Mollie Tibbetts, Immigration, and Male Violence

Or, “why are you only concerned about male violence when it’s done by an immigrant?”

 

[cw: sexual assault]

 

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When sexual assault advocates talk about ending sexual violence, they draw a distinction between “risk reduction” and actual prevention.

“Risk reduction” consists of the common “wisdom” about sexual assault (aka the things all of our moms told us before we left for college): keep an eye on your drink at the bar, carry your keys in your fist when you walk to your car, take self-defense courses, don’t get too drunk, use the buddy system, etc.

But if the only way that we’re working to end sexual violence is through risk reduction, we’re doing two things: putting the weight to “avoid” sexual assault on the victims of assault, and saying, “Don’t get raped—make sure he rapes another girl.” Because sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual attraction, it isn’t “foiled” because a rapist’s chosen victim is on her guard—there will always be another woman at the bar who is drunker than you, who isn’t paying attention to her drink, or who isn’t here with a friend. And that’s not just at your bar. It’s at every bar. Because men who desire power and control are at every bar.

Which brings us to undocumented immigration. (No, seriously.)

By now you have probably heard about Mollie Tibbetts, the missing Iowa woman whose body was eventually found. Her alleged killer, an undocumented immigrant Christhian Bahena Rivera, approached Tibbetts while she was running. According to one narrative that I read, he claimed he ran “with or behind” her for a while. At one point, Tibbetts grabbed her phone and told Rivera that he needed to leave her alone or she would call the police, then ran away from him. Rivera chased her, then according to his statement “blacked out.” In another, Rivera followed Tibbetts in his car and then pursued her when she ran away from him, eventually abducting her. (It is also important to note that Rivera has disputed his own status as an undocumented immigrant, while his employer claims that Rivera used false identification.)

Of course Trump, who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, had a field day with this news. He and many other Republicans started blaming Tibbetts’ death on poor immigration laws, saying that it was poor border security that led to her death. To the credit of her family, they have been very strongly pushing back on this narrative. But of course, the same people who happily ignored the murder of Nia Wilson were not about to pass up the opportunity to insist on the (statistically disproven) narrative of immigrants being more violent than US citizens. Trump proclaimed at a rally, “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico,” he said. “And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman…Should have never happened. Illegally in our country… We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans.”

Setting aside for the moment that human beings can’t be illegal, let’s focus on one section of that speech: “illegally in our country.” Because even if the Republicans get what they want and border security is tightened, it is risk reduction, not true prevention. We aren’t saying, “We should have done something so that Rivera did not hurt any women.” We’re saying, “Something should have been done so that Rivera could not hurt any women in the USA.” We’re saying, “Make sure he hurts a different girl.” If Rivera did it (and it seems likely at this point that he did), he didn’t hurt Tibbetts because he is an undocumented immigrant.

He hurt her because of toxic masculinity.

This is a simple narrative that we’ve seen again and again. A man approaches a woman who gives him no indication that she wanted his company. A man pursues the woman. When the woman rejects him, he gets angry and hurts or kills her. This happens literally every day in the US, and in most if not all other countries. Not because there are hidden pockets of angry, violent immigrants in each country. But because there are both hidden and visible pockets of angry, violent men in each country. Taking Rivera’s immigration status out of the equation, and we still have a story of toxic masculinity and a man attempting to assert power and control over a woman.

Now I admittedly can’t say with 100% certainty that Mollie Tibbetts still would have been hurt or killed if Rivera had not been able to make it into this country. And I truly mourn her death, and sympathize with her family and loved ones. But I can say with near 100% certainty that men like Rivera hurt women every day, even if they aren’t in this country. They just hurt them in a different country, and Trump and his cronies don’t give a fuck.

Signed: Feminist Fury.

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Featured image is of white crosses on the Mexican side of a large steel border wall. It was taken by Jonathan McIntosh and released under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.

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