Violence against women

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(HOST) The murder of Michelle Gardner-Quinn has deeply shaken our small state. Commentator Cheryl Hanna reflects upon what her murder might mean for other young women.

(HANNA) Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Girl Scout Council of Vermont Gold and Silver Awards Celebration. I was so impressed by the young women who had earned scouting’s highest honor. They believed that they could do anything they wanted.

Teaching our daughters that their life choices shouldn’t be limited because they’re girls is one of the most important things we’ve done for young women of this generation.

It’s why our daughters are astronauts and scientists and race car drivers. Why they can play soccer and write poetry. Why they can serve our country and care for our families. Young women today sense endless possibilities about who they are and how they can make a difference in the world.

It’s what I call the spirit of girl power, and the young women I met at that awards ceremony certainly had it.

So, too, I think, did Laura Winterbottom and Michelle Gardner-Quinn.

Although I never met either of them, from everything that I’ve learned, these young women had qualities we’d like all of our daughters to share. They had confidence, courage, and convictions and were out there living strong and independent lives.

The events of the last few weeks have been difficult for many reasons – chief among them the loss of another vibrant young woman far too soon.

But it’s also a painful reminder that, for some, young women are still objects of sexual gratification to be used and abused and disposed of.

It’s also a reminder that no matter how much girl power a young woman has, it may not protect her from what happened to Laura and Michelle, and the thousands of others who’ve met similar fates.

Yet we can’t afford to give up on our belief in girl power. Of course we want everyone to exercise caution, but we have to be careful not to blame women for failing to keep themselves safe.

It damages a young woman’s psyche to live her life as a potential victim.

It makes her less trusting of the world and more hesitant to take risks.

It also makes it harder for her to dream and inhibits what she does.

Fear can make you powerless, which is how many young women in Vermont must be feeling these days.

We all bear the responsibility for ensuring that those who killed Laura and Michelle don’t kill the spirit of the rest of our daughters.

To that end, we need to enforce the tougher laws we’ve passed and to talk to our sons about appropriate behavior. We definitely need to take early signs of violent behavior more seriously.

And we need more community-wide conversations about what we can do, because doing nothing is not an option.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

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