Why Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month Matters To Me

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Shynerra’s Law born of tragedy

BY ROSE RUSSELL

ON A Sunday morning nearly five years ago, my sister called with dreadful news: Shynerra Grant had been shot and killed the night before. The boy who shot her then killed himself.

The news pierced my soul. I joined in mourning with her mother, Cheryl Rucker, other family members, and numerous friends who knew the 17-year-old Start High School graduate.

I did not know Shynerra. But I knew people who knew the delightful teenager and her mother, whom I met after the tragedy. Although Ms. Rucker was distraught about the murder of her only child, I was moved even then by the apparent calmness that seemed to possess her.

Why would I mourn someone I had never met? I knew about her family and how excited they were that Shynerra had just graduated from high school. They had just celebrated with a graduation party. They were looking forward to her attending Wilberforce University, where she had won an academic scholarship.

But that time was snatched away from Ms. Rucker and from Shynerra, who had desperately tried to escape the former boyfriend who had stalked her for months.

Journalists are constantly exposed to tragedy. We build a shield around ourselves so we don’t break down when we learn about one horrible event after another. Every now and then, though, adversity touches us in a way that reminds us that we are not as tough as we try to be to do our jobs. For me, this was one such incident.

As I learned more about the terror that this beautiful young woman and her family endured for months, I grappled with this question: Why do boys and men think it is OK to try to rule or control girls and women – whether present or former girlfriends, wives, or estranged wives?

Shynerra was not the only young woman who sought freedom from an abusive and obsessive boy.

In 2003, 18-year-old Christina Deal of Oregon was found dead in a vacant industrial park. Her murderer, then 21 years old, was sentenced in 2004 to life in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2019.

Johanna Orozco of Cleveland, now 21, survived a 2007 attack by an obsessive former boyfriend, then 17 years old. He shot her in the face, causing disfiguring injuries. He was sentenced to 27 years.

Like many other teenage girls being stalked, Shynerra sought help from the authorities. Lucas County Juvenile Court issued an order that forbade the boy from coming into physical contact with Shynerra, either touching or trying to talk to her.

That was not enough. Shynerra needed a protection order. But at the time, there was no such provision for a minor, as there is for adults.

There is now. But it took the injuries and deaths of teenage girls to bring it about. It also took the unfailing persistence of Ms. Rucker; Christina Deal’s mother, Elizabeth Deal, and state Rep. Edna Brown of Toledo, who repeatedly introduced measures in the General Assembly to carry out her resolve that teenagers should get better protection when they accuse someone of a sex crime, stalking, or felonious or aggravated assault.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ted Strickland signed Shynerra’s Law. Now, juvenile courts throughout Ohio can issue and enforce orders that protect one minor from another in cases such as these.

That’s a relief and a victory for all concerned. I still don’t have an answer to why boys and men – and now and again, girls and women too – become abusive.

This much I do know: It has to stop.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at rrussell@theblade.com

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