When a Girl Dies

If a 19-year-old girl had brutally stabbed her 19-year-old boyfriend to death, it would be national, front page news. But when girl is murdered, it can simply fall by the wayside. Should we be expected to acknowledge the 579 girls and young women murdered annually in America? I think so.

Allison Myrick of Groton, Mass., a Fitchburg State College freshman, was brutally murdered by Robert Gulla, her abusive boyfriend, on January 23, just days after filing a restraining order against him. Massachusetts, along with much of the nation, is still reeling from the tragic suicide of bullying victim Phoebe Prince, but have we become so callous as to not be touched by this domestic violence death as well?

The weekend that Allison was murdered, I was preparing for our school's Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month campaign. The morning announcements about statistics and resources were set and a line-up of both male and female students were at the helm to recite them. Our project board, displaying resources, a "healthy-dating" pledge and the tragic story of Emily Silverstein, was prepped, glued, and dried.

Emily Silverstein was murdered by her boyfriend in April 2009. Her father, Robert Silverstein, wrote to our school asking to partake in the awareness month in honor of his daughter. No one expected another teen dating murder, and although Allison's death was in our own backyard, there was no time to change our campaign or find out the facts. It would be days before Gulla would receive his hospital bedside arraignment.

The day of the dating pledge campaign, I went from table to table in the cafeteria talking to the high school students about Emily, the display and the pledge cards we were handing out. Of course, I kept thinking about Allison.

According to her obituary, Allison was studying journalism and graphic design.

Alli loved visiting Martha's Vineyard, to sail and ride the Flying Horses Carousel. She loved going to her Uncle Cliff's dairy barn in Vermont, sometimes dancing in the feed bay and kissing the cows. She loved to ski straight downhill without turning, and she rode the biggest roller coasters she could find. She loved her pets and had a passion to save any forgotten or neglected animal [and] for some reason, she loved Cup 'O Noodles.

During their relationship, Gulla had punched Allison in the stomach, pushed her, choked her and then tore her cell phone out of her hand when she was calling a friend for help. Unfortunately, this type of abuse is not rare. It is widely known that nearly one in three teens that have been in a dating relationship have experienced sexual or physical abuse, or threats of physical harm.

What is less known, however, is the young age at which students are entering into these types of relationships. According to a 2007 Centers of Disease Control (CDC) report, approximately 72 percent of 8th and 9th graders report that they are "dating." By the time these students get to high school, more than half of them say they see dating violence among their peers.

Even more alarming, is the rise in digital abuse -- sexting, "cyberbullying," etc. A new survey by MTV and the Associated Press reports that 50 percent of 14 - 24 year-olds have been the target of some form of this high-tech abuse. The final statistic I share with you is from the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports. Of the 92 12-14 year-old girls that were murdered in 2006, over 25 percent of them were murdered by boys they knew who were between the ages of 15 and 17 years.

In light of the alarming number of young students involved in unhealthy relationships, it is necessary to teach them the warning signs before they start dating. The CDC and Liz Claiborne Inc. recently launched an updated, comprehensive teen dating violence curriculum called Love is Not Abuse. In addition, the CDC offers the first online training that certifies educators called Dating Matters: Understanding Teen Dating Violence and Prevention.

Now that there is a free curriculum and a process by which teachers can be trained, who will go out of their way to teach it? Only 10 states have laws requiring teen dating violence education. Among them is the Lindsey Burke Act, the Tina Croucher Act, the Brittany Sharney Wells Act, and now New Jersey's Emily Silverstein Act -- all named after young women murdered by their boyfriends.

MADE (Moms and Dads for Education) to Stop Teen Abuse, is a national coalition of parents, educators, and concerned citizens that is working with legislators to get teen dating abuse education into every middle school and high school. This initiative is supported by the CDC, Liz Claiborne Inc., Jewish Women's International, Start Strong and the Family Violence and Prevention Fund. I am the MADE Massachusetts' State Action Leader, but many other leaders are still needed.

In honor of Allison's memory, I have started an awareness and resource sharing group on Facebook which you can join. In addition, you can support the call to legislators to approve education on teen dating abuse, the warning signs and the components of a healthy relationship by signing a petition at Change.org.

The final paragraph of Allison's obituary in the Martha's Vineyard Times said, "Other than having Allison back, her family's fervent wish is that Allison's death will raise awareness about abusive relationships."

Dear Myrick Family, it has.