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After the killing of a British MP, it’s time to admit violence has a misogyny problem

Labour MP Jo Cox Killed In Shooting Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The United Kingdom is reeling from the news that Jo Cox, a Labour Party member of Parliament, was fatally shot and stabbed on Thursday. It’s a horrific act of violence in an already-horrific week of violence following the Orlando shooting in the US.

In the wake of the killing, this tweet clearly struck a nerve and was widely shared:

We don’t yet know the assassin’s motivation. Suspect Thomas Mair has been linked to a US-based Neo-Nazi group, the National Alliance. There are unconfirmed reports that Mair shouted "Britain first!" before attacking Cox, a reference to the hotly debated "Brexit" referendum on whether Great Britain should leave the European Union, which Cox vocally opposed. Cox was also a strong supporter of helping Syrian refugees. Officials are also investigating National Action, a white supremacist group that has campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union.

"It’s an attack on democracy, what happened yesterday; it’s the well of hatred that killed her," said Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But whatever the killer’s specific motivations, Beth Murray’s tweet resonated with people who take online harassment of women seriously and are frustrated that many, including law enforcement agencies, often do not.

Her words also speak to the powerful role that male hatred and misogyny plays in varying degrees for women in power. Several women in Parliament have been subjected to vicious misogynistic attacks on Twitter — including one MP, Jess Phillips, who received 600 rape threats in one night. The incidents have fueled criticism that Twitter isn’t doing enough to protect users from harassment.

Cox herself had experienced such harassment, and her security was reportedly increased after a three-month campaign of harassing messages against her. One man was cautioned by police for sending her "malicious communications of a sexual nature," but he wasn’t the suspect. Police also said that there was no known link between the harassing messages and the attack on Cox.

While police determine the killer’s possible political motivations for the attack, we shouldn’t ignore the likely role of pure hatred in it, and the role that hateful misogyny too often plays in attacks like these.

In 2011, US Congress member Gabrielle Giffords was shot and nearly killed by Jared Loughner, who reportedly had sexist views and believed that women shouldn’t be in power. Giffords was Loughner’s local representative, as Cox was Mair’s.

Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear, and numerous other men who committed lethal high-profile mass shootings were also reported to have private histories of brutal domestic violence and sexual assault. And as I reported for Vox this week, most "mass shootings" as typically defined by news outlets are actually domestic violence attacks, often against women or children.

Every high-profile shooting has unique circumstances, and every killer has different motivations. But extreme misogyny is such a common thread in so many of them that we can no longer ignore its role in public violence.


Correction: The original headline of this article referred to Cox as a British "PM." She was a member of Parliament, or MP — not PM, which stands for Prime Minister. We regret the error.

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