrators of violence towards women. Am I making any sense?

  19. And I’m willing to bet that stalking is not something they expel people for.

    Not when the college is pulling down 100 g’s from the student. My experience with private colleges … is that getting a student expelled is extremely difficult … and the probability is inversely proportional to the % income bracket to which the student’s family belongs.

  20. even those who are most fervent in their belief that changes should have been instituted years ago, still do not know how to effectively define the debate nor lead the discussion on any real productive level

    Um, have you read this blog? Or hop on over and read mine. Or read Tart. Or Pam’s House Blend. Or about thirty other possible candidates. There’s no shortage of articulate voices with a coherent vision. Some of us would be damn good at leading. (Not me. I get too mad at stupid people.) The problem isn’t us. The problem is that we’re invisible and inaudible.

    Just like the threats against us are.

  21. Please don’t take this wrong but I haven’t heard that he threatened these two women.

    He did. You don’t have to “jump to that conclusion.” Had he not made threats, the women would not have been allowed to press charges (which they were, though they declined).

  22. soullite

    testing

  23. What a great post. You are so right. And your commenters are thoughtful as well.

    I think stalking IS threatening.

  24. What a great post. You are so right. And your commenters are thoughtful as well.

    I think stalking IS threatening.

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