“Behind closed doors”: How domestic violence led to a rampage in Austria

graz-memorial

Another day, another rampage, another vigil. This time, it’s in the downtown pedestrian zone of Graz, where a young man drove at full speed into a crowd…on purpose. What lurks behind such “senseless” violence? EMMA investigated, and found the following:

Just imagining it puts a lump in one’s throat. On a summer day around 12 noon in the middle of Graz, a man flooring it at 150 km/h in a pedestrian zone kills three people. Exactly where passersby stroll and people sit at café tables. He just mows them down with his green SUV, adults and children alike.

Then he gets out and attacks a couple with a knife. Gets back in, and races on through the inner city. Three people die immediately, 36 are injured, some of them clinging to life. “The inner city is like an open wound. It will take a long time to heal,” says Austrian minister of the Interior, Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

The man in question is a 26-year-old truck driver. He grew up near Graz, after leaving war-torn Bosnia with his family as a small boy. He is believed to have suffered a psychotic break on the day in question, according to authorities. But at the same time, he must have planned his crime exactly. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain how he could have backed up for such a distance with his SUV before he hit the gas and then raced toward the people and chased them down in a targeted manner. Psychologist Salvatore Giacomuzzi, of the University of Innsbruck, speaks of “ice-cold calculation”.

The Bosnian man who drove his green SUV into the pedestrian zone is now sitting in the Jakomini jail in Graz. His process has just begun; until now, he was impossible to talk to. So we still know very little.

In the report of the rampage in the Styrian capital city there is, however, another detail that brings a lump to one’s throat. But the fear, in this case, creeps up rather slowly. When local police director Josef Klamminger speaks of a “relationship crime”. The 26-year-old has already previously “shown himself to be violent”. But not in public; behind closed doors at home. In May, he was charged with violence against his wife and two sons in their home. Even before that, the police had been called to the scene several times. Once, the police confiscated a rifle. The wife, according to various media, has fled with the children to Bosnia. According to other press reports, the wife was arrested and interrogated in Graz on Sunday, but had known nothing of her husband’s plans. She had filed for divorce some time ago.

A man very injured in his pride, who is capable of driving his SUV at 150 into a pedestrian zone — what could he be capable of doing behind closed doors, where no one can see him?

Of course, such a rampage doesn’t just create a nationwide shock, but a wave of sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, too. Of course such rampages are followed by expert analyses over violence in general, and the question of what could drive a 26-year-old to do such a thing, and how it could be prevented in future.

But just as naturally, precisely because of its details, this case should become an occasion to talk about a form of violence that, even in 2015, is blanketed in silence and in this case, is directly connected: Domestic violence. Which happens every day, without anyone knowing about it. Which unleashes no national shock or public mourning. Even though thousands, if not millions, are affected by it. All the women, who fall victim to the terrorism of their boyfriends and husbands each and every day: rampagers behind closed doors.

In Austria, on average, an estimated 30 women are killed by their (ex-)husbands or (ex-)boyfriends every year. “Often, the murder is the terrible climax of a long history of violence, and usually, the murderers make their crimes known ahead of time,” according to the Austrian Women’s Help Line Against Violence in their yearly report from 2014. The femicides are “just the tip of the iceberg; the level of reported violence against women is very high and the number of unreported crimes is presumably much higher still.” Of the more than 8,000 callers to the hotline that year, 7,000 were female.

Meanwhile, the Agency of the European Union for Basic Rights found in a Europe-wide study that every fifth Austrian woman over the age of 15 falls victim to physical or sexual violence. Every tenth one suffers violence from a partner or ex-partner. In Germany, it’s no better: Every third woman falls victim to physical or sexual assault, every fifth one within or after the breakup of a relationship. Germany represents the European average with those figures. And this too is in the report: The majority of these victims don’t report partner violence to the police or an aid organization.

Even rampages, according to recent history, are all too often motivated by hatred toward (strong) women. Two examples among many: In Montréal, Québec, in 1989, Marc Lépine opened fire on female students in an engineering school with the words: “I hate feminists!” 25 years later, in Santa Barbara, California, mass killer Elliot Rodger wrote, before his rampage: “I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman….I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of UCSB.”

Such statements, so far, are not known in Graz. But looking at the depressing details of that rampage, one question keeps coming up: How can we get large violent outbreaks under control, when we ignore the small ones so criminally? It’s not surprising that violence that goes on unhindered for months or years behind closed doors can explode, can at some point break out on a larger stage — such as the downtown core of Graz. Above all, when the lightning rod suddenly disappears. For the wife of the rampager of Graz has dared to do something, that most victims of domestic violence take a long time to do, if at all: She escaped from her tormentor.

Translation mine.

So we can see a number of layers of social trouble at work here. Domestic violence as precursor to violent rampages in the street; the lingering mental torments of the Balkan wars in survivors; the shockingly high number of assaults on women by intimate male partners in both Austria and Germany (and remember, these countries represent the European median for inter-partner violence of this nature); and the prevalence, throughout the world, of spoiled, entitled males exacting a gory “revenge” on women when they don’t get their way, be it in work or in love.

Most significant, for me, is the fact that this man (and presumably, his wife as well) is a survivor of the Bosnian conflict. In the Balkans, violence against women was a weapon of war, and a grotesque means of “ethnic cleansing”. Raping a woman on the enemy side, leaving her pregnant with an enemy’s child — this happened thousands of times. It’s a trauma that has marked and scarred women and girls from the 1990s to this day. Yet as traumatic as it is for the female survivors, none of them to date has gone on a violent rampage. It’s always been their partners. Why?

Could it be, maybe, the fact that their “manhood” was somehow offended by all the mass assaults on “their” women — a reproach against their “failure” to “defend” their “honor” properly? And that ever since that time, they’ve been trying to “get their manhood back” by taking out their rage and controlling impulses on the women, rather than dealing with the unresolved pain of that time in a more constructive manner?

If that’s the case, then it’s little wonder that this one ran amuck when his wife left him. When she escaped his violent, bullying control, she stripped him of what was left of his perceived “manhood”.

The only really surprising thing, in the end, is that this hasn’t happened more often. It’s not as if there’s any lack of motives, means or opportunity. Machismo and sexism are global problems. And that’s why trying to prevent individual rampages like this will probably fail; society is failing to tackle the root causes of male rage and vengefulness. Instead, it’s putting the onus and the blame on women, when it should be teaching men to stop viewing women as “property” that is “ruined” by another man’s hand. Until we collectively make machismo, rage and violence obsolete, we can only expect more of the same.

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