Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under A smoking, dusty crater

Rachel Louise Snyder in the New Yorker last month, writing about The Trial of Noor Salman and Its Shocking Disregard for Survivors of Domestic Violence left me pretty rattled. If you’re unaware, Salman is the widow of the guy who murdered forty-nine people at the Pulse Nightclub in Miami in 2016. When Salman was initially arrested and questioned on suspicion of being an accomplice, her husband—who domestically abused her—was alive. But over the course of her twelve-hour interrogation, the F.B.I. let her know he’d been shot dead by the police.

Salman entered the F.B.I. office believing herself the wife of an abuser, and learned that she was a widow. Suddenly, she no longer lived under the authoritarian rule of a man who watched grisly beheading videos on his phone while at work. Salman’s defense attorneys used very little of her history of abuse in their arguments, because the larger point for them was to convince jurors that she did not know of his plans before the attack unfolded. But from my viewpoint her victimhood was both entirely pertinent and shockingly disregarded by both the F.B.I. investigators and, later, by the federal prosecutors who chose to put her on trial.

Law-enforcement officials are not always familiar with the control that abusers have over their victims. They frequently encounter the following scenario: responders are called to a scene of domestic violence in a home. When they arrive, often to their dismay and annoyance, the victim begins to scream at them to go away, to tell them they aren’t wanted, even to holler obscenities at them. This happens even when a victim’s physical injuries—black eyes, bloody wounds—are obvious. Police often interpret this behavior as evidence that the victim is mentally or emotionally unstable. But this behavior is a message not to law enforcement, but to the abuser. It says, “I know you will be here when they are gone. I am loyal even in the face of your violence.” It says, “Please don’t kill me when they are gone.”

This left a crater in my heart. Ignorance is bliss, y’all.