Letter to the editor: Mollie Tibbetts’ murder and the repercussions of violent masculinity

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Mollie Tibbetts. — photo via

By Meggie Gates

Twenty-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was pronounced dead on Aug. 21. After a month of heartache for family and friends, Tibbetts, who would be a sophomore at the University of Iowa, was finally located following video footage submitted by a neighbor. The footage showed her running in an area east of Brooklyn as a Black Chevy Malibu followed her. Police investigation of the tape led to identifying the murderer: a 24-year-old man who had been living under the radar for seven years in Brooklyn, Iowa. His name is Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

An “illegal alien,” as he was described by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in the press briefing.

The identity of the killer sparked outrage across the nation. Social media could not stop discussing the status of the undocumented immigrant who attacked Mollie. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds tweeted, “As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”

His race was immediately called in to question. From everyone. People on both sides of the argument were torn. On one hand, this was an opportunity to finally win wider support for the desired wall people had been discussing since Donald Trump’s candidacy. On the other, people did not want this one incident to spoil America’s outlook on an entire community. Regardless, nobody knew where to begin with the conversation. They were mad, confused and hurt to see somebody so young succumb to such a heinous crime. If Mollie can fall victim to violence, anyone can. Especially young, vulnerable women.

Where do we begin fixing the problem?

According to the World Health Organization, 38 percent of murdered women face death at the hands of intimate male partners. In the United States alone, nearly three women are murdered by current or romantic partners every day. The list of statistics highlighting male violence against women is deafening. It is a problem that has been interwoven in society since the start of time, when we decided how exactly we would view gender. Men were fed narratives of power; women, ideas of staying proper. If femininity is not characterized as weak, it’s hypersexualized. It’s gotten so bad, a book prize has been established to award people who create narratives that avoid violence against women.

Media is consumed every day. Stories spill over into life and fear is created, fear that makes people lash out in hopes of feeling safe. Following news of Mollie’s death, Tomi Lahren tweeted, “Just watch as all the Liberals go out of their way to defend the illegal immigrant who killed Mollie Tibbetts. Is he one of your DREAMers, too? Sick.” Politicians began blaming immigration laws for her death. Republicans notorious for anti-immigration rhetoric started speaking out about how disgraceful immigration laws are in America. The quick-fix suggestions focused on what can be controlled: harder tests to gain citizenship, more regulation at the border.

Fear mongering that dehumanizes immigrant communities.

Foreign-born people make up more than 13 percent of the population. The Department of Justice released a report that found 5.6 percent of inmates in federal, state and local prisons are foreign-born. Crime is so highly associated with the Hispanic community that assumptions are made regardless of the person. Women fear facing deportation if they come forward with reports of abuse. Children are put in cages for fear of what they may become. The law is enforced with bias. We turn a cheek to the fact evil men and women exist in the world regardless of race, hoping to control what is uncertain.

The solution is much more difficult than writing off an entire community of people. Steps have been taken. The #MeToo movement has given women a platform to speak about the sexual harassment and assault they face. More men conscientiously rework how they conduct themselves with women to avoid overstepping. Still, more must be done. More should be done.

Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable running alone in their hometown.

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What happened to Mollie is a tragedy. It sheds light on why women today constantly fear for their safety, why so many of my friends carry keys in between their knuckles to feel safe walking home. Take this as an opportunity to realize how gender has disproportionately plagued women worldwide. More than 1 in 10 women have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their life. In none of these situations are women wondering “is he a legal citizen?”

They are afraid because he’s a man.

Masculinity is tied to power aimed to control through selfish gains. Femininity is associated with vulnerability and, often, weakness. It’s not impossible to break this narrative, but it starts with self-awareness. It starts with recognizing how your behavior feeds into what is expected from you.

If we’re going to fix our country, we’re not going to fix it with a wall built off taxpayer money. We’re going to fix it by fixing our people. We’re going to fix it by breaking through walls that have boxed us in since the very beginning. There’s power in compassion. There’s power in empathy. There is good and bad in the world. Choose good.

It’s a question of morals, not color.

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  1. Great article! As tragic as this death was, the fact that the assumed murderer is an illegal alien is coincidental. When other tragedies of this nature occur, why is such a detail rarely mentioned? Why is Weinstein’s ancestry rarely mentioned for example? No, people like our illustrious governor have an agenda and this pushes that agenda. They are willing to make a whole group of people villains as long as it meets their needs. Of course, the group has to be people they don’t belong to.

  2. Ask Mollie’s family if they’d give every last dime they have toward building a wall if it meant the individual who killed their daughter would never have been able to get to her. I think you know the answer. Many crimes are committed due to the opportunity/proximity of the criminal to the victim, which is clearly the case here.

    1. Ben Woods, are you being purposefully obtuse? EVERY parent, given the opportunity, would build a wall around someone who murdered their child. The problem is you’re making a political stand on top of Mollie’s grave. Please move along and take your agenda with you.

