Male Violence-State Silence: These and Other Tragedies of the 20th Century

Author:G. Kristian Miccio
Position:Professor of Law at Western State University

I. Mapping The Contours Of Our Failure.A. The Central Park Rampage. B. Private Violence, Public Shame.II. Understanding The Contours Of Our Failure. A. Transcending Gender Roles: Raising Our Children To Be.B. Taking Responsibility: What Shall We Do?.C. Taking Responsibility: Conceptions Of Accountability.D. Taking Responsibility: Moving Beyond Punitive Toward Accountability .1. Truth and... (see full summary)


    I would like to dedicate this article to my beloved father, Guy Joseph Miccio, who left this earth on January 19, 2001. He was a compassionate father, teacher, husband, and friend. My father defied all male stereotypes, preferring instead to transform gender classifications by becoming a strong, empathic person. And, he was my " [n]orth, my [s]outh, my [e]ast and [w]est." W.H. AUDEN, Funeral Blues, in THE COLLECTED POETRY OF W.H. AUDEN (1945), available at He was my moral compass.

    G. Kristian Miccio, G. Kristian Miccio is presently a law professor at Western State University, College of Law where she teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, and domestic violence. In the fall, she will join the faculty of law at the University of Denver in Colorado. Dr. Miccio is also the founding director of WSU's Domestic Violence Project, the first such project at a law school in southern California. Professor Miccio is a nationally recognized expert in the area of domestic violence law. Her articles have been published by the Harvard Women's Law Journal, the Columbia Journal on Gender and Law, and the Columbia Law Review on International Law and Human Rights. She is currently working on an article that will be published by Oxford University Press. Miccio received her J.D. from Antioch University School of Law, her L.L.M. from Columbia University School of Law, and her J.S.D from Columbia University School of Law. Professor Miccio has lectured and published extensively on the issues of violence against women by intimate partners and state failure to protect women. She has received numerous awards for her teaching and her advocacy on behalf of battered women. She currently resides in southern California with her domestic partner, their fifteen-year-old daughter, and their dog Woodstock.

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"If I am not for myself, who is for me?

If I am only for myself, what am I?

If not now, when?"1

Hillel asks if I am ready to change and be changed. He challenges me to understand the self, to be conversant, protective and aligned with the self- but also to understand that the "I" is inextricably linked to the "Thou" or the "We." Each of us is connected to the other, as we build ourselves and as we re-create the world. We are not disengaged strangers to the society that we have constructed.

I am cognizant of how male violence and state silence constructs the world that we inhabit. I am all too aware of how systemic misogyny saps the life from young girls and women in both literal and figurative ways.2Violence against women has not abated even though it has moved from a Page 340silent scream to a collective wail.3 We are all aware of the devastating effects of intimate violence on women, children and the community as a whole.4 We know the litany of horrific statistics that map the consequences of such violence; we are reminded of them each time a woman is maimed or a child is killed at the hands of someone they trusted. We remember, but only for a moment.

Yet it is more than cultural amnesia that facilitates violence. It is a failure of will. Gender violence by males is a by-product of misogyny. However, the perpetuation of such violence requires more than the act of an individual male. It requires state condonation of such violence. And, because the state-the collective-condones such violence it is difficult to locate the contours of a conscious will to eradicate all aspects of gender violence. Although we speak of accountability, we have neither the collective will nor the inclination to hold our selves or the architects of such violence accountable. But, if not now, when?

I Mapping The Contours Of Our Failure
A The Central Park Rampage

I am sitting in stifling heat, in an overheated, overpriced SUV losing the battle to escape from New York City. I am headed out of New York to pastoral Woodstock. Each summer, since 1969, I make the ritual trip, "back to the Nation," to connect with the more mythical and kaballistic part of myself that is lost in New York and quite definitely hidden in Southern California.

