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In a semicircle that surrounded the Violence Against Women Memorial Rock on Thursday night, Trina Oviedo-Frankum of Holland stood holding her 8-month-old granddaughter as she wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with pink lettering that read "In loving memory, Lee Lee."
Also on the shirt was a pink heart with a picture of her smiling daughter, Leandra Frankum, and the dates 4.19.91 to 7.22.12.
"I'm full of anger right now," said Ms. Oviedo-Frankum, whose daughter was killed in what authorities described as a domestic violence case July 22. "I'm hurt, we're all hurting. She could have been here with us -- she is still here with us."
About 50 men, women, and children gathered at the memorial rock in front of the Sanger Branch Library in West Toledo for a vigil and moment of silence in remembrance of five women killed in domestic violence-related homicides in Toledo and its surrounding areas over the past month.
"A group of women created this space as a place to gather to remember and also as a place to commit to change," said Diane Docis, coordinator of the sexual assault education and prevention program at the University of Toledo. "It is a reminder that change is possible."
Victims who were commemorated at the vigil were Amy Merrill, 33, and her sister, Lisa Gritzmaker, 24, of Blissfield; Ms. Frankum, 21, of Perrysburg, and Carlin Glenn, 46, and her daughter, Andrea Glenn, 20, of Lima, Ohio.
The remembrance marked the third vigil held this year -- eight women have been slain in domestic violence situations in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan so far in 2012.
While Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, said there is no precise way to compare this year's number of domestic violence fatalities with those of past years, "anecdotally, it seems like we have had more [homicides] this year than in previous years."
"I think it's horrifying and I think it is sadly unsurprising," Ms. Docis said of the recent string of homicides. "I think that for all of the people working really hard to find solutions [to domestic violence], change has been slow to happen."
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Ms. Docis pointed to a common thread in the past month's deaths: in each case, the women killed had already left a relationship or were in the process of leaving.
"I think our message when we talk about prevention is too often focused on telling victims of violence what to do," she said. "As if a simple message of 'leave,' or 'you need to get out,' would end the violence. Frequently, women are murdered when they're doing what society is telling them they should do."
Michelle Clossick, executive director of the Cocoon Shelter in Bowling Green for battered women and their children, said that for change to take effect, the emphasis in domestic violence cases needs to shift from focusing on the victim to focusing on the perpetrator.
Her opinion was seconded by Lynn Jacquot, director of the Battered Women's Shelter at the YWCA in Toledo. "In a larger sense, this is a community issue," Ms. Jacquot said. "We need to hold batterers accountable for their behaviors.… Oftentimes we want to look for individual issues, but this is not an individual issue, it's a community issue."
Within Toledo, Rebecca Facey, executive director of Independent Advocates, said the court system has failed to prioritize domestic violence cases. Independent Advocates provided services to domestic violence victims in the court system before going on hiatus at the beginning of June.
"[Domestic violence cases] are heard alongside those cases like petty theft and those things that are not potentially fatal," Ms. Facey said. "I would love to see the court change their attitude about this crime and take it more seriously and recognize that they have a role in prevention because these are not one-time cases."
In a 2011 domestic violence court watch report that examined how Toledo Municipal Court handled domestic violence cases, Independent Advocates found that 79 percent of the cases were dismissed or amended to lesser, nondomestic violence-related charges. A total of 1,599 criminal domestic violence cases were heard in 2011.
Olivia Patterson, 23, of Toledo was just one victim whose case was downgraded and who has suffered the repercussions. Court documents from the May, 2011, incident state that Ms. Patterson was attacked by her ex-boyfriend, Raymond Brint, 52, when she went to Mr. Brint's home to pick up her belongings. Mr. Brint threw Ms. Patterson into her car window, resulting in a gash in the back of her neck where she had to receive eight staples to close the wound, the report states.
The case went to trial in January, 2012, at which point Mr. Brint was found guilty of aggravated assault and was sentenced to two years of community control -- no prison time.
"It's getting to the point where I can't function or even want to leave my house or sleep at night," said Ms. Patterson, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. "I feel like my mind always goes back to living with him and being traumatized by him.… I feel like this man deserves more than he got. I don't understand the police, the court systems, the Toledo justice systems -- I feel like they care more about the money than about the people who are actually hurting."
Judge Dean Mandros sentenced Brint in February, 2012.
Judge Michael Goulding of Toledo Municipal Court said the main reason domestic-violence cases are dismissed or downgraded is because the alleged victim fails to appear in court, often because they fear retribution from the accused perpetrator.
"Most of the time it's a crime that happens behind closed doors," said Judge Goulding, who is a member of the Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force Court Committee. "With no victim, [judges] don't have a case."
As Ms. Facey looked out at the crowd that surrounded the rock at the vigil, she noted that the women who were killed each had their differences, but were remarkably similar -- they were mothers, sisters, and daughters.
"The world was a far better place for having known these women and a worse place for having lost them the way we did," she said.
The vigil was sponsored by the Take Back the Night Collective, Independent Advocates, and the National Organization for Women Toledo chapter.
Contact Madeline Buxton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6083.