An idyllic campus and a beautiful neighborhood struck by a violent (and horrifically intimate) murder.
In the early hours of Wednesday, August 14, Stephanie Cresswell Brenner was murdered. Her ex-boyfriend has been charged with her killing. She was a student at Western Washington University, she 22 and was in her senior year, studying anthropology, and her family said that she had hoped to become a physician's assistant.
The ex-boyfriend and charged murderer (whose name I will not say here) told officers who he was, admitted what he had done, and was arrested. Washington Superior Court Commissioner Alfred Heydrich set his bail at 1 million dollars despite the defense lawyer's protests, regarding his social class and cooperation with police.
The University has sent out an email and announcement in honor of Stephanie, stating that at this time there is no date for a memorial service. The announcement also said, "Over the upcoming school year, there will be opportunities to learn about intimate partner violence, to support victims and survivors, and to make positive change."
Over the past week, I've struggled with whether or not I wanted to even address this tragedy, and if I did, how I was going to do it. it. Should I stay factual? Or should I allow myself to write an opinion piece of sorts and to be emotional? That last quote was what convinced me to allow myself to be brutally honest with you, reader.
The murder of Stephanie was brutal. There is no other word for it. She was killed in the safety of a friend's house while she was watching TV. It was described as an execution-style murder. The suspect allegedly emptied his entire magazine before calling 911 himself and saying that he did it.
And the school says: "Please watch for announcements in September and throughout the year. Taking action to end violence is a powerful way to honor Stephanie."
The reason I've struggled is because I've witnessed something like this before. A student at my high school was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, tortured in her own home. Her name was Jessica Scholl and she was murdered when she was just 17 years old.
There is no road map to the perfect reaction from a school or administration when something this terrible happens. But when Jessica was murdered, the high suddenly had a focus on domestic violence, or "intimate partner violence" and educating student's on it. And while I am most certainly for educating everyone on domestic violence, when it comes in the wake of another tragic death, it feels like too little too late.
Domestic violence and intimate partner violence education was too late for Jessica Scholl. She should have turned 26 this past May. She had birthdays, holidays, laughter, tears, parties, high school graduation, college, ripped away from her. The list would never be long enough to accurately represent what was taken from her because a young man thought he was entitled to her time, affection, and body.
Domestic violence and intimate partner violence education is too late for Stephanie. She will also miss birthdays, holidays, laughter, tears, parties, college graduation, her diploma, etc, etc. Ad nauseam. All because another young man thought that he was entitled to her time, her affection, her body and could not handle it when he was told no.
I have seen this far too many times. And I have the upsetting feeling that I will probably see it again sooner than I think.
Yes. We should be educating students, our youth, and each other on domestic violence. We should be talking about this. But we should have been educating each other before Jessica was killed. We should have been educating before Stephanie was killed.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime. In 2016, 1,809 women were murdered in domestic violence situations. This year (2019) Jessica Scholl died seven years ago and the world lost Stephanie barely a week ago.
Be aware. Educate yourself and others. Talk about it. But we should also be talking about the pervasive problem of domestic violence. Anyone can be a victim and minorities, particularly black women are even more at risk. One in seven men over the age of 18 have been victimized by an abuser.
Yes, educating yourself and taking action is a good way to honor both Stephanie and Jessica. But take action. Educate other people. Talk to other people. Call other people out for their behavior. We cannot continue to talk about these murders as if they are far-away issues that never happen, because domestic violence is everywhere, and both the abuser and the abused can be anyone.
It is too late for them and I am so, so angry that Western has only now made the choice to focus on education about intimate partner violence. Remember Stephanie and Jessica and all the others. And don't just remember them now, or tomorrow, or next month, or during Domestic Violence Awareness events.