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As the tragic murder of a 21-year old Wesleyan University student resonates across the country, we must recognize it not only for its immediate impact (the death of a bright, passionate young woman), but also for the alarming national trend that it implies.   The murderer, 29-year old Stephen Morgan, had a history of uneven relationships, and a dislike for Jews and other minorities.  But the May 6th murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich cannot be solely attributed to random violence, extreme psychosis and/or anti-Semitism.  After turning himself in, officials discovered a journal that expressed hatred for minority groups, and, more alarmingly in this case, a detailed plan to rape and kill Wesleyan junior Ms. Justin-Jinich, followed by a shooting rampage on campus.  This is a case of stalking and violence against women.
 
It would be easy and tempting to pass off this plan as a crazy man’s act or a rare anomaly; both of these statements are true to a degree, especially within the white, privileged setting of an elite liberal arts college like Wesleyan.  However, when looking beyond Wesleyan’s small college bubble, the prevalence of murder committed against women becomes evident: after “accidents,” homicide is the leading cause of death among African American women ages 15-29 (CDC 2004).  A look at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website reveals that, in 2002 alone, 1,880 women were killed by men in single victim/single offender incidents.  54% of female homicides were committed with firearms, more than those with any other weapon combined.  More than nine times as many women were murdered by men they knew than were killed by male strangers, and 61% of female murder victims were wives or “intimate acquaintances” of their killers. 
Although some news headlines originally proclaimed Mr. Morgan an ex-boyfriend of Ms. Justin-Jinich, recent reports conclude that he was far from it. Morgan and Justin-Jinich had once enrolled in a summer course together at NYU.  The course, Sexual Diversity in Society, was in line with Ms. Justin Jinich’s interest in women’s health.  Morgan was not a boyfriend—he was a stalker who had sent repeatedly disturbing emails to Johanna Justin-Jinich, over which she eventually declined to press charges.  It is a tragic irony that a would-be rapist and stalker would kill a young woman with a passion for women’s rights and health issues.
 
As disturbing and horrible as this murder is, I think that there are lessons we can take away from it.  First, no one is immune to dating violence, or, more to the point in this case, stalking.  Johanna Justin-Jinich isn’t a “typical victim”: strong, smart, and involved, she seems a far cry away from the stereotypical “damsel in distress.”  But that’s where the danger is: there is no typical victim of dating violence, rape, or stalking.  Sadly, in our society, all women are susceptible to stalking and sexual and intimate relationship violence.
Second, stalking and unwanted attention, whether from catcalls on the street or repeated, threatening emails, messages, and phone calls, can and often do lead to violence.  By paying attention to early signs of stalking and emotional violence, we can potentially halt a fatal trajectory.
 

In honor of the memory of Johanna Justin-Jinich and her passion for international women’s health issues, along with the thousands of women killed every year through homicide as well as other acts of violence, urge your Senator to join you in supporting the reintroduction of the International Violence Against Women Act. 

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