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Back to In Memory of Haille

A Worrrld Safe For Grrrls

Since our first printing of Haille's story, at least three other young females in our area have been the victim of domestic violence murder or attempted murder.

* On November 12, 2005, 19-year-old Ukiah woman, Brittany Nicole Syfert, was shot and killed at her birthday party by her boyfriend - because she was talking with another man. 27-year-old Caleb Flitcroft is charged with Brittany's murder.

* On January 11, 2006, an 18-year-old Gualala woman was shot through the chest by the man with whom she'd been living - on the day after she moved out on him. 46-year-old Jack 'Bo' Frank has since plead 'no contest' to the attempted murder.

* On February 12, 2006, an 18-year-old Windsor woman was slashed across her throat by her boyfriend when she told him she was leaving him. 18-year-old Benjamin Greenlee has been ordered to stand trial on charges of attempted murder.

Whether these deadly attacks are part of a trend, or simply a random cluster, is impossible to say. Domestic violence against teen females has only recently become a focus of study. But trend or cluster, it hardly matters. This spree of murderous violence against younger females in our community is enough, by itself, to command our attention. If nothing else, it underscores hard lessons in Haille's story; that male violence against young females remains hidden, unexamined, unremedied, fueled by sexism, and pretty much left for the young women to resolve on their own. And, it's deadly.

These events also highlight the few national statistics we do have verifying the concentration of male violence on young females; statistics that haven't fully penetrated public consciousness, let alone begun to shape public policy. According to recent US Dept. of Justice statistics, the age range in the US with the highest rate of domestic violence victimization is 16-24 years of age. Likewise, the age range with the highest rate of forcible rape victimization is also 16-24 years of age. Together, these statistics call for refocusing our understanding and strategies for ending this violence.

One obvious observation is that the center of gravity of male violence against women is aimed at young females right at the time they're taking their first independent steps into the world. In fact, as with the women here, including in Haille's story, these deadly attacks are often a direct response to young women exercising that independence in their relationships with men.

These young women are not being attacked because they're acting vulnerable, weak, or unwilling to assert themselves. Quite the opposite. They're being slain, strangled to death, slashed, and shot because they're daring to exercise fundamental rights in their relationships with men.

It's the kind of violence that delivers a brutally repressive message to a whole new generation of confident, young females who grew up believing and acting as if 'Grrrl Power' is for real. Unlike generations of women past, they don't question their rights nor camouflage their intents to get up and walk out on a man who's abusive, nor to just move on simply because they want to. And within a relationship, they come and go, and talk with whomever they please - equal to the rights exercised by the men they're with.

But as these young women assume their freedoms, they run head on into a world of too many men who haven't changed a bit. It's the kind of violence, that unless we end it, threatens to stop these confident young women and their advances in their tracks. And we stand to lose them, and the important contributions they're poised to make.

Marsha's Story

In the mid-March, 2006, preliminary hearing, Marsha (not her real name) takes the witness stand without hesitation; undaunted by the leaden courtroom air of an attempted murder case. Her composure is all the more impressive given it was only weeks ago she was left bleeding out from head and neck wounds in the median strip between Hwy 101 and River Rd. in the middle of the night. And more impressive still, because Marsha's only 18-years-old.

As the prosecutor takes her into the details of the attack, Marsha doesn't flinch. She's straightforward, expressive, and intelligent to the task. She doesn't crumple in sobs, nor lower her head, nor constrict her voice in deference or shame. Nor does she shy from the gravity of the attack and its effect upon her.

The defendant, who had been her boyfriend, sits only yards away in Marsha's line of sight. The last time she saw him he was leaving her to die in the darkness. Their eyes catch again and again. Marsha never turns away. Her gaze locks him with all the unwavering weight of the court that surrounds her.

At the end of the hearing, the judge holds the defendant to answer at trial on the charge of attempted murder. Marsha smiles. But not to any one in particular. She seems simply pleased with herself and the job she has done. You can't help but wonder. When did it happen that young women finally caught the idea that this courthouse is theirs, and that their truth is the gavel they wield?

There are so many social forces that support this violence against girls, and so many people with power who are complicit and look the other way. There is so much that needs to change. Yet open a discussion on remedies and the responses rarely go beyond a single, hard driving, train of thought.

"We have to teach these girls to get away from these guys." But that's what they were doing when they were attacked. "These girls need to recognize the warning signs." How can we expect young women to identify the murderous men when teachers, authorities, clergy, and the whole adult social fabric have failed to do so? "These young women need to be more careful about their comings and goings." But restricting girls' 'comings and goings' has never made a dent in this violence. And isn't that the function of the violence? Restricting girls' freedom?

"These girls need to reach out for help when they get in trouble." And take the good chance of getting blamed or disbelieved, and ending up in worse danger? "These girls need to speak up." When even the media buries them in silence? "These girls need to understand how they can set a guy off." But don't we mean it when we say it's not her fault?

And on it goes; the drum beat of warnings, admonitions, instructions, preachings, and 'watch-your-steps' to girls, until you want to scream out what should be the obvious - It's the males' behavior that has to change, not the girls'. It's our schools, neighborhoods, police, prosecutors, media, clergy, and older adults who have the primary responsibilities to make this world safe for girls.

So next time the subject comes up try to turn it around to talking about the ways that male behavior has to change, and the ways society must get control of violent male behavior, and protect the girls. Try having the discussion without honing in on what girls have to do. And feel the intensity of the resistance that flashes up and blocks any chance of real solutions toward a world that is truly safe for girls. And then try, try again!

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Copyright © Marie De Santis
Women's Justice Center,


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