I am stuck. Stuck in lines of cars masquerading as urban assault vehicles, as we bump and grind our way over the George Washington Bridge. I am here, pointing the car in the direction of salvation, realizing that redemption will be delayed for at least an additional hour or two. But, I am sanguine; I have talk radio to accompany me as I negotiate the asphalt suspended over two worlds.

I find a station. I listen. The talk centers on a nonsensical debate over whether the presidential candidates are suited for the position. I am struck by the certitude of our host, who, while tossing platitudes about compassionate conservatism, is eviscerating his "counterpoint," with incorrect statements of Constitutional law, something I claim to have some familiarity with. And then it happens. The discussion takes a sudden turn to the events in CentralPage 341 Park the previous Sunday.

One hot Sunday during the summer of 2000, Central Park was transformed into a gender battleground.5 Following the Puerto Rican Day Parade, bands of men isolated young women, surrounded them, hurled invectives that sliced the air with arrow-like precision, then, after spraying them with water, tore off their soaked clothes and fondled their now naked bodies.

For some, this was a replay of lives at home, or at the office, or in the academy or the courthouse, where dehumanization of the female is commonplace and where women's bodies are constructed by and for male needs, annihilating the female self. For some, this day was just another day. And for the police, this was merely a day in the park for "boys to be boys."

While amateur video enthusiasts recorded the contorted faces of both victim and assailant and the cheering minions of male attackers, they also burned into our memories the silence of the police. Confiscated tapes revealed scenes of police officers as they stood impassively while witnessing act after act of sexual de-humanization.6 With arms neatly folded across their chests, New York's finest just stood, impervious to the abuse, to the cries for help by victim and witness. For these guardians of the peace, the women were imperceptible -mere shadows across a cultural montage. There was no accountability here.

My radio companions reconstruct the events. In tones reminiscent of monastic homilies regarding teenage girls and sex, the commentators invoke images of doom because it is their collective opinion that the police are being mistreated in the press. They utter words such as "unfair," and "police bashing." And, I hear a chasm develop between the reality of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. To my companions, the horror of Central Park lies not with the explosion of male rage that accompanied conduct so vile as to shock the conscience, but in the voices raised in an attempt to hold the police accountable for their failure to protect.

The airwaves bristle with recrimination, yet fault will not be shared among individual perpetrators and witnessing police. Rather, the true culprit is thin coverage, police inaction is due to inadequate staffing.7Consequently, the police failed to act because they were forced to remain at their assigned location on the parade route. Absolution found, no inquiry necessary. The structural and systemic dimensions to male violence will goPage 342unnoticed and unaccounted for, and the role of the state in constructing such violence remains indiscernible.

The state has collaborated in the sexual annihilation of women. This is a painful part of our cultural history. A Lord Hale instruction in rape cases which maps the contours of accountability along gendered fault lines,8 a marital rape exemption which places the rape of wives outside the ambit of state concern,9 or honor defenses that either excuse or exonerate husbands who kill their wives and their wives' paramours,10 instruct us that women's lives are conditioned upon the will of individual males and of the state. If society measures police conduct at all, it does so against this cultural backdrop. Thus, it is not surprising that sexual assault cases fall off the police radar screen, regardless of whether such abuse occurs in their presence. Why should the police be forced to act when such conduct has only recently been viewed as socially unacceptable?

I find the ease with which we distance ourselves from the pain of women's suffering troubling. We not only separate ourselves, we find reasons to absolve the collective from responsibility. And the talk this afternoon merely reaffirms what I already know-there is no recognition here.

And it has been more than a year since this obscene display of male power exploded in Central Park. Children skate in the area where the attacks took place. Lovers walk the route where scores of women's bodies were violated. Police still patrol the lanes and paths where colleagues once stood silently as men pawed, pulled, and stripped their prey.

Every few months, buried inside the paper, newspapers report that a perpetrator or two has pled guilty to some low-level charge.11 News reportsPage 343may carry a short spot on the radio that names a police officer demoted or reassigned. But memories have faded. There is no accountability here.

And my radio companions? They still clutter the airwaves with useless and groundless opinions...

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