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Violence Against Women Act Marks 18th Anniversary

As we mark the 18th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County feels privileged to honor and recognize victims and survivors during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Despite the considerable work that has been done to eliminate domestic violence, an average of three individuals lose their lives to this crime every day in the United States.   While the Lawrence County community is privileged to have a strong network of community partners who are committed to ending domestic violence, including a District Attorney who works tirelessly to prosecute offenders and restore justice for victims, not every community is so fortunate.  This is evidenced by the recent events that occurred in Allegheny County.

Earlier this month an Allegheny County judge told a Greenfield man he had convicted of aggravated assault for shooting his ex-girlfriend twice that he didn’t think the man deserved the mandatory sentence of five-to-10 years in prison.Facebook

“I cannot show you the mercy you ask for,” Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani apologetically said, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “The law does not permit it.”

The man had lured his ex-girlfriend to his home with tears and promises that he would leave her alone if she would just visit him. After her arrival, he announced he was going to shoot her and then himself.

He delivered on the first part of that promise, shooting her in the chest and arm, even after the gun jammed and he had to fix it. Then he waited more than two hours to call 911.

“We strongly believe that the evidence indicates his intent was to kill her,” a spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. Zappala’s office refused to reconsider seeking the mandatory sentence despite the judge’s wishes.

At sentencing the man, whom the judge had found not guilty of attempted homicide despite the planning behind the crime and the serious injury inflicted, cried again and called his actions a mistake and an accident.

“He was a man completely lost in his emotions who did something really, really stupid,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Judge Mariani as saying. “But he’s not a cold-blooded killer.”

We wouldn’t call deliberately shooting someone in the chest and delaying getting them help “really, really stupid.” We’d call it really, really murderous.

After the hearing an amazed victim saidof the judge’s remarks, “He tried to kill me. It makes no sense.”

She’s right. It makes no sense that in this day and age, with all the information and knowledge available about domestic violence, a Pennsylvania judge can describe it in terms so sympathetic to the abuser.

In addition to making one wonder just how Mariani defines “cold-blooded,” the judge’s remarks, made ironically during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month,perfectly represent the kind of thinking that a new statewide campaign is targeting.

“Say No More to Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania,” which is part of a national “No More – Together We Can End Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault” campaign, is aimed at breaking the silence and challenging the stigma attached to domestic violence.

Its goal is nothing short of shifting social norms and creating social change to influence public policies and priorities and prevent domestic violence.

The need for such change is obvious. In the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, 1,535 women, men and children died in Pennsylvania because of domestic violence. They were shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, burned and killed in any way you can imagine.

2012 is on target to be another bloody year with at least 87 domestic violence fatalities so far, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which tracks such deaths.

So how can you help? To what, exactly, can you say “no more?”

Say “no more” to blaming victims of domestic violence for the abuse.

Say “no more” to trivializing violence against women and children.

Say “no more” to excusing abusers (or apologizing to them for having to endure the consequences of their crimes).

Say “no more” to looking the other way and pretending you don’t see or hear the abuse.

Say “no more” to making excuses for not calling 911.

Say “no more” to acting as if domestic violence is a “private family matter” rather than a costly community concern.

Say “no more” to minimizing the obstacles victims face in leaving their abusers.

Say “no more” to thinking domestic violence only happens in certain neighborhoods to certain kinds of people.

Say “no more” to remaining silent and not offering your help when you suspect someone is a victim.

We applaud the police who investigated the case described above and District Attorney Zappala for saying “no more” to leniency for a violent abuser.We just need to make such saying “no more” the norm all over Pennsylvania.

We’ll give the last word to the victim, who eloquently summed up the burden she and other victims of domestic violence always must bear: “I have to see the scars every day, but the emotional ones I know will never go away.”


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