‘Sleeping with the enemy’ is more than a movie title

in Contributors/Terry Manning/Voices by

American Louise Signore made worldwide news in 2019 when she told CBS New York her secret to living 107 years. 

“I never got married.” 

Other women recognized for longevity have held similar perspectives. Britain’s Gladys Gough, then a spry 103, told the Daily Mail in 2011, “I never got married or had a boyfriend either. … I just couldn’t be bothered with men.” 

In 2016, Jessie Gallan of Scotland said she had lasted 109 years of life because “I got plenty of exercise, (ate) a nice warm bowl of porridge every morning and have never gotten married.” Gallan told the Daily Mail that men are “more trouble than they’re worth.” 

It’s a sentiment I would like to dispute, but I struggle to do so. Too many women live with a constant and justifiable fear of harm from the men closest to them. 

Take the case of Gabrielle Petito. At the time I am writing this column, authorities are still looking for the man suspected in her death. Petito was reported missing after after her fiancé, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, returned alone from a cross-country trip the two had undertaken. 

The couple took off in early July from the home he shared with his parents. They populated their social media pages with posts about their adventures, always portraying themselves as exemplars of romantic bliss. 

But police in Moab, Utah, documented encountering the couple in response to reports of a domestic dispute. Footage shows a visibly upset Petito telling officers “issues” between the two had been building for days, but that neither wanted charges to be filed. They were in love, after all. Police let them go. 

Petito texted her mother in late August they were on their way to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. 

When Laundrie returned home Sept 1, Petito was not with him. Her family reported her missing on Sept. 11, and not long after, Laundrie went missing. He was formally declared a “person of interest” on Sept 15. 

Her remains were discovered three days later inside the Grand Teton National Park. 

Parallel to developments in the Petito case, dialogue arose centered on the response of national media and law enforcement to her disappearance and how it was so much more energized than reaction to reports of missing women of color. 

“Missing white woman syndrome” certainly is a topic worthy of review. The New York Post defended its coverage, saying the Petito story was such a big deal to readers and the national media editors were forced to elevate it. This fear of missing out on a big story (and associated newsstand sales and clicks to their websites) blinds the Post to their contribution to the hype, but let’s not digress. 

Women of all ethnicities face dangers from the men in their circles. 

On a recent broadcast, MSNBC’s Ali Velshi detailed how women from around the world, from varied cultures, suffer violence from men who are seldom held fully accountable for their actions. “If you are a woman of color, an indigenous woman, a trans woman, or a woman living in poverty, the system values your life even less,” Velshi said. 

Sometimes these same women downplay erratic male behaviors as “He’s just a little moody” or “He only gets upset because he loves me.” Such rationalizations can have tragic consequences.

A fact sheet from The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports one in four women experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime; from 2016 through 2018 the number of intimate partner violence victimizations in the United States increased 42 percent; and access to a firearm by an intimate-partner abuser increases the risk of the female victim’s death by 400 percent. 

The Justice Department reported that while men were four times more likely than women to be murdered overall, women were six times more likely to be victims of intimate killings. These “intimate killings” (what an awful term) are homicides committed by spouses, dating partners and exes. 

According to NCADV, intimate partner violence is most common against women between the ages of 18 and 24. Petito was 22 years old

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This year, we should all make an effort to become more aware of the toll this violence is taking on literally half of the people on the planet and try to help prevent it. At the very least, we should punish the perpetrators of this violence to the fullest extent allowable under the law. 

If you are in danger from domestic violence, you can seek confidential help using the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799- 7233 (SAFE). Information on the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is available at www.sccadvasa.org. 

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.