The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 25, 2012

Susan Shahade | Just say ‘no more’ to domestic abuse

Susan Shahade

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

“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 former 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 fixed 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. Despite the judge’s request, the DA refused to reconsider seeking the mandatory sentence.

At the sentencing, the perpetrator cried again and called his actions a mistake and an accident. The judge found him not guilty of attempted homicide, despite the planning behind the crime and the injuries inflicted.

“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.”

Is deliberately shooting someone in the chest and delaying getting them emergency medical assistance “really, really stupid”? Of course it is. And it is also really, really murderous.

After the hearing, the shocked victim said of the judge’s remarks, “He tried to kill me. It makes no sense.”

She’s right. There is so much information, knowledge and training available and easily accessible on domestic violence. It makes no sense that a judge would choose to rule on and to describe the horrific crime in terms so sympathetic to the abuser.

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

“Say No More to Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania,” is a part of a national campaign aimed at breaking the silence and challenging the stigma attached to domestic violence.

The goal of the community awareness campaign is to affect social norms, create social change, influence public policies and to prevent domestic violence incidents and ultimately domestic violence-related fatalities.

The need for change is painfully obvious. In the past 10 years (2001-11), 1,535 women, men and children died in Pennsylvania as a result of domestic violence. They were shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, burned and killed in more ways than you can imagine.

Tragically, 2012 is on target to be another bloody year. To date, there are at least 87 domestic violence fatalities in our state, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which tracks these fatalities.

How can you help?

Say “no more” to:

* Blaming victims for the abuse inflicted upon them at the hands of a “loved one.”

* Trivializing the frequency and severity of violence against women and children.

* Excusing abusers. Hold them accountable for their crimes and consequences.

* Looking the other way when you see or hear abuse.

* Making excuses for not calling 911.

* Acting as if domestic violence is a “private family matter,” rather than a heinous crime and a costly community issue.

* Minimizing the obstacles victims face when leaving their abusers.

* Thinking domestic violence only happens in certain neighborhoods to certain groups of people.

We applaud the police who investigated the above referenced case. We congratulate District Attorney Zappala for saying “no more” to leniency for a violent abuser.

Saying “no more” must become the norm all over Pennsylvania and across the nation.

The last word belongs to the victim, who spoke so eloquently of the tremendous burden she will always bear:

“… My physical injuries serve as a daily reminder. But they will heal. It’s the emotional scars that I know will never go away.”

Susan S. Shahade is executive director of the Women’s Help Center of Johnstown.


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