According to a UN Women report, 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2020 globally. About 47,000 of them, 58 per cent, died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. This means a woman or girl is killed every 11 minutes in their homes.
Leaving abusive relationships is not easy and the time around the separation is the most dangerous time for victims of domestic abuse. A study where men who had killed their wives were interviewed showed that threats of separation or actual separation were most often the trigger leading to murderous violence.
A tale as old as time, men reacting violently to being turned down by women and society and faulty systems helping them escape accountability while failing to protect women. “Men can’t handle rejection” is akin to “boys will be boys”, justifications for misbehaviour that present men’s harmful actions as inevitable.
For many women, simply saying “no” to a man, rejecting his overtures or attempting to leave a relationship results in stalking, harassment, bodily harm or even death.
Mackenzie Anderson made several TikToks about being a victim of domestic violence. Last month, she was fatally stabbed in her home. Tyrone Thompson, her abusive ex-boyfriend, was arrested at the scene. The police allege he broke into Ms Anderson’s home and attacked her. He has not been charged with a crime yet.
Mehmet Yildiz, a Turkish man, doused his friend, Yasemin Uzuncelebi, in acid as she slept in October 2021 because she’d spurned his advances. He’d entered her home using a key that she had given him and ‘had planned before the event to turn off the water valves of the house and empty water from objects such as jugs and other containers’ so his victim could not wash the solution off her face.
The victim and her attacker had been friends before the attack but their friendship had turned sour after she rejected Yildiz’s overtures to develop an intimate relationship. Her lawyer said doctors described his client’s injuries as some of the worst they had ever seen and that, five months later, she was still fighting for her life in an ICU.
In November 2021, a man from Delhi, India, attacked a woman with a blade because she rejected his marriage proposal. During the investigation, the accused told the police that he knew the woman and was friends with her, but for the last few months, she had been ignoring him.
He said her behaviour made him angry and so, he assaulted her. He also said that he first attacked the woman in April, but she kept ignoring him. Angered by this indifference from the victim, the accused attacked her intending to kill her. He had been stalking her and pressuring her to marry him.
In the United States, Christopher O’Kroley gunned down a former co-worker, Caroline Nosal, in the grocery store parking lot where they both worked after she rejected him romantically. He had been suspended and then fired from his job at the grocery store after he harassed Nosal when she turned down his romantic advances, the complaint says. He told the police that it was “easy to kill” the victim and he claimed she had “ruined his life”.
22-year-old Elliot Rodger murdered six people and wounded thirteen in the University of California before taking his own life. Rodger’s actions, which he detailed in a 137-page manifesto and a YouTube video, were part of his plan for “retribution” to punish women, “hot girls” in particular, for denying him the sex life he said he “deserved.” He also lashed out at other men for being able to experience what he felt he was denied.
These haunting stories may depict the worst-case scenario, however, many women have had similar experiences.
“I was doing this thing where I was dating a bunch of people and going on a lot of dates and a cop on hinge liked my profile. I was only going to go on one date with him, so I thought it would be fine even though I was wary of him being a cop. It was not fine.”
“We were supposed to meet at a museum but he came really late so we ended up just sitting in his car and driving around. He had a gun in his car and, he let me hold it. By the end of the night, he had told me about his very weird kinks, a domination fetish, his ex, and that he was in love with me. He asked me many weird questions too, like if I’d ever had an abortion.”
After this nightmare date, 22-year-old Ada* told the cop that she didn’t want to see him anymore. In response, he blew up her phone every day. “It was really scary, especially because he was a cop.” Fortunately, she didn’t give him her real name or address and so he couldn’t do much harm after she left the date. Upon rejection, he started to say it was his fault for telling her how much he liked her from the jump, visibly upset.
When Anu* was 15, she used to go to a pool in her neighbourhood to swim.
“Men would hit on me and I would tell them my age but, that didn’t stop them, they’d still try to talk to me and ask for my number. They were very persistent too, so I’d give them so they would leave me alone. One day, I was done swimming and going home when a man started trying to talk to me and offering to take me home.”
“He said he wanted to see my place, to follow me home. I told him no, that my parents wouldn’t like that; then he asked me to invite him over when they are not around. I said no, so he asked me to come to his place instead to “have fun”. I kept turning him down and then he started yelling and calling me a child. He said he was fresh out of jail for manslaughter and that he would kill me. Nobody was around; I was terrified.”
Male entitlement is encouraged from young. Little girls are told that boys that bully them do it to show affection and the little boys doing the bullying are left alone to do so as though harassment and abuse are valid ways of showing affection.
Men, white men especially, are almost infallible in practical applications of the law. They get off with slaps on the wrist at most and the signs of the violence they are capable of perpetuating are ignored until they succeed in actually harming their victim.
A UK report by a joint inspectorate team has found that the full extent of stalking and harassment in England and Wales is unknown because police and prosecutors often do not recognise the crimes, or record them incorrectly. Victims’ complaints are frequently not investigated and are dismissed.
Out of a sample of 112 cases of stalking and harassment examined, none were found to have been dealt with properly. More than 60 per cent showed no evidence of a risk management plan being prepared to protect victims. In 95 per cent of the case files reviewed, care for the victim was deemed to be inadequate; three-quarters of the cases were not even handled by detectives.
Sometimes, a sense of foreboding leads women to the police before disaster strikes. “Harassment and stalking are crimes of persistence,” the report says and perpetrators may begin to harass and stalk their victims long before inflicting physical violence on them. The police, if they respond at all, do so inadequately.
Patriarchal society may also drive women into the arms of their attackers because of the culture of undermining women’s complaints, especially against their romantic partners. Where there are no systems or structures in place to adequately protect women from violence, it can be very isolating — and maybe even life-threatening — for victims who have no support system. Improper handling of women’s complaints about fear of assault is not only negligent; it also enables and contributes to violence against women.
Why can’t men handle rejection? Because society feeds male entitlement, insulates men from responsibility and downplays violence against women.