Imagine you decide to take a break from your studies and attend the J’Ouvert Festival in Brooklyn, New York, with a couple of your friends. You are having the time of your life until you refuse a man’s advances. On September 6, 2016, Tiarah Poyau, 22, a graduate student at St. John’s University was walking the pre-West Indian Day route with three of her friends. During the walk she was approached by a man, who reportedly began grinding on her without her consent, seconds after she told the man, “Get off me,” she was brutally shot in the face. A source told New York Post, that Poyau “has been shot in the eye ‘at close range’.” Poyau later died at the hospital.
Her murderer, Reginald Moise, was taken into police custody intoxicated after he was found driving recklessly. After the shooting, he hid the murder weapon at his girlfriend’s apartment. Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, stated that Moise told investigators ,“The gun went off, I am not sure,” indicating that Moise thought he had shot someone. Moise, told a friend that he did not think the gun was loaded. Moise, who has five previous arrests, has been charged with second-degree murder, criminal possession of a weapon, and reckless endangerment.
It is very hard to pinpoint one particular reason as to why these instances are becoming more and more prevalent.
Chief Boyce stated that “[Poyau] is just a stellar person. No issues in her life whatsoever, and none before either.” What happened to Poyau—rejecting a man’s advances and then getting killed—is unfortunately something that seems to be on the rise lately.
Earlier this year, Janese Talton Jackson, was also a victim of such a horrendous crime. She was shot and killed outside a bar where she rejected a man’s sexual advances. This incident took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at a bar. An employee from the bar told CBS News, that a man followed Jackson out the door of the bar and “positioned himself against her backside in a sexual manner.” Jackson rejected his advance. The man made a second advance towards Jackson and after rejecting him a second time, he shot her in the chest.
In 2014, Mary Spears, a mother of three, was also gunned down for refusing to give a man her number. Paris Sashay, was brutally beaten in 2015 in Washington, D.C. after rejecting advances from a group of men. These tragic instances are becoming more and more common. Women are harmed or killed, all because they rightfully said “no” to unwanted advances. What is the correlation? Is it mental illness? Entitlement? Lack of safety precautions in certain public areas? It is very hard to pinpoint one particular reason as to why these instances are becoming more and more prevalent. When it comes to violence, specifically violence against women, gender-based violence is not the actions of a small number of depraved men. It is in fact a systemic cultural problem.
Sashay, a couple of days after her attack, told NBC Washington, “Guys make it where you don’t have the right to say no anymore. But as a woman, you should be able to say no. Just say no. You’re not interested.” Writer for The Body Is Not An Apology, Julie Feng, also agrees “Women should have the unequivocal right to say no. Women should have absolute dominion over their own bodies. Women should not…apologize for rejecting a man.”
Arguably, male entitlement is something that is embedded in society.
As terrifying as it may sound, tragic stories like Poyau’s are becoming increasingly common. Experts believe that men usually escalate to the use of violence “when they feel like they are losing control.”
A writer for the Huffington Post, Zeba Blay, wrote an interesting piece surrounding Tiarah Poyau’s death, indicating that Poyau was a victim of male entitlement and male aggression. Blay addresses the sense of male entitlement and male fragility as it relates to the African-American community. She touches on issues that are rarely talked about, either because it has become accepted or they are something that are considered taboo. Blay makes several valid points in her article, all of them seemingly come down to the importance of informative programs to better help prevent such negative perceptions.
Arguably, male entitlement is something that is embedded in society. It is normalized in everything we do; work environments, media, education system, and pop culture. Melissa Jeltsen, a Senior Reporter for the Huffington Post, argues that male entitlement is something that women experience as part of their everyday lives, from being catcalled while walking down the street to being told to smile. Jeltsen also argues that male entitlement, when paired with guns, is “uncomfortable or exhausting or even traumatic.”
Poyau, like many others, were not just victims of gun violence, but also victims of sexual violence. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention sexual violence is defined as “a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.” There are different categories within the definition of sexual violence; unwanted sexual contact is one of them. Poyau was a victim of unwanted sexual conduct, which is defined as “intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing…of any person without his or her consent.” In her efforts to stop such unwanted touching, she was killed.
The fact that a simple rightful rejection leads to their deaths, is something that should not go unnoticed.
The most effective solution is education. Programs that focus on preventing sexual violence perpetration are essential and is something that should be offered in various communities. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that a few risk factors of sexual violence are usually general tolerations within a community, societal norms that support sexual violence and support male superiority, and sexual entitlement. In Poyau’s case, her killer saw it acceptable to grope her backside without her consent. These instances such as Poyau’s is something that should be addressed and not just tolerated.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides and lists many different ways to bring knowledge and awareness in communities. One program in particular, Shifting Boundaries, focuses on reducing the “incidence and prevalence of dating violence and sexual harassment among adolescents.” Programs like Shifting Boundaries are able to educate children at an early age on the meaning of what sexual violence is and what is and is not acceptable. Today’s society is in desperate need of such programs.
Most might be quick to assume that Poyau’s killer, along with others, suffered from some type of mental illness to help “better rationalize” his brutal response to her rejection. Contrary to popular belief, when looking at the correlation between gun violence as it relates to mental illness, there does not seem to be much there. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, people with “common mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violent crimes than the average person.” So there is a high chance that mental illness was not the cause of Poyau’s death.
Poyau’s tragic death, and many others, seem to be more than just senseless acts of violence. The fact that a simple rightful rejection leads to their deaths, is something that should not go unnoticed. Moving into the future, society as a whole has a lot of work to do. When acts of violence are committed against women, society needs to take a step back in order to fully examine and pinpoint the roots of the issue. A woman’s life should not be cut short for simply saying the words “Get off me.”