Friday, August 31, 2012

Justice for Yeardley?

Yeardley Love, days away from graduating from the University of Virginia, was killed in 2010 by her ex-boyfriend George Huguely. Both were 22; both were lacrosse players.

 He was drunk, pissed off, and came to her apartment where she lay sleeping. He kicked the door in, beat her head against the wall, and then stole her computer – apparently to keep the threatening emails he’d sent her from seeing the light of day.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and grand larceny. Yesterday he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. With good behavior and including time served, he could be out in as little as 18 years.

As in so many domestic or dating violence scenarios, Yeardley did nothing to provoke the violence that ended her life. She was sleeping in bed when she was attacked by the man with whom she had ended a relationship.

The defense argued that George didn’t intend to kill her (despite his messages to her to do just that), but that she died because she suffocated in the pillow. Never mind that she wouldn’t have died at all if not for the savage beating George gave her. Never mind that George traveled from his apartment to hers, had to kick down the door to gain entry, and then beat her while she was asleep.

Yeardley Love’s parents are suing George Huguely personally, as well as the University of Virginia. Could her death have been prevented had the University acted against George Huguely in 2009, when he accosted another lacrosse player while George was drunk?

Clearly he had a problem handling alcohol. He also had anger issues, and his relationship with Yeardley was called volatile by friends. The norm is that most abusers do not serve much jail time unless they kill someone.

The US Senate has passed the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill, S.1925. Congress is considering a version that does not protect all domestic violence/sexual assault survivors. Do they consider that some survivors did not have “legitimate” assaults, and so are undeserving of services?

Violence against women crosses all boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion, political belief, and marital status. Worldwide, one in three women will be experience some form of domestic violence; compare that to breast cancer, which affects one in eight women.

The question isn’t why did Yeardley Love stay in a volatile relationship with George Huguely. The question is why did he lash out in violence? We need to put the onus on the perpetrator, not the victim.

We need to make violence against women a national conversation, in the way Betty Ford first made breast cancer a national conversation. We need to bring it out of the closet and stop blaming the victim. We need to address the abusers, provide services to the victims, and stop the cycle of violence by educating the children.

Does the 23 year sentence Huguely received mean that Yeardley received justice? Yes, in the sense that her killer was caught, tried, and sentenced to a prison term. No, in the sense that had Huguely received intervention at some point in his career as an abuser her death might have been prevented.

The answer isn’t to punish the killers of women; it is to stop the violence against them from happening in the first place.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Making Choices

Women are a big topic of this election. Working women, who work in the home raising a family, work in an office, or run a business from their home. Women making choices: work choices; marriage choices; health choices; choices about children; election choices.

Choice is a hot button word. It shouldn’t be, but it’s been made that way by the abortion debate. Legalized abortion in the USA was the result of Roe v. Wade, a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1973; the debate still rages 39 years later.

I saw Marco Rubio on the Today show yesterday being interviewed by Matt Lauer. Mr. Rubio seems to be under the impression that all women are mandated to have abortions because of Roe v. Wade; he argued that it’s not just men who don’t think abortion should be legal, even some women don’t think abortion should be legal.

Of course it should be legal. No woman makes the decision to have an abortion lightly, but every woman has the right to make her own health decisions, and to have safe and legal health options available to her. That doesn’t mean that every woman will have an abortion.

Pro-choice means that access to safe and legal abortion is available, otherwise there is no choice.

If you feel strongly against abortion, then your choice is not to have one. Abortion won’t go away if it’s illegal – it’s been around as long as women have gotten pregnant, and it always will be.

As soon as a man can get pregnant, then he can make decisions affecting his pregnancy. Not decisions for every pregnancy, just for his.

It is no man’s business. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, surrounded by 9 male members of Congress smiling and congratulating him. Where were the women? Why should old men decide any woman’s health options?

In 1972, when I was 13, a girl in my class was raped by her 13-year-old boyfriend. She got pregnant. Abortion wasn’t legal, and she wasn’t from a family with the resources to send her to Europe for a “vacation” where she could have a legal abortion. She carried the baby to term, and the child was raised as her sibling. The vivacious girl transformed into a shattered woman before the end of her freshman year in high school.

I always thought that was unfair. Unfair to her, having to live with the reminder of her rape every minute of every day. Unfair to her child, raised under false pretenses about who her parents were, and possibly not the most wanted child. How did that dynamic affect them, and the rest of the family? In 1972, at 13, what were her options? She had no choice.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of health care to women who cannot afford private providers. What other options do they have planned for those women?

Their argument is based on the abortions that are performed at Planned Parenthood clinics, which amount to 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides. They are talking about cutting funding for legal services because they don’t like one of the services offered.

Every child should be a wanted child. Every woman should make the health care choices that are best for her, without any man telling her what she can or can’t do.

Some choices are easier to make than others.



Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pick Your (Weather) Poison

Every area has its natural hazard, whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, or earthquakes.
I write this with Hurricane Isaac having shed much rain and wind on Vero Beach on its way to New Orleans, seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Considering that the path Isaac took was through the Gulf of Mexico, the amount of rain dumped on the Atlantic coast of Florida caused more flooding than Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, and Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

New Orleans braced for Hurricane Isaac, confident that the levees would protect the city sheltered in their embrace. They didn’t order mandatory evacuations, but suggested that anyone outside of the levee system who felt uncomfortable staying should leave.
Today people who stayed were interviewed, and more than one expressed regret that they hadn’t left town. The levees held, but some were breached by overflowing waters. Ironically, areas flooded because the water was held captive within the levees.

I’ve lived in Florida for over 20 years. I lived in Fort Lauderdale when Hurricane Andrew hit; and I lived in Vero Beach when Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma hit. The damage is incredible, and the aftermath is not pretty. Loss of power, downed trees and tree limbs and palm fronds, flooded streets, lack of services – no thank you, I’ll get out of town.
There is too much emphasis placed on the strength of the storm. “It’s only a Category 1, no need to worry,” is a common sentiment. To get a feeling for what a Category 1 storm feels like, drive your car 70 mph with the windows down during a driving rain storm. Then decide whether it’s nothing.

The trouble with Isaac, as it was with Jeanne in 2004, is that if even a Category 1 storm moves slowly it dumps huge amounts of rain on an area. The biggest problems aren’t necessarily from wind strength; flooding can cause more problems than wind damage.
Water saturates the ground, weakening the support system for tree roots, and making it easier for the wind to lift the trees out of the ground. Living on the Treasure Coast, I saw the damage to the citrus crop from Frances and Jeanne. The water sat and damaged the roots; the wind abraded the fruit and scarred it, which made it okay for canneries and cattle but less so for eating out of hand – pretty fruit makes it to market, ugly fruit goes for juice.

Hurricane reporting is so much better than it was 10 years ago, but people need to make their decision on worst case scenario. Rely on your desire, or lack thereof, to stay housebound for days on end without power if the storm is bad. If you choose to stay, be prepared; there is no obligation to find you and provide food and shelter – the city/county/state will be busy cleaning up and restoring power and other services.
Enjoy the benign embrace of Mother Nature, and be prepared for her wrath. Ignore her at your peril.