To the editor:
The week before last, Halena Irene Gill was murdered and police have arrested her husband. We at Elizabeth Freeman Center are greatly saddened by Ms. Gill’s tragic death and our deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends.
Though we do not yet know all of the circumstances of her death, Ms. Gill would be the 17th victim of murder by a spouse or partner in Massachusetts this year. This figure is shocking. It also cannot be understood outside the context of domestic violence. Domestic violence is devastating and it happens a lot, often behind closed doors with no clear clue for outsiders. We know this and sadly, we have known this for a long time.
For well over 20 years, studies have shown that one in three American women and one in ten American men are beaten, stalked or raped. We know that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to girls and women between the ages of 15 and 44. We know that abuse can happen to anyone — of any income level, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or ability — and is deserved by no one. We know that it happens here in Berkshire County: our rate of restraining orders is 28 percent higher than the state average, and in the past 10 years, one-third of the approximately 18 murders in the county are domestic violence homicides. Perhaps most significantly, we know that violence is preventable.
For all that we as a society know, domestic violence is still shrouded in silence. Victims are still blamed for “tolerating” the violence. Society spends few resources on services to help violence survivors get safe and build a new life. Society spends even fewer resources on violence prevention programming, particularly for our youth who can be taught to talk or walk instead of hit. Violence prevention education is our greatest hope for breaking the patterns of violence.
Nothing can excuse cruelty and violence. In the names and memories of Halena, Rebecca, Julie, Michelle and all those who have been murdered or beaten up or beaten down or raped or terrorized by their partners, spouses, dates or family members, we will charge forward. The tragedy and loss caused by domestic violence must be acknowledged and prioritized. It can be stopped. This is a community problem and we as a community must respond.
Elizabeth Freeman Center provides 24-hour services to survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence. If you sense something is wrong with someone you know, reach out to them in private. If you hear fighting or angry shouting next door, call the police — it is better to err on the side of safety. If you are worried for yourself or someone you know, if you are being bullied, beaten, or belittled by someone, call us. You can reach us any time, any day, toll free, at 866-401-2425. Our services are free and confidential. We don’t believe in telling survivors what to do, what to want, or how to proceed. We believe in offering concrete support, information, and help whenever and as often as needed. You are not alone.
Janis Broderick and Jane Lawless, Pittsfield
Janis Broderick is executive director and Jane Lawless is president, Board of Directors, Elizabeth Freeman Center.