    2. Did you read the article, sir? It’s not about the local problem of illegal immigrants in our country, it’s the much bigger issue of the violent and dominating male attitudes toward women, which goes across borders of all countries. I could point you toward a reference article backing up this statistic if you’d like, but the majority of people within the US who commit violent crimes like this one are WHITE, CISGENDERED MALES. Most immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are actually less likely to commit crimes than their entitled counterparts who ARE US citizens.

      1. I meant that I agree with Ben. Don’t make this a male hate event. The person who killed Molly wasn’t supposed to be here….

    3. I agree with you Ben. Many people are appalled that illegal or undocumented or immigrants in general are being categorized as the problem but they have no problem blaming all males especially all white makes…ridiculous! We all know who committed this crime blame him!

      1. The fact of the matter is that Hispanic/Latino people commit murder at the same rate as white people do*. Contrast that against the fact that 89% of homicides in 2015 were committed by males** and you have the point of this article. To focus on this man’s ethnicity is scapegoatism, ignoring the broader problem of violence (homicide) perpetrated by men in this country. That’s pretty much where the commenting should stop (and where the conversation should begin). This girl’s tragic murder is another in an impossibly long list of examples of men murdering innocent women. To focus on this particular man’s immigration status just as this poor woman’s family are reeling from their loss (and are most certainly in need of space, support, and love) is sleazy, cowardly, opportunistic politics, and those choosing to leverage ANY tragedy for political points should be deeply ashamed.

        Crying that the author is “blaming all males especially all white makes (sic)…ridiculous!” is missing the point entirely, and it’s distracting from the real conversation. I understand that it’s easy to feel attacked when negative light is cast on a group to which you belong, but statistics don’t lie. There is a problem with male violence, and getting defensive about it ain’t helping.

        *(based on 2015 homicide offender data for whites and Hispanics** vs total population of those groups in 2015)


    4. Mollie’s family has already made several public statements discouraging people from making their daughter’s death into a political football against immigration. The Tibbetts family asked this question. They answered with openness and rationality.

  3. Meggie, as a mother of three girls and one boy, I have and do worry about raising our children and what kind of world we send them out into. I appreciate your thoughts and words. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

  4. No one I have talked to has questioned his nationality, only the fact that upon entering our country he showed no respect or intention of obeying our laws. Sadly this also included murder. This alone some what represents how at least a few of the illegal immigrants feel about following our laws.

  5. Maggie you said it best,” we need to start with our people “ not wth people who don’t belong here. He didn’t come here legally. He was breaking the law long before he threw Mollie in one of our Iowan corn fields like some ragweed doll. We gave him an opportunity and he took it That is the way I sadly feel. Be safe ladies. Don’t give people an opportunity to hurt you. What ever scale you are looking at this from. Protection is prevention most of the time. If can happen it most likely will. Try to stop it, try to be safe, and never stop loving and watching out for one another.

    1. Meggie’s making an excellent point here about the issue in addressing hegemonic masculinity and how it impacts so many women’s lives, including yours. By telling women to not “give people an opportunity to hurt you” you’re telling women that it’s on us. I know your intentions are good, but it’s victim blaming and it’s gross. Just teach boys to accept no for an answer and they’ll become respectful men. Just teach girls they need to defend themselves against boys and they become anxious women who are still attacked by men.

  6. leave Mollie out of th s political war . no i dont support iillegal persons coming into iur country. but Mollie is Young girl who deserves tge right of anyone else that has bern murdered, respect to her family. i know if i was her family id be pissed uou you used my daughter to up your political bs. Let mollie and her family stay out of all of this. focus on helping mollies famiky vommunity heal. help by being aware of your suroubdings and call athorities if you see some thing out of the nirm or you suspect some. Remeber Mollie as the young beautiful soul that she was.

  7. Ms. Gates – thank you. Thank you also to Mollie’s brother for his incredible, compassionate words in these devastating circumstances, calling on the public to make a friend in Mollie’s memory (bless you, that was purely beautiful). Thank you to “A white, cisgendered man” and others in the earlier comments for calling out the politicization that does nothing good.

    Like many of us, I keep thinking of my sisters, my friends, my neighbors, and how the only authorities they have to call for help when a man is pursuing them are the police, who have been forced into the impossible situation of trying to protect our Mollies and to serve other powers, such as immigration authorities, at the same time.

    The politicization was part of the violence. The violence is feeding the politicization. The Governor’s office appears to be interested in accelerating the cycle rather than in reaching out in a time of disaster to call upon Iowa’s better angels.

    No true representative of any race or gender would have been capable of killing Mollie. The person who did it is an individual responsible for an inhuman act and must be brought to justice.

    What matters to the rest of us, now, is this: are we acting as representatives of Mollie’s wishes? Her family’s? Her town’s? Our state’s? And are we working to make sure that when we look for the helpers, they can get where they need to be and do what they need to do, without the glare of national rhetoric blinding them to what needs doing, and without the flood of hateful words and acts sweeping those in danger and those who could be dangerous out of their reach?

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