In light of domestic violence awareness month, Students Demand Action and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center hosted an event Friday evening to discuss the intersection of gun violence and domestic violence. 


LSA senior Taylor King, group co-lead of Students Demand Action, and Public Policy junior Matt Weiner, student volunteer and outreach chair at SAPAC, introduced the issue in regard to Michigan specifically. 


“Over one third of women in Michigan report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime; in 2017 alone, there were over 88,000 domestic violence incidents, including over 12,000 aggravated domestic assaults in Michigan,” King said.


In Michigan, people convicted of domestic violence are allowed to purchase firearms, as long as their victim was not a live-in spouse. This “boyfriend loophole” would be closed with the passing of House Bill No. 4497.


“HB 4497 is sitting in the Michigan State Judiciary Committee, where it has been since April without receiving a single hearing,” Weiner said.


U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, began the panel by discussing her personal experience growing up in a home with domestic violence and detailing how this violence affected her and her sister. She recalled feelings of shame when the police dismissed their calls and would not show up when her and her sister were worried about their safety and hiding in a closet. The first time Dingell told her story was on the House floor.


“I got up and gave a speech from my heart, that was one of the hardest things I ever did, but this is so important to me that women need to be safe and that people who shouldn’t have guns need to be kept from buying them,” Dingell said. 


Quyen Ngo, research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, discussed her research, which focuses on understanding the motivations behind perpetrators of domestic violence. She said children exposed to violence are more likely to become aggressors of domestic violence in adulthood, and she studies these intergenerational issues to address the cycle of domestic violence from both sides. 


“I believe we cannot fix this problem unless we deal with the social and contextual factors that lead people to perpetrate and become aggressors,” Ngo said.


Jackie Jones, a survivor of gun violence and a member of Moms Demand Action, became an advocate for preventing gun violence when her son and nephew were murdered in Saginaw by men that grew up with domestic violence in the home. As a Black woman, she highlighted the misconception that every person killed by gun violence in a Black community is deserving in some way; she said her son and nephew were simply sitting in a car when they were shot. 


“I got to say something; I can no longer just not do anything … even though I was afraid, I had to,” Jones said.


The moderators and panelists advocated for the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in the House seven months ago and is awaiting Senate action. Ngo said this dialogue can be bipartisan, and proponents of gun policy reform are advocating for safety.


“With pool deaths and drownings we’re not talking about taking away everybody’s pool — people would laugh if we talked about it this way, and yet somehow this has become a dialogue about taking away guns and nobody is saying that,” Ngo said.


The panel also discussed the importance of starting these conversations in early childhood school programs. The three women panelists discussed how unhealthy thinking about hypermasculinity may contribute to this issue, especially if young boys do not have healthy relationships at home to learn from.


LSA sophomore Lisbeth Rubin, a SAPAC member in attendance, reiterated the importance of addressing this issue early on.


“We have to start conversations about healthy relationships at a very young age, because that’s ultimately the root of every problem that was discussed,” Rubin said.


Additionally, Ngo expressed the need for society to make space for boys and men to feel comfortable talking about their emotions alongside women. 


Jones advocated for a more open society as a whole, arguing that if people were all able to talk about emotions and experiences without fear of judgment, they would get help and more tragedies could be prevented.


“It’s time out for being so private. Years ago, like Debbie said, we couldn’t talk about the violence and everything that was going on in our homes — but now you can, so I think if we talk about it more and more, then people that need the help can get help,” Jones said.


LSA freshman Megan Shohfi found the perspectives of those in government, research and with personal experiences helpful in understanding the issue.


“I thought it was very interesting to see three different perspectives, one from the legislative side, one from more of a psychological side, and someone who had first person experience with it,” Shofi said. “And everyone could tie in their different perspective and something personal to it. That made it a lot more impactful than just listening to someone present statistics.”


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