When I learned of the recent school shooting in my state of Maryland, I finally had the hard #MeToo conversation I had been avoiding with my 14-year-old daughter. Why? Because the shooting was not only about school violence; it was also about sexual control and aggression by a 17-year-old boy who shot and killed his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend, Jaelynn Willey, in a school hallway just before classes started. What is unknown by many is that approximately one in three girls aged 15-19 reports having experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence.
Last week, our Maryland state legislature finally approved the “Protect Maryland Survivors Bill” in which domestic abusers are required to turn in their guns. Female Maryland lawmakers have tried to get this law passed for three years with no support from our governor, who has received an A- rating from the NRA. He has not identified the recent Maryland school shooting as intimate partner violence, but he this year expressed support for the bill and may sign it, which is a small but important step considering that an abuser’s access to guns increases the risk of murder of a woman by 400 percent.
As a University of Maryland, College Park school psychology professor who specializes in emotions, education and equity, I seek to change the way we think and act in schools so that my daughter — and women everywhere — can be free of the gender inequity, harassment and violence that has been prevalent for so long. I believe that the media, education leaders and politicians have failed to see that there is a connection between men’s use of guns and the culture of intimidation that keeps women down.
If you think the #MeToo and #NeverAgain movements are unrelated, you are wrong. It is no coincidence that thousands of women wore their pink pussy hats to the recent marches for gun control. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg quotes the 19th century feminist Sarah Moore Grimké, saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” I would argue that the use of guns to harass or intimidate women is an integral part of our history of sexual violence, harassment and control.
I finally briefly explained to my daughter my own sexual harassment experience, which happened when I was a 20-year-old conducting research on activist young women abroad. But I did not tell her that I had experienced public, forced kissing and getting cornered when I was doing research at a workplace where other young women both witnessed my incident and experienced their own harassment. I did not tell her that girls are being shot in schools and workplaces by their partners. Instead, I gave my story a Disney ending that so much has changed for women since #MeToo.
Our country and my daughter need some authentic, in-depth discussion of gun violence, sexual harassment/assault and gender. To be sure, some politicians and members of the media have discussed how domestic violence is an important issue in the #NeverAgain movement. But a state legislature passing a domestic violence gun law is not enough.
Take your feet off our necks. Our next steps should be bringing the discussion of sexual harassment and gun violence into both schools and universities. In addition to frank, sensitive dialogue, we need women — and men — to lead the design of harassment and violence prevention programs. We need more school counselors and psychologists to prevent intimate partner violence in schools.
We have to fight this battle not only in our culture and norms, but also in the realm of gun control. We must fight for stronger stalking and harassment laws for schools and workplaces. One in seven women is stalked at some point in her lifetime; 76 percent of women who were murdered by their partners were stalked first.
We need to address intimate partner violence and gun access across the nation. Thirty percent of domestic abusers obtain a firearm and could kill their partner before a background check is completed, 72 hours later. We also need to stop those legally prohibited from owning guns, like abusers, to be able to purchase or otherwise gain access to guns through various loopholes.
Federal gun laws combined with school programs must be designed to better protect girls in schools, stalking victims, dating partners and women who requesting temporary protection. New federal gun safety protections and school support are necessary to protect girls and women in school, home and the workplace.
Colleen O'Neal (email@example.com) is a professor of school psychology in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, College Park.