Others have gone so far as to label him a “victim” and multiple news sites have urged us “not to victim-blame” him.
Heaven forbid we call out the actions of a man who murdered his children.
Heaven forbid we be critical of his choices.
If this man murdered two children who were not his own, if he murdered two children at random, if he murdered your two children, no-one (and I mean NO-ONE) would be urging us to withhold judgement.
Nor would we be expected to tiptoe around the fact that what he did was a crime.
But because we live in a society where women and children are still seen as an extension of the men they are related to, and because women and children are often expected to passively absorb the violent outbursts of the men they ‘belong’ to, we’re being told not to say anything critical about this man’s choices.
Instead we’re expected to limit our conversation to polite discussion about depression and mental illness.
But here’s an inconvenient truth: most mentally ill people do not kill others. And mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of it. Moreover, the difference between a man who suicides, and a man who murders his children before suiciding is not how mentally ill he is: it’s how proprietary he is in his attitude towards women and children.
Not only does this attitude often feed in to why these crimes are committed in the first place, but our culture’s proprietary attitude towards women and children also feeds in to the public’s minimising and excusing of these family murder-suicide events.
The problem is that when we view women and children as a mere extension of a man, it becomes more socially acceptable for that man to ‘take those women and children with him’ when he self-destructs. Somehow, the murder will be treated as less heinous, and there will be tacit understanding that the man was merely wanting to take ‘what was his’ with him.
Thus the whole thing will be written up as one ‘terrible tragedy’, he’ll be cast as some kind of tragic victim, and the public will be put on notice “to be careful not to victim-blame” him.
But again, consider for one second how different the reporting would be if he’d murdered two children at random. Once you remove the proprietary claim, you can guarantee that no-one would be issuing edicts, instructing us to tiptoe around the fact that what he did was a crime.
Assistant Professor Carolyn Harris Johnson, a leading expert in familicide and the author of Come With Daddy: Child Murder-Suicide After Family Breakdown, says that the media frequently sanitises these sorts of crimes, and may often romanticise them by suggesting, for example, that the perpetrator acted out of love.
According to Prof Harris Johnson, this is often done to soothe audience anxieties because the subject matter of child murder is either too taboo, or too confronting for many people. But the problem with this, is that this romanticisation of the crime distorts the public’s understanding of why these events occur and the extent of the perpetrator’s responsibility.
“One of the [common] myths is that familicide is caused by love, that the extreme love the father feels for the children means that he can’t bear to be separated from them, and that somehow he kills them out of that kind of emotional response”, says Prof Harris Johnson.