It was awe-inspiring to see more than 50 people wearing neon yellow shirts in the courtroom yesterday. We were there to “Stop the Silence.” Our mission was to support the Mellon family and I believe we accomplished that goal. Our mere presence sent a strong message to everyone in attendance and to the community at large. With that said, our work has only begun.
The impact statements that were read yesterday were hard to hear. I felt that they made a tremendous impact on the case and spoke to how the violent act of one man has forever changed the lives of so many. I was certain that after hearing these statements and having the family’s attorney reiterate the consideration that took place in 2003 when Joe was initially sentenced, a sentence reduction at this time would not be considered, much less granted. I was wrong.
After the last victim impact statement was heard, Judge VanDeHey read a statement of his own; a statement that he had prepared well before the hearing began. He knew he was going to reduce Joe’s sentence from the very beginning. He expressed a concern to “put an end to this litigation and give Amy’s family closure to this part of their ordeal.” I understand this. The Mellon family understands this. No one in the courtroom wanted to belabor this incredibly traumatic process. With that said though, closure should have been realized in 2003.
I sat at home last night thinking about what took place in the Lancaster courtroom yesterday and continued to play Judge VanDeHey’s closing remarks in my head. He talked about how domestic violence is a “complex problem that seldom has simple solutions.” He went on to state the following: ”Repeat drunk drivers, like domestic abusers, present a much more difficult situation and our only chance at changing behaviors is to recognize that domestic violence is not about anger, it is about control. Empowering victims of domestic violence requires that we not only punish perpetrators, but that we provide protection, assistance and services.”
What happened yesterday did not empower survivors of domestic violence. If anything, it made survivors even more fearful and reluctant to report domestic violence to authorities. Throughout this hearing there was so much talk about consideration……consideration for the perpetrator. What about Amy? What about Amy’s family? How about consideration for the millions of women battered and killed in our country? I struggle to see how further reducing the sentence of a “vicious killer” (Judge VanDeHey’s words) empowers anyone at all.
Judge VanDeHey was correct in that domestic violence is about control. Power and control are often the central components of any violent act. I disagree that domestic violence does not have “simple solutions” though. One of the most effective ways to prevent domestic violence is simply for our community to make the prevention of domestic violence a priority. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined! Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. This is a MAJOR public health issue. But yet, we rarely engage in the meaningful conversations needed to change this epidemic. Violence toward women has been normalized. We have come to accept the fact that some men will kill their wives.
This is not acceptable.
We must begin to speak out. Challenge abusive behaviors. If you see someone in Wal-Mart verbally abusing their spouse, say something. Tell security. Do something! Let the spouse know that what he/she said was not okay. Validate their feelings. Let them know that you support them. We can no longer afford to remain silent. Lives are being lost, families are being ripped apart.
This community effort must begin now. Do it for your wife, your girlfriend, or your daughter. Do it for Amy Mellon. Never forget.