By Christian Avard | Special to the Vermont Guardian
Posted October 27, 2006
BURLINGTON — Domestic Violence Awareness Month is coming to an end, but 2006 will be remembered as tragic one.
In January, Frankie Niles was charged with murdering his girlfriend Tina Fontaine of Albany after he overheard her on the phone telling a friend she was about to dump him.
In August, Christopher Williams allegedly murdered his ex-girlfriend’s mother Linda Lambesis of Essex after his former girlfriend — Andrea Lambesis — ended a stormy relationship. According to police, Williams tracked Andrea down to the elementary school where she worked, allegedly killing her co-worker Alicia Shanks and wounding another, Mary Snedeker. After an altercation with his friend Chad Johansen, Williams allegedly shot Johansen and was arrested by Essex police when he apparently tried, and failed, to kill himself.
And recently, a University of Vermont student named Michelle Gardner-Quinn was walking home after a night out with friends. Five days later, her body was found alongside a road in Richmond. The last man seen with her was Brian Rooney, a man with a long history of sex offense charges. He is now being held without bail at Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury on un-related sex charges and has not been charged in Gardner-Quinn’s death, but remains a prime suspect in the murder, according to police.
While communities are coming together to discuss the tragedy, much of it has focused on how women can keep themselves safe. While safety on college campuses is important, a critical element has been left out, say some experts, and that’s gender violence.
From 1974 to 2004, 76.5 percent of homicide victims and 88.7 percent of offenders were men according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although there were no domestic violence-related homicides in Vermont in 2005, state statistics indicate that 9 out of 10 murders and 233 out of 243 forcible sex offenses were committed by men in 2005.
In a recent Common Dreams website article, “Coverage of ‘School Shooting’ Avoids the Central Issue,” anti-violence educator Jackson Katz said a recent forum held by Pres. George W. Bush, which brought together experts specializing in education and law enforcement to discuss “the nature” of the shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania, missed the point.
“Incredibily, few if any prominent voices in the media have called the incidents what they are: hate crimes perpetrated by men against defenseless young girls, who were targeted for sexual assault and murder precisely because they are girls. For us to have any hope of truly preventing not only extreme acts of gender violence … we need to have this conversation,” aruged Katz.
In Vermont some men are rising to the occasion.
“I think a very important perspective is recognizing that violence is a gendered phenomenon, that really we need to talk about it not as school violence, not as domestic violence, and not sexual violence, but to really understand how it’s all different components of male violence,” said Mark Larson, a batterer accountability coordinator for the Domestic Abuse Education Project based out of Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington.
“What is really consistent in all these cases is the shooter is a young boy and for some reason we get all hung up on trying to figure out what’s the common factor with victims and we absolutely ignore the crystal clear reality: With very few exceptions, the shooters are boys.”
Others like Mark Montalban, of the Lake Champlain Men’s Resource Center, believe holding men accountable for their behavior is another positive first step.
“‘Compassionate confrontation’ is where there’s an understanding that men are conditioned and socialized in a certain way … and how to bring up that certain things aren’t OK — behaviors, actions, words that damage other people,” said Montalban. “I think that fathers have to confront their sons and vice versa because this has a lot to do with male-to-male relationships and it opens things up because it allows men to have less pressure trying to prove their masculinity is being challenged.”
In Vermont — and across the country — batterers’ intervention is a primary tool facilitating change and debunking the myths about women and masculinity.
“A lot of men first need to accept that men perpetrate the vast majority of violence against women and others. In the work that I do, a lot of men want to believe that women are just as equally violent. In shootings, 95 percent of the most violent forms of aggression are committed against women and 75 percent against other men; in general, men have significant responsibility to look at this violence honestly and stop it and one of the things we do in these groups is to talk about it,” said Bill Pelz-Walsh, coordinator of the Batterers Intervention Program in Brattleboro. “The issue is a gender issue, this is about violence and the extreme forms, why are men still getting away with acts of violence, and why is it that men continue to use power and domination against women and other men.”
Although there is a long way to go, there has been progress. There were no strong domestic violence laws 20 to 30 years ago. Local and state police now have the skills to respond to domestic and sexual violence crimes. And most of all, a national discussion is taking root. But for Larson, the best place to start is with a simple act of courage.
“We’re not talking about moving a mountain but every person can move a portion of that mountain. It makes a significant difference to say, ‘Hey I’m not comfortable with that.’ It’s not that hard to do, no four hours a week and no money involved. Just a little bit of courage that in the end is certainly an investment worth making.”
To learn more about men’s violence, contact the Lake Champlain Men’s Resource Center at 434-8180, or Spectrum Youth & Family Services at 864-7423.