Last weekend, a “Take Back the Night” rally protested violence against women in Toledo, reminding this community that it can and must do better. Toward that end, Municipal Court Judge Michelle Wagner’s proposal for a domestic-violence docket is an important initiative.
The annual rally began with a teach-in, at which local agencies that provide help to victims of domestic and sexual violence explained what they do and how they can help. Then there was music, followed by personal testimony.
Throughout the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall were “silent witnesses” — silhouettes representing 70 area women who were killed over the past decade. Two women killed in greater Toledo in recent weeks, Kaitlin Gerber and Amy Ross, were not yet represented.
Each silhouette told the story of a woman the system failed to protect. Victim after victim was killed by a threatening boyfriend or husband, usually with a gun. In almost every case, there had been a protective order, which didn’t deter the enraged assailant in the least.
The rally also featured homemade T-shirts created by survivors and victims’ families. One told the story of a 10-year-old girl who was molested by a trusted 45-year-old man.
Another told of a spring break trip that ended in the rape of a young woman by two male “friends,” as other men looked on. The shirts named the attackers.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said that neither society nor the legal system has been able to protect women well from men who want to hurt them. That is unconscionable.
We can do better by putting more force and weight behind protective orders. We can legally entitle a stalked and terrorized person to police protection. Police can shadow high-risk stalkers and fit victims with necklace and bracelet alarms.
Judges and prosecutors can educate themselves about domestic violence, with the help of the many training programs that are available nationally. Some prosecutors and judges can specialize in this area: Judge Wagner’s call for a domestic-violence docket is the most important immediate reform Toledo can make in the wake of the Gerber case.
Under Judge Wagner’s plan, one Municipal Court judge would handle all domestic-violence cases. This change could occur within a year, at no added cost to taxpayers, she says.
A domestic-violence docket not only would allow a judge to develop expertise, it also would give the court memory and each case continuity. It would make miscommunication and lack of communication less likely. And it would make a judge’s threat assessment more accurate.
No self-respecting community can shrug at 72 women who were killed by former intimate partners. Toledo can stop blaming victims of violence and take practical steps to do better. Judge Wagner has identified a vital first step.