I admit that at the time I am writing this, I don’t know just how involved Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Zahi Salman, was in the mass shooting that occurred in Orlando this week. According to a number of reports, a source in law enforcement says Salman knew about her husband’s plans to murder dozens of people at the Pulse nightclub and tried to talk him out of it.
Sources also state that Salman accompanied her ex-husband to buy ammunition and drove him to Pulse to “scope the place out.” The FBI is currently deciding whether charges will be pressed on Salman for failing to notify law enforcement before the shooting.
None of this sounds good.
But we also know that it is highly possible that Salman was being abused by Mateen. According to The New York Times, old neighbors of the couple have described Mateen as a controlling husband. His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, has also stated that she was abused by him, even attacked in her sleep.
Nevertheless, you might be judging Salman pretty hard right now for not doing what she could to stop the worst mass shooting in recent history.
And I get it.
There is a need to find someone to blame who is still alive so that we can seek justice for the lives that were lost that night as well as for the community. I feel it too. And even though I’m a domestic abuse survivor, I admit that when I first heard she may have been able to stop it, I felt anger and wondered how she could listen to him tell her his plans to kill and not speak up. I hoped to be able to say that I would’ve spoken up. Or that I at least wouldn’t have driven him to the nightclub or stood by his side as he bought ammunition.
But then I remembered all the terrible things my ex did. I remembered the terrible things he would say about people. I remember hearing him talk about drugs and stolen goods. I remember him telling me I’d heard wrong the few times I confronted him.
I remember wanting to think that he was just troubled, that he needed help or that he’d grow out of it — which is basically the adult version of saying, “Boys will be boys.” I even remember wanting to protect him when he did wrong. I remember believing I could talk him out of his mistakes and being completely shocked when he went ahead and made them despite my warnings.
All it would’ve taken was his being a few degrees more terrible and violent than he already was, and I could be in the same position as his wife — hated by people across the country who would be asking for me to take responsibility for my abuser’s actions.
People want to believe that they would act differently if they were in Salman’s shoes, that they would do the right thing, that she and I are just unethical people. But the truth is they may not. It’s hard to imagine how abuse affects you until you’re living with it. When my ex choked me and then I chased him out of the house so I could beg him to stay, people want to think they’d act differently. They might imagine being choked and decide that they wouldn’t stand for it.
But they forget about all the other ways I was abused and manipulated before that moment. They forget that I was not operating under the same rules and assumptions as I was when I’d first met him. The truth is, when I was with him, I was a person I no longer recognize. I was a person who probably wouldn’t have called the authorities had he told me he was going to hurt people.
Many other survivors don’t need to imagine that their abuser’s crimes could land them in jail. According to a research paper from the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, one of the ways in which survivors of abuse end up in prison is through coercion. Some of these women take blame for their partner’s actions, and others are coerced with threats of violence into actually committing crimes, such as drug dealing or theft for their abuser’s benefit. These women aren’t criminals — they are victims.
And based on Mateen’s history, it’s possible that Noor Salman is a victim too. She could’ve really thought he wasn’t evil enough to really carry out his plans and that she could talk him out of it. She could’ve wanted to protect him from punishment for a crime she thought he was unlikely to commit. Or she could’ve been scared for her life or the life of her child.
Let’s rule all that out before we grab the pitchforks.
If you or anyone you know may be experiencing emotional or physical abuse, please don’t hesitate to contